By Drew Lascot
Some prime benefits of attending community college include the cheaper cost, smaller class sizes, flexible schedules, and a diverse community of students and staff alike. With great diversity comes a great array of talent, which was showcased at the Oct. 30 Talent Show. There were singers, instrumentalists, a dancer, and… a beatboxer? The unassuming 20 year-old Shannon McDuff was a crowd and judge pleaser alike, bringing in first place and an Amazon Kindle with her beatbox remix, “All About the Beat.”
She debuted her uncommon knack during her sophomore year at her high school talent show, but before that she had rough beginnings.
“I started to do the ‘boots and cats’ thing, mostly practicing for myself, or I had headphones in doing homework around my friends,” said McDuff. “And I was doing really bad when I first started doing stuff. They were like, ‘Shannon, that’s annoying. Stop doing that.’”
But the boots and cats marched and meowed onward, and this coming summer marks her sixth year beatboxing.
Inspiration first struck McDuff when she heard acapella sensation Pentatonix and took away more from their vocaloid percussion than the harmonies. After messing with some basics herself, she looked up more beatboxing ‘tools of the trade’ to add to her repertoire.
When it comes to developing a sound, McDuff said that “each beatboxer has their certain sounds, then other beatboxers pick it up.”
McDuff demonstrated a few common sounds she and others use, such as throat bass and lip rolls.
“Most beatboxers know how to use them,” said McDuff. “It’s how certain beatboxers develop them into their their own drops and styles. It’s a lot like singers.”
Perhaps surprisingly, McDuff’s musical background stemmed first from beatboxing and not the other way around.
“After I discovered beatboxing, I joined theatre and choir at my high school and joined the acappella group there called Octave,” said McDuff.
Developing a beat out of those sounds comes from a little something borrowed and something new.
“I listen a lot to EDM, house styles, trap, so you can take it from songs but other things… you just freestyle here and there, then you’re like, ‘That sounded good!’” said McDuff. “It just depends on the day, honestly.”
On top of listening out for inspiration, and bouncing beats off a beatboxing buddy, McDuff spends plenty of time experimenting.
“I probably practice at least 4 hours a day,” said McDuff. “I just think about beats in my head, beatbox in the car, and when I’m just doing things around the house.”
Performing brings its own mix of planned melodies and freestyled tangents; it all depends on what she’s feeling in the moment.
Standing out in any medium can be difficult, so McDuff works hard to distinguish herself in a few key ways. The throat bass mentioned earlier – a low, rumbling sound almost like an engine starting up – isn’t a sound commonly found among woman beatboxers, but it’s one that McDuff uses. She’s working on sounds to call her own but admits it’s hard with so many beatboxers out there.
Regardless, McDuff has clearly worked hard to get the level she’s on today and is in touch with what beatboxing scene she can find, but wants to find more. She uploads beatboxing videos to her YouTube channel and on Instagram. McDuff wants to encourage more people to let those boots and cats flourish.
“Anybody can beatbox,” said McDuff. “It may sound stupid at first, but a stupid sound can sound really cool in a beat!”