Punch Bowl insider Jonah Arnheim speaks with beatboxer Shmuel Shapiro about music, a twist of faith, and the future of Penn a capella.
JA: Shmuel, tell me about how you made your way into the a capella industry.
SS: Man, I’ve been spittin’ beats and bars since circumcision. In school, I was the kid drumming the desk with pencils and clicking pens, you know, the kid everyone likes. I backed my own Bar Mitzvah with a tape of me b-boxing. I knew that when I came to Penn, I would have the raw talent to sing a capella. I don’t sing a capella because “it’s a fun extracurricular” or “music is a nice way to blow off steam,” I sing because I am endowed by the Lord above the greatest beatboxing mouth on campus.
JA: Did you audition for many groups?
SS: I was getting bids left and right. The Shabbatones pounced first, naturally, but after a while the girls reminded me too much of my mother and I had to leave. I was surprised how many subsets of a capella exist on campus. I liked Penn Masala, but the position of “that one white guy” was already taken. Penn’s premier Mongolian throat singing group, the Penn Esophagi, seemed pretty fun, but honestly I’m more into the Tibetan version.
JA: And what group will you sing with this semester?
SS: I was thinking about that very question on my morning walk to Hillel for some bagels and schmear, when a flyer spontaneously appeared in my hand. Hallelujah! Praised be, I was singing for Full Measure, Penn’s Christian a capella troupe.
JA: Shmuel, are you not Jewish?
SS: Not anymore! You can’t beat the box if you don’t pray the part!
JA: Shmuel, are you crazy? I don’t think you have to be Christian to join!
SS: I have seen the light of the Lord above and he says, “Shmuel, you were put on this Earth to spread my message. Well, not really spread my message, you’re just here to be the vocal percussion behind my message.”
JA: This is insane! What the hell are you doing! Do you even know anything about Christianity?
SS: I bought a Bible, took one of those fancy baths, and opened my mind’s eye to the Holy Spirit!
JA: What the hell, man! We went to Hebrew school together! Does that mean nothing to you? Is this what it has come to? You read Torah at my Bar Mitzvah! We spent Hanukkah together! Our cousins are married!
SS: I have seen the light of the Lord! He compels me! I must beatbox for Him! I must! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS ME!
JA: What time are you meetings?
SS: Mondays at 6 in Williams Hall 224. Stop by if you’re interested.