A popular but little-practiced musical discipline, beatbox is making its debut at the Children’s Philharmonie. Through the broadcast of four films and the organization of introductory workshops, three-time French champion Robin Cavaillès invites young and old to make their voice a real instrument. Reporting.
Rubbing of palms, slight hops and turns of the wrists: in a room of the Children’s Philharmonie, created two years ago in Paris, a group made up of around fifteen budding musicians accompanied by their parents seems to be in the middle of a sports warm-up. “The whole body must be wide awake, otherwise it doesn’t work”, explains Robin Cavaillès. The one who leads this little troupe with the methods of a physical education teacher has only ever taught music. Robin Cavaillès, 36, is preparing to introduce the group to a discipline of which he has been champion of France three times: beatboxing.
A battery without a battery
“Do you know what beatboxing is?” “It’s the sound you make with your mouth,” replies a little girl from the front row. And the sound grew quickly in the room. The warming of the lips – the sound of an airplane taking off – launches the choir in earnest.
Robin Cavaillès draws a “P” on a large white sheet and has his apprentices repeat it. “You have to put your lips like a kiss, then tap”, he specifies. The table then becomes black with “P”, “Ts” and “K”. These letters are the three main sounds of the drums: the bass drum, the hi-hat and the snare drum. For the last one, it is a somewhat summary version since it took the champion almost five years to master it. “It takes a lot of work to achieve something solid,” explains the one who has been practicing beatboxing for 16 years, “but in three minutes you can produce interesting sounds and create a real rhythm.”
A demanding discipline
While some of the participants seem to get by without too much difficulty, others struggle to keep up. “I can’t do it at all anymore,” whispers a mother to her neighbor who, for her part, no longer seems to be really trying. In the front row, the children hold on and achieve – for some – a very conclusive result.
But where the attention is at its height, it is when Robin Cavaillès indulges in a solo. From drums to trumpet, the beatboxer creates an entire orchestra with the simple use of his voice. And young and old alike are speechless at his performance. “The voice is an instrument in its own right, it’s my instrument. For novices, it quickly has a virtuoso side, it’s quite impressive”, analyzes Robin Cavaillès.
A few steps from the room where the workshop takes place, in a completely empty room, the children once again cannot believe their eyes or ears. On the four walls, the silhouette – or sometimes the glitter-made mouth – of their teacher of the day appears projected large, moves and multiplies to create a whole symphony.
“There are 68 speakers in the room, and the sounds only come out at the exact level of the figure or mouth that is causing the sound”, explains the beatboxer. In total, four films were commissioned by the Philharmonie de Paris and entirely composed by Robin Cavaillès. Shown in this room during all visits, they offer a rare and fun sensory experience.
An opening to music
Among the parents, Muriel, a 46-year-old teacher, does not only attend this workshop to support her daughter: “I started doing a bit of beatboxing with my class because one of my students was a fan of this discipline, the children loved it, they repeated the rhythms in the playground.”
This first grade teacher sees the discipline as a way to offer her students an introduction to music. “Many schools lack music teachers, beatboxing is a simple and fun way to get students practicing music during class hours,” explains the latter.
It is true that beatboxing does not require any financial investment. The voice is an instrument that can be taken anywhere and costs nothing. “In battles, I was for a long time one of the only ones who knew how to play another instrument”explains Robin Cavaillès, “For many, beatboxing was their first musical experience, and now they are great musicians.”
At the end of the workshop, the young participants have fun freely in the play area of the Children’s Philharmonie. Several of them have gathered around a sequencer and are trying to record the musical phrases learned a few minutes earlier. If some of them struggle to reproduce the rhythm and move on to other games, there are a few who still train seriously. “My daughter already asked me if she could sign up for beatboxing classes, but I don’t think it exists”confides a mother.
If the passion of the little ones persists, Robin Cavaillès will not be at his first vocation sparked. A former music teacher, he frequently participates in artistic and cultural education courses (PAEC) in colleges and runs numerous workshops, providing opportunities to create future beatboxers. “A few years ago, I followed a group of middle school students from Le Mans”, he says with tenderness. “Since then they have participated in the French Championships and some even want to make it their career.”
Beatbox workshops at the Children’s Philharmonie. Next edition on Saturday September 23 at 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Price: 20 euros per participant.