Concerto for Beatboxer and Sinfonietta (2019)

^Thesis, MM Composition, Jacobs School of Music (2019)

*Written in collaboration with Craig Simonetti

Composer's note:

I first heard about beatboxer Craig Simonetti when his collegiate a cappella group, The Hexachords, won a 2017 Contemporary Acappella Recording Award for their cover of Addicted to a Memory by Zedd. On this track — originally an EDM song — his beatboxing was featured front and center, creating thick, percussive noises I didn’t know humans could make. When I met him at an a cappella festival the following year, I asked him how he learned to create these noises — for example, sounds beatboxers refer to as “fart bass,” “SEGA noise,” or “clop" — and he showed me MRI videos of the beatboxing mechanism in action.

I was instantly fascinated and inspired. Up to that point, I had only been aware of beatboxers as performers in a cappella groups who function as vocal percussion, not as individual musicians capable of a producing a wide variety of color and texture. Upon further research, I realized that — outside of beatboxing flute players — these musicians have been largely untapped in contemporary concert music, and the gears started turning in my brain about how I might be able to write for a beatboxer as an instrument of its own.

The following summer, I asked Craig if I could write him a concerto, and he excitedly agreed. Over many Skype sessions, he broke down each pallet of sounds he uses, and we discussed technique, sequencing, groove, and tempo. As I began to incorporate these elements into a piece for sinfonietta, the form of the piece quickly took shape: Craig would be presented initially at odds with the sinfonietta, having to develop and build his sounds; the sinfonietta would then overwhelm him, and he would have to fight back; and then, through musical dialogue, they would eventually join forces at the end of the piece for a fun, uptempo final section. For the score, Craig and I developed a relatively simple notational system that would work for the both of us, a system that incorporated drum set notation, specialized noteheads, and text to indicate percussive consonants underneath every note. This way, he could read everything at the incredibly fast speeds required, and I could be ensured that he was consistently creating the sounds I wanted.

This project has been the most exciting things I have been able to create, and I am so thankful to have collaborated with such an agile and sensitive musician as Craig.