Grammy Awards have local connections
Lycoming County was well represented at the 56th annual Grammy Awards Sunday night in Los Angeles.
Dashon Burton, a graduate of Williamsport Area High School and a member of an eight-person vocal ensemble Brad Wells and Roomful of Teeth, took home a Grammy for best chamber music/small ensemble performance.
And Robyn Monks, who grew up in Jersey Shore and graduated from Jersey Shore Area High School in 1987, was among those who were married during a televised mass wedding at the event.
The ‘music man’
When Burton moved to Pennsylvania from the Bronx at 13 years old, he hadn’t listened to much music beyond what played on the radio.
Now, at 31, with a little help from his bass-baritone voice, Burton makes his living touring the world as a solo performer and singer in an ensemble.
Brad Wells and Roomful of Teeth won the award for its debut album, “Roomful of Teeth,” after performing during the Grammy Awards’ pre-telecast ceremony.
“It’s such a huge honor and accomplishment,” Burton said. “We couldn’t be more over the moon about it.”
Burton began his life in music at Curtin Middle School where former choral teacher Doug Gordon, and Todd Kendall, current band director at the high school, recognized Burton’s potential.
Kendall recalled a moment when he and Gordon were in the school library when they heard a “rare sounding, deep, resonant, amazing voice.”
“We wanted to find out who it was,” Kendall said. “It was Dashon. And the rest is history.”
“But Dashon’s audition was really just listening to him speak,” Kendall continued. “You could tell he was blessed with a gift. And he always wanted to do things really well.”
That conscientiousness was echoed by Kent Weaver, co-director of the choir at the high school, who guided Burton as he grew into a knowledgeable musician and went on to compete in district and regional competitions, as well as perform at the White House as a member of GQ.
“He had a great work ethic,” Weaver said. “And he was well-liked because he was kind and talented.”
Burton credits much of his success to his music mentors from Williamsport.
“I had no training until that day at Curtin,” Burton said. “By the time I got to high school, I’d had a little training but I really started to blossom under Kent Weaver. I was just really nurtured and brought up to appreciate wonderful, wonderful music.”
He graduated from the high school in 2000 and went on to attend Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland for music education. In 2003, he transfered to Oberlin College in Ohio for voice performance and earned his bachelor’s degree in 2005.
Before he attended Yale in 2009 and graduated two years later with a master’s degree in baroque music, Burton spent four years in the vocal ensemble Cantus that toured all over the country.
“That’s where I really learned how to sing in an ensemble, which is a very different thing from singing individually,” Burton said.
Eventually Brad Wells, director of Roomful of Teeth, approached Burton about joining the group.
“Brad had this amazing idea to bring people from around the world to teach American singers their style of music,” Burton said. “We learned all different types of styles, starting with Swiss yodeling, then Tuvan throat singing, and Korean and Alaskan folk music. So we brought in composers who would listen to us make these weird sounds and they would write music for us. All of it is written for eight voices.”
The piece the group performed at the Grammy Awards was part of “Partita for 8 Voices,” written by Pulitzer prize-winning composer Caroline Adelaide Shaw.
Asked about her son’s achievement, Burton’s mother, Lisa Shorter, of Williamsport, was at a loss for words.
“It was surreal. You can pick an adjective, and seriously, I would go with it,” she said.
Robyn Monks’ new husband Adam Gropman, a comedian in Los Angeles, heard about the casting call from a friend in the comedy scene.
“They were looking for all different kinds of couples,” Robyn said. “We’re seven months pregnant so we sort of got picked as the pregnant couple.”
The two had to sign confidentiality agreements and weren’t at liberty to tell their parents about the wedding until the day of.
Robyn, 44, has lived in Los Angeles for the last 14 years and always had dreamed of being on the Grammys, as she is a musician. She attended Penn State University for theater and then moved all around the country as a musician. She’s performed in New Orleans, Chicago and Atlanta.
Her country duo, The Shaker Sisters, had one of its songs featured on an episode of HBO’s “True Blood” in a past season.
Though she never thought she’d make it to the Grammys for anything other than her music, she has no complaints.
“This experience really meant something to me,” she said. “We went in just to get married and then you’re there and you see all these couples and it makes you feel like you’re a part of something. It was quite wonderful. We were walking through the crowd after and you’ve got Keith Urban with tears in his eyes and Nicole Kidman reaching out to you. It’s a whole different world, and I was already elated because I had just gotten married.”
Of the after-party, Robyn said, “It was so interesting, because as we were walking around, people would stop us and congratulate us and say ‘Oh, my God, you made me cry.’ “
“I feel really blessed that I not only got to marry my best friend,” Robyn said. “I got to be a part of something that was greater than myself.”