Furnishing a Roomful of Teeth: Dashon Burton on Freelancing and the Next Generation of Musicians
‘I was with Cantus for four years. We were so busy; I think I only took on one solo gig in all those four years.
‘Making the move to freelancing was really scary – but I wanted to see what I could offer artistically as a soloist.’
The Trumpet Shall Sound – The Messiah – Music in the Somerset Hills
After leaving Cantus, Dashon studied his Master’s degree at Yale University, at the Institute of Sacred Music. He recalls that ‘the teachers there were so knowledgeable, and generous with their time,’ and having also benefitted from inspirational mentors well before university, Dashon makes a point of undertaking education work wherever he goes.
‘Education work is very important to me. We can all remember the time when music itself touched us when we were younger, but I don’t think any of us would be here today without our teachers.
Growing up in the Bronx, Dashon remembers maths and science subjects being favoured over classical music.
For high school, he moved to Pennsylvania, which is where the seed was planted for his life with music, which entailed the music teacher convincing a friend to ask him to join the choir.
‘He said, “We need more basses.” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but I thought it sounded like fun, and I got to hang out with friends, so I went along.’
Dashon’s first public performance was consequently a musical revue of the musical Grease. ‘It was great fun – I had to learn so much: how to read music, how to sing in this way with other people.
‘I was very lucky to have teachers there who really encouraged me.’
Dashon is now based in NYC, when he’s not on the road. ‘I really love the travel, to explore new parts of the country. It’s also great seeing how cities change, and meeting up with old friends in familiar places.’
Dashon regularly gives masterclasses and school visits wherever he travels. He does this both as a soloist – he most recently gave a masterclass at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio – and with his group, Roomful of Teeth.
All of the group’s founding members, including Dashon, are still present. Roomful of Teeth exists, in Dashon’s own words, to ‘explode the capabilities of the human voice’. Every year, the group meets for a two-week residency in which they meet teachers, scholars, composers, and performers of music from all over the world.
‘The director, Brad Wells, just had this crazy idea of wondering what it would be like to get people in a room and mix all these styles together.
‘You learn so much in these residencies. Perhaps the most ear-bending experience I had was learning Georgian singing. As the whole system is based around replicating natural overtones, I started hearing overtones everywhere afterwards!
‘It’s incredible to have all these people in the same room, from all over the world. The silk road ensemble are big role models for us.’
For the small amount of downtime he gets, Dashon loves to hike – ‘It’s good for the soul’ – along with seeing friends.
Music on Maine presents Roomful Of Teeth – Caroline Shaw’s “Partita” for 8 voices