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Beatboxing flutist and boundary-pushing chamber trio bring 'Altsounds' to symphony

Feb 14, 2018

When Greg Pattillo and bandmates Eric Stephenson and Peter Seymour were hanging out as students at the Cleveland School of Music, they didn't figure they'd be making music together someday in front of symphonies all over the world.

"We would've laughed if someone told us we were going to start a group and have a career someday," says Pattillo. "In a conservatory it wasn't nurtured. Flute, cello and double bass? No one has ever written for an ensemble like this."

Even more unbelievable would've been predicting the path the group would take as Project Trio. It all started with Pattillo posting a video of himself beatboxing with his flute on YouTube in 2007.

"I got 6 million views overnight," he says. "I'd been working so hard for a music career and it was a YouTube video on beatbox flute of all things not something I'd been trained for."
If the idea of a beatboxing flutist has you cocking your head like a cocker spaniel hearing a high note, you can see it yourself when Project Trio performs "Scatter," an original concerto by Adam Schoenberg, with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra on Friday.

The idea to add a rhythmic component to his playing originated in a completely different genre bluegrass.

"I got a lot of exposure to bluegrass in Ohio. I was doing the chop, which is what you do on a mandolin or violent," he explains of the clipped staccato rhythm. "I chopped or go 'ch' or 'ck' on the backbeat. I had this rhythmic sound that I could do without thinking about it."

When he moved to San Francisco and joined an artist collective that performed in subways and on street corners, his peers groaned when he introduced the flute.

"I was like, 'But I'll try to make it cool,' " he says with a laugh. "I was trying to figure out what that meant and they were very into hip-hop and slam poetry."

He combined his bluegrass-influenced sounds with beatbox, which he practiced while stocking shelves on the overnight shift at Trader Joe's.

When he and his wife relocated to New York, he reconnected with Stephenson and Seymour just as the YouTube clip was taking off. Ten years, five albums and a DVD later, the group is performing original work with symphonies internationally and spearheading educational outreach projects.
"We have original music and people have written for us and we get to play with orchestras, which is the pinnacle of our art," he adds.

Through beatbox and Project Trio's interpretation of contemporary pop songs, the band is trying to teach youngsters about the joy of acoustic instruments through a familiar route.
"Brahms is entertaining, but you bring them in with the beatbox," he says. "We can use sounds of today to draw people in."

By Courtney Devores, Charlotte Observer
Original story here.