FRESNO BEE

Back to Pentatonix
Visalian brings famous a cappella group home

By Mike Osegueda - The Fresno Bee

Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013

His voice, we have to start with his voice.

We're talking about Avi Kaplan -- the Visalia native who's part of the now-famous a cappella group Pentatonix. Anybody who has heard Pentatonix or seen the group on TV (like when it won the third season of NBC's "The Sing-Off") is well aware of the booming presence of Kaplan's voice.

His part, the vocal bass, was the fifth and final piece of Pentatonix. It's what helped the group triumph in "The Sing-Off," propelled it to viral fame on YouTube and made it a central part of the latest swell in popularity for a cappella music.


And when Kaplan is on the other end of the phone, to talk about Pentatonix's sold-out show Monday in his hometown of Visalia, you can't help but do a double-take when he says "hello."

His voice, it's so warm and rich, you almost wish you could roll around in its gentle boom. The voice, it's what earned him the nickname "The Subwoofer" when he was at Mt. Whitney High School.

"I'm super excited to come to Visalia," says Kaplan, 23. "I just want to make everyone proud, to inspire the kids there who are in the same position I was in. That will really be a dream come true.

"The show is actually going to be in the LJ Williams Theater, which is where I did all my high-school choir performances. I have many memories there. It's going to be crazy to come back with my professional group. I've never seen that theater packed before."

He will on Monday, Jan. 28. Tickets sold out well in advance, meaning the 1,200-plus seat theater will be filled with both Kaplan's friends and family and "Pentaholics," which is what the Pentatonix fans call themselves.

That fan base has powered the band to a nearly sold-out winter tour that's taking it all over the country. Pentatonix's debut album, "PTX Volume 1" went as high as No. 14 on Billboard, while its Christmas EP, "PTXmas" hit No. 1 on the iTunes holiday charts.

It's happening at a time when a cappella music is enjoying a rise in popularity -- thanks to "Glee" and the movie "Pitch Perfect." Pentatonix, however, have become the real-life ambassadors of the genre, for fans who want something more than fiction. That's one of the reasons that pretty much every video Pentatonix releases on YouTube tops one million views.

"It's a dream come true, for sure," Kaplan says. "I get to wake up every single day and do what I love and make a living from it, just move people with music, that's something I've always wanted to do."

Brad Hayashi, who was Kaplan's choir director at Mt. Whitney, knew he had something special the day Avi walked through the door and shared his low, bassy voice.

"I knew he had a big future ahead of him," Hayashi says. "It was pretty apparent from the first moment.

"It's been an incredible journey to see this happen. I knew there was a place for Avi, a voice like Avi's is one in a million. In an a cappella group, if you don't have a good bass, you're not going to have a good a cappella group."

Now that he's found success, Kaplan is excited to share his wisdom. He and Pentatonix will hold workshops with high school students at Mt. Whitney, Golden West, Redwood and other area high schools.

"I feel like I can really connect with them," Kaplan says, "because I was in their spot not too long ago."

He's also excited to get home to see his parents (he doesn't get home much, only one day recently, for Christmas). It also allows his parents to see him, in his hometown, successfully living his dream in front of a sold-out crowd.

"It's not the most guaranteed thing," Kaplan says about making it in music. "Now that it's here, it's really cool just to make them proud."