Roanoke College

Choir student competes in the first American Beatbox Championships

  • Choir student competes in the first American Beatbox Championships

  • 09/22/10
  • Bert Miller '13 discovered human beatboxing in the eighth grade after he began to listen to Matisyahu, a reggae performer who beatboxes. He admits that at first, he was intrigued by Matisyahu's ability to "make sounds with his face." However, he says there was "something about his uniqueness" and the fact that his songs didn't sound like anything else Miller had heard. Inspired by the performance, Miller joined the beatboxing community on and became a "fairly popular guy" on the website by uploading videos of himself beatboxing.

    Although beatboxing is a fairly well-known musical style, Miller says, there are very few people who actually do it. He says that it's often a solo act, at least in his case, with jam sessions limited to large conventions like Boxcon, the international beatboxing convention held each July. Boxcon draws crowds of more than 1500 people, allowing ample opportunity for performers to meet and beatbox together. Miller says that while there, he had the opportunity to beatbox with 15 or 20 people at a time.

    Beatboxing is also physically demanding. Miller says he drinks four to five bottles of water before each performance because "the worst thing is your mouth going dry because you can't do anything gasping for water."

    Miller has traveled to New York twice to perform - once at Boxcon and once at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. He says that this year was the first time in several years that Boxcon has been held in the United States. Usually it is held in Europe, which Miller says has surpassed the U.S. in terms of beatboxing popularity. Even though the U.S. has a large number of classical hip-hop beatboxers, it is considered an imitation of "real" music rather than as a form of music, like in Europe.

    This past spring, he competed in the first American Beatbox Championships and placed 10th in the nation out of almost 60 people. The championships required participants to upload their own videos, which were then voted on by members of the website, Human Beatbox and also by a panel judges made up of highly respected hip-hop and beatbox performers. Judges gave scores based on musicality, creativity, originality, technical ability and public vote. The top eight performers competed in New York City during Boxcon in July.

    In his spare time, Miller is a forum moderator for Human Beat He says he and the other moderators are the "middle ground" on the website and try to prevent harassment between members, acting as "big brothers." They also serve as judges for smaller online tournaments.

    Miller's life outside of beatboxing also is busy. He is in the Roanoke College Choir, works as a colonial tour guide in his hometown of Fredericksburg, Va. on breaks and auditioned for American Idol, making it through the local level. He is majoring in theology at Roanoke.

    Miller says that although he enjoys beatboxing, his goal is to "put on more of a show" because he considers himself a singer and an entertainer. He says that he regularly puts himself in the limelight, but does not get embarrassed because he is considered the "awkward moments guy" among friends. He gives an example with his performance at Boxcon; he wore his colonial tour guide costume and introduced several instruments into his performance, branding himself the "first American beatboxer."