Poetry Friday: The Poetry Of Music

Jan 24, 2020

This week’s Poetry Friday segment is a bit of a departure from the usual format. We won’t hear a straightforward poem, but we will hear something uniquely poetic from the Brooklyn musical group Project Trio, performing tonight with the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra. Their roots are in chamber music, but they are also inspired by beatboxing and slam poetry. A big part of their work is touring the world doing music education workshops with kids, helping them find the authentic music and poetry of their souls. Here are musicians Eric Stephenson, Peter Seymour and Greg Pattillo.

Project Trio. From left to right: Eric Stephenson, Greg Pattillo, and Peter Seymour
Credit Project Trio


GP: My name is Greg Pattillo and I play the flute. I also beatbox on the flute. Beatboxing is making drum noises with your mouth. You use the tongue, and the lips, and your air, inhales and exhales. A lot of people familiar with the flute…the flute uses the breath, and the tongue, and the lips, and the mouth. And you can put these together on the flute.

I’ve spent my entire life playing the flute, and sometimes I feel like it’s an uphill battle because not everyone’s trying to listen to the flute. They think in their minds that the flute is a very classical instrument, very lyrical. When I was a youth, I was hanging out with people that didn’t favor that type of music. And so I was trying to think of ways to make the flute cool, and I found a bunch of Slam Poets in San Francisco, and I asked if I could bring my flute through, and they all said, “Nope.” They didn’t think that was great.

Project Trio flutist Greg Pattillo
Credit Greg Pattillo

So I said, well, I’m gonna get my act together and find a clever way to play, and I figured out if I beatboxed and did flute in a very rhythmic way, it worked around their words and the poems. And so then I could collaborate with these poets. And that’s kind of how I got my start beatboxing on the flute.

PS: Hi, my name is Peter Seymour and I play the double bass. Project Trio came together in the late 90’s. We were actually in college together. We went to the Cleveland Institute of Music, which is a classical music conservatory. While there, we were, of course, studying the classical repertoire, and playing in orchestra, and chamber music. But I will say we all enjoyed different styles of music and after hours we would get together and we would play all different styles, all different genres, and so we would bring all of our different love of music – jazz and hip hop – and kind of mesh it with our classical training.

Project Trio double bass player Peter Seymour
Credit Peter Seymour

ES: My name is Eric Stephenson, and I play the cello. All of us started studying music when we were extremely young, and it’s important to us to pay it forward and to show young people and youth that people play instruments and instruments are a very cool thing to do with your life. It’s something that creates discipline and that you have to practice every single day. And the fact that you get to listen to music and figure it out and put it together with your friends and your colleagues is really unique and interesting for us, and we love sharing it with as many different people as possible.

Project Trio cellist Eric Stephenson
Credit Eric Stephenson

GP: I think a great definition for music is sound and silence organized over time. And so, music and poetry go hand in hand. I don’t think what we do is poetry per se, but it is poetic. I think using beatbox today with the youth puts music in their wheelhouse. Like, they’re listening to music with beats. If you can present music that’s somewhat familiar to the music that they’re used to listening to, well then the second thing you play – you could play Bach or whatever you want to – and they’re kind of on your side. We’re out there trying to promote these instruments, trying to promote these sounds, trying to empower youth to pick up instruments and make music not only that’s printed by the masters, but also to look inside and start making the music that they want to make in the style that they’re interested in.

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at Gillian.Ferris@nau.edu.