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Trevor Ginsberg: beatbox unboxed

Playing drums with his mouth

Trevor Ginsberg: from lips, teeth, and tongue to cymbal, rim, and drum.
Trevor Ginsberg: from lips, teeth, and tongue to cymbal, rim, and drum.

Back when he was younger, Trevor Ginsberg played violin for a short spell — but strings didn’t stick like his love of singing. He started off in choirs, and eventually became a member of the Centerville High School Forte A Cappella group, based out of Centerville, Ohio. They won the 2016 ICHSA (International Championship of High School A Cappella) competition, and were likely the first high school a cappella group to release a CD of all-original songs written by its members.

Ginsberg wasn’t always singing with Forte, however. He also played drums. With his mouth. So he was beatboxing, right? Not exactly. “There’s a difference between beatboxing and vocal percussion,” Ginsburg explains. “Beatboxing is more like the stuff you would see on YouTube, where it’s just an individual dub-stepping and doing crazy sounds and stuff. Vocal percussion is just emulating a drum kit, because a capella music is essentially like each part is trying to play a different instrument. So, as a ‘drummer,’ you are just trying to emulate a kit. You aren’t trying to do too much fancy stuff, or what we used to call SPM, as in ‘stuff-per-minute.’ You’re not trying to do too much; you’re just trying to keep rhythm — and sound like a drum set. That’s very common now. I think there are some groups that do struggle with the difference between the two, but it’s super-important that beatboxing is more on the solo side, whereas vocal percussion is with a group. You are part of a group; you are not by yourself.”

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During his stint with Forte, Ginsberg was also able to perform with the pop-star JoJo. “We published a video of one of her songs and she loved it. She said, ‘I’m gonna be in DC this weekend. Do you guys wanna drive down and perform with me?’ My high school actually made a last-minute impromptu trip [an eight-hour bus ride] down to DC. I was fortunate that my school had a huge performing arts center and a huge performing arts program. So we had really good boosters, and they were just like, ‘Let’s make it happen.’ I was very lucky.”

Ginsberg cites Bobby McFerrin (best known for the ‘80s hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) and musician/comedian Reggie Watts as major inspirations for his work. Another is Michael Winslow, an actor whose claim to fame is his portrayal of Larvell Jones, the sound-effect master prankster featured in all seven of the Police Academy films. The latter is an interesting choice, because it shows how closely the worlds of beatboxing and realistic, vocal sound effects are aligned. It is perhaps unsurprising that Ginsberg took first place in the 2017 Coca-Cola Talent Classic at the Kentucky State Fair with a routine that mixed beatboxing with standup comedy. “I did more of a Michael Winslow type of set,” he recalls, “where I played ping-pong with the audience. It was like a half-comedy, half-music type of thing. That one did really well.”

Ginsberg worked out his winning comedy set at Wiley’s comedy club in Dayton, Ohio, but since his move to San Diego in 2018, he has performed standup only occasionally. Now, he says he is looking into landing more local standup gigs, and even has an idea for a marijuana-based comedy club. “I don’t personally smoke, but I know it’s big culturally out here. I think it would be a perfect place if people could go smoke their own weed and watch comedy, because what comedian wouldn’t want to go do a set in front of a hundred high people?”

In the meantime, Ginsberg is taking on the role of a beatboxing Yoda, delivering one-on-one lessons to aspiring vocal percussionists. He raves about an 80-year-old woman he met at a karaoke event who could perform “a really solid kick, hi-hat, and a snare,” after he had been coaching her for only 20 minutes. “When you are talking with adults, you can get more into the intricacies,” he explains, “but the younger kids are, like, ‘I just want to be able to do cool stuff. I want to do my favorite songs.’ For them, it’s more just about having fun. I worked with a younger student one time who wanted to incorporate how to make a fart noise into a beat. So we worked on that, because it’s just about getting them interested and excited about it.”

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Trevor Ginsberg: from lips, teeth, and tongue to cymbal, rim, and drum.
Trevor Ginsberg: from lips, teeth, and tongue to cymbal, rim, and drum.

Back when he was younger, Trevor Ginsberg played violin for a short spell — but strings didn’t stick like his love of singing. He started off in choirs, and eventually became a member of the Centerville High School Forte A Cappella group, based out of Centerville, Ohio. They won the 2016 ICHSA (International Championship of High School A Cappella) competition, and were likely the first high school a cappella group to release a CD of all-original songs written by its members.

Ginsberg wasn’t always singing with Forte, however. He also played drums. With his mouth. So he was beatboxing, right? Not exactly. “There’s a difference between beatboxing and vocal percussion,” Ginsburg explains. “Beatboxing is more like the stuff you would see on YouTube, where it’s just an individual dub-stepping and doing crazy sounds and stuff. Vocal percussion is just emulating a drum kit, because a capella music is essentially like each part is trying to play a different instrument. So, as a ‘drummer,’ you are just trying to emulate a kit. You aren’t trying to do too much fancy stuff, or what we used to call SPM, as in ‘stuff-per-minute.’ You’re not trying to do too much; you’re just trying to keep rhythm — and sound like a drum set. That’s very common now. I think there are some groups that do struggle with the difference between the two, but it’s super-important that beatboxing is more on the solo side, whereas vocal percussion is with a group. You are part of a group; you are not by yourself.”

Sponsored
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During his stint with Forte, Ginsberg was also able to perform with the pop-star JoJo. “We published a video of one of her songs and she loved it. She said, ‘I’m gonna be in DC this weekend. Do you guys wanna drive down and perform with me?’ My high school actually made a last-minute impromptu trip [an eight-hour bus ride] down to DC. I was fortunate that my school had a huge performing arts center and a huge performing arts program. So we had really good boosters, and they were just like, ‘Let’s make it happen.’ I was very lucky.”

Ginsberg cites Bobby McFerrin (best known for the ‘80s hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) and musician/comedian Reggie Watts as major inspirations for his work. Another is Michael Winslow, an actor whose claim to fame is his portrayal of Larvell Jones, the sound-effect master prankster featured in all seven of the Police Academy films. The latter is an interesting choice, because it shows how closely the worlds of beatboxing and realistic, vocal sound effects are aligned. It is perhaps unsurprising that Ginsberg took first place in the 2017 Coca-Cola Talent Classic at the Kentucky State Fair with a routine that mixed beatboxing with standup comedy. “I did more of a Michael Winslow type of set,” he recalls, “where I played ping-pong with the audience. It was like a half-comedy, half-music type of thing. That one did really well.”

Ginsberg worked out his winning comedy set at Wiley’s comedy club in Dayton, Ohio, but since his move to San Diego in 2018, he has performed standup only occasionally. Now, he says he is looking into landing more local standup gigs, and even has an idea for a marijuana-based comedy club. “I don’t personally smoke, but I know it’s big culturally out here. I think it would be a perfect place if people could go smoke their own weed and watch comedy, because what comedian wouldn’t want to go do a set in front of a hundred high people?”

In the meantime, Ginsberg is taking on the role of a beatboxing Yoda, delivering one-on-one lessons to aspiring vocal percussionists. He raves about an 80-year-old woman he met at a karaoke event who could perform “a really solid kick, hi-hat, and a snare,” after he had been coaching her for only 20 minutes. “When you are talking with adults, you can get more into the intricacies,” he explains, “but the younger kids are, like, ‘I just want to be able to do cool stuff. I want to do my favorite songs.’ For them, it’s more just about having fun. I worked with a younger student one time who wanted to incorporate how to make a fart noise into a beat. So we worked on that, because it’s just about getting them interested and excited about it.”

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The latest copy of the Reader

Please enjoy this clickable Reader flipbook. Linked text and ads are flash-highlighted in blue for your convenience. To enhance your viewing, please open full screen mode by clicking the icon on the far right of the black flipbook toolbar.

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