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Celebration of New Academic Programs

Posted On October 22, 2014 | 10:20 am | by jessicas | Permalink

“Adaptability to change is not a quality to which the humanities and universities are supposed to be particularly receptive,” Dumbarton Oaks Director Jan Ziolkowski said, addressing a crowd assembled in the dimmed Music Room on the first Sunday of October. But as Brooklyn-based vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth took the stage for the first in a pair of concerts, the celebration of new academic programs at Dumbarton Oaks attested to the institute’s adaptability and vitality: “We here have embraced it, but in our own style and on our own terms,” Ziolkowski continued. 

Roomful of Teeth’s presence in the Music Room on this occasion marks this institutional embrace of change: linking the group to Dumbarton Oaks is member Caroline Shaw, who joined the community this fall as the first recipient of the Dumbarton Oaks Early-Career Musician Residency.

In 2013, Shaw, a classically trained violinist, became the youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, awarded to her Partita for 8 Voices, the sprawling, beautiful composition that filled the Music Room for the first half of Roomful of Teeth’s performance.

The group’s composers—Shaw, Director Brad Wells, and tenor Eric Dudley—draw upon influences as wide-ranging as yodeling, belting, Pansori storytelling, Persian classical singing, and Inuit throat-singing to create unique a capella compositions. “Exploring these old singing traditions and bringing them together in new compilations is the core of Roomful of Teeth,” Wells said during a behind-the-scenes rehearsal with the group, held on Sunday afternoon.

Welcoming new compilations of old traditions was the purpose of the weekend. As guests gathered in the Orangery, Director of Garden and Landscape Studies John Beardsley made a toast to a significant new opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration. Funded by a grant by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Dumbarton Oaks will pilot an initiative in urban landscape studies. “The goal is to get humanists and designers to figure out how cities got where they are and what we should do moving forward,” Beardsley said of the program, that will bring practitioners and historians together through new residencies, scholarly events, and public programming at Dumbarton Oaks.

In addition to celebrating the music residency and urban landscape studies program, the event heralded the arrival of the locus where these developments will come together. In December, the new Fellowship building will open at 1700 Wisconsin Avenue. Scholars will explore the institution’s traditional fields of study inside a modern space in which residential accommodations, common spaces, and a state-of-the-art music room will promote collaboration across fields.

The building has taken shape as the “Fellowship House,” a name that is, Ziolkowski said before the concert, designed to reflect the domestic nature of Dumbarton Oaks even as it expands. “We were a home for two donors, but we were given in a bequest to be a home of the humanities. There is no place like home,” he concluded, as the musicians filed onto the stage and began to sing.