Bassless Accusations, Nightingale’s award-winning a cappella group, sings, by definition, without instrumental accompaniment—but the landscape of their vocal arrangements changed on October 2 when professional beatboxer Lily Szajnberg visited.
Ms. Szajnberg is a trained vocal percussionist, or “beatboxer,” which means that she has been mastering the art of creating sound effects and rhythms with her voice. After drawing a diagram of a drum kit on Room 108’s Smartboard, Ms. Szajnberg demonstrated how the girls' own voices could be manipulated to mimic—surprisingly accurately—the various snares, cymbals, and drumheads, and then combined to create the effect of a full-on trap set. After a few tries (and a few laughs), Bassless was able to perform an impressive rhythm sequence with only their voices.
Ms. Szajnberg’s fascination with the instrumental capabilities of the human voice began at a very early age—she recalls singing from the moment she could talk and has been imitating sounds her entire life. After joining an a cappella group in high school, she went on to sing with the Brown University Chattertocks and studied under several influential vocal percussion mentors throughout her college years. Honing her skills at Brown led Ms. Szajnberg to join New York City’s longest-running contemporary a cappella group, Treble, and she has been keeping the beat with this all-female ensemble ever since.
The popularity of beatboxing has risen significantly in the past decade as viral online videos, international competitions, and hip-hop songs have introduced the technique to mainstream audiences. But Ms. Szajnberg notes that it’s still a bit of an uphill battle for females hoping to break into the genre and gain esteem. “Sure our voices may not be as low as a man’s, but the argument is as silly as saying that females aren’t as good at sports.” She is determined to “overcome the stigmas attached to vocal percussion” and prove that women can beatbox just as exceptionally as any man. “You can look silly doing it—[beatboxing] involves spitting and flailing…but you have to own it and have confidence.”
Following their 45-minute lesson, the members of Bassless took heed to Ms. Szajnberg’s advice and ended the afternoon with a knock-out performance of Adele’s Rumor Has It—this time with a strong beat to back it up.