On the face of it, Vancouver-based Infinitus is like any other string trio: Alex Cheung plays cello, brother Anthony plays viola, and their friend John Littlejohn plays violin. But the classical instruments they play are perhaps all they have common with other string trios. Alex and Anthony are twins, born in Montreal and raised in Ohio, while Littlejohn grew up in a Michigan inner city. “He was given the opportunity through music to use it as a passport to get himself out of what would be considered a less fortunate situation,” explains Alex. The trio firmly believes that “music is for everyone.” Add to that their admiration for many different genres of music, their passion for outreach and musical education, and it starts to explain how these three “evolved” into a beat box string trio.
Beat box is vocal percussion using the mouth, lips and voice, to produce thumping, popping or hissing sounds. It’s one of the basic elements of hip hop music and not the sort of thing you’d expect to hear during a Bach number. “There is nobody who does exactly what we do,” admits Alex. During a tour of northern BC schools, “There was a hip hop medley that we were preparing to play and we realized something was missing,” explains Alex. “It didn’t have the right feel.” They added some beat box techniques and tried it out on their audience. “It was a huge hit,” says Alex. “We’ve never looked back.” The critically acclaimed trio performs roughly 100 school shows and 20 public performances per year, keeping the innovative group busy. Because what they do is so unique, they’ve had to create their own arrangements, and start composing their own music. “It’s a good challenge because none of us got composition degrees. Now we understand why we had to take our theory classes,” he laughs. Their music contains specific notations that they’ve developed to indicate where the beat boxing needs to come in—the sound of a hi-hat for example. “It’s not uncommon to find us in rehearsal doing base kick as well as snare [separately] and then when that sounds pretty good, we’ll see how it sounds when we’re playing [our classical instruments] at the same time,” says Alex.
Their unique sound resonates with audiences of all ages, but its appeal to younger members is unmistakable, introducing a new generation to the richness of classical music. With Littlejohn as the director, all three participate in the Thrive City String Boot Camp, a 10-day intensive retreat for young instrumentalists that takes place in Mission. Tuition fees have been waived to give everyone a chance to participate. “Now that we’ve become the teachers, we want to make sure that we can give those same amazing opportunities to those who have the passion, but not necessarily the financial ability,” says Alex.
As talented and innovative as Infinitus are, mixing classical music with beat box, and dropping in the occasional jazz and Latin groove, they offer something for everyone. Promises Alex, “We guarantee that everyone who comes to the performance will leave happy.”
Infinitus plays the Pender Harbour School of Music, Sunday, May 7 at 2pm. Tickets $25 available at the Sechelt Visitor Centre and Harbour Insurance. More information at penderharbourmusic.ca and infinitusmusic.com