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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Leo Ontiveros ’26 keeps Soulfege in rhythm

Leo Ontiveros ’26 (center) is learning to do vocal trumpeting and saxophone. (Photo courtesy of Leo Ontiveros ’26)

Leo Ontiveros ’26 uncovered his beatboxing skills by accident.

To entertain themselves in high school, Ontiveros and his friends would sing their favorite songs together. One of those was Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”

“I distinctly remember doing that sort of drum pattern with my mouth just for fun, because my other friend would do the lyrics,” Ontiveros said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m pretty good at making drum noises with my mouth. I don’t know what that skill is, but I’m gonna keep doing it.'”

Ontiveros continued honing the skill without any technical training until his first year at Lafayette when he saw a flyer advertising for Soulfege – one of the campus’ all-voices a capella groups – and they were looking for a beatboxer.

After submitting a video audition, Ontiveros got to work learning new skills to add to his repertoire.

“I did learn music theory alongside piano when I was younger, and I think that helped me develop that sense of rhythm that’s needed for beatboxing,” he said. “Then you develop these sort of consonant sounds that turn into those drum sounds, and you learn to control your mouth and just breathe and use that kinetic energy.”

“It’s so cool seeing his evolution starting out with really basic sounds and the initiative he took to teach himself how to beatbox and bring that skill to Soulfege,” said Meredith Forman ’24, music director of Soulfege. “We sound great with him.”

The process has been one of learning on the job for Ontiveros, including discovering how to warm up.

“At first, it was a little bit confusing because I would warm up with the singers, but I wasn’t singing,” he said. “Eventually, I would quietly start my vocal percussion, just sounding out those drum sounds to prepare my lips and my whole sense of rhythm. I just quietly go into the corner and start doing that.”

“If you try to beatbox, you can hardly breathe,” Forman said. “There’s no measure off. You just keep going. It’s really impressive.”

As many of the arrangements that the group gets don’t come with beatboxing parts, Ontiveros is tasked with coming up with the beats himself.

“I start out by doing a simple ‘boots and cats’ just to keep up the tempo, and then I start thinking, ‘Okay, what can I add next?'” Ontiveros explained. “Maybe I’ll add a little high-hat noise between the boots and cats. I’ll record that during practice and then have it in mind for the next practice.”

From there, it becomes a collaborative trial-and-error process with the entire group. Ontiveros’ arrangement for the group’s rendition of “Jolene” by Dolly Parton is one of his — and Forman’s — favorites.

“[Jolene] was one of the first songs he had to beatbox for, and when I watch the videos back, it was just perfect,” Forman said. “He was just able to sync with the group so well, and I’ve been really impressed with how much work he’s put in behind the scenes.”

Ontiveros has dabbled in other a cappella groups as well — he was recruited by the Chorduroys, the tenor, baritone and bass voices a capella group, to beatbox on their rendition of “Open Arms” by PRETTYMUCH after the graduation of their previous beatboxer.

“They give me a call when they’re working on that song specifically,” Ontiveros said. “It’s an honor to have the Chords ask me to help out.”

Ontiveros is still hoping to expand his skillset as he continues his time with Soulfege. He bought a loop station for Christmas in order to practice layering his beats, and his next challenge is to master the skill of imitating other instruments besides percussion. He has his sights set on vocal trumpet and vocal saxophone.

“There’s a million things you can do,” Forman said. “I’m excited to … be able to see what he can do to add his own style to whatever songs we’re doing.”

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About the Contributor
Madeline Marriott, Editor-in-Chief
Maddie (she/her) is a senior English major with a Government & Law minor. As the Editor-in-Chief, a Mentor Writing Associate, a Senior Student Contributor for Lafayette Communications, a Communications Intern for the Office of Sustainability, co-founder and Vice President of English Club, and a Senior Interviewer for Lafayette Admissions, no writing happens on campus without her knowing about it. Her Google Calendar would make your head spin. She is a die-hard Swiftie and Phillies fan, a collector of tote bags, a builder of a Hay Day empire, and an avid Goodreads and Letterboxd user. She smokes cigars and uses an old-timey typewriter and notepad in the newsroom.

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