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Pentatonix Brings Hip Hop Dance Sense to A Cappella

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 12:19 pm | Updated: 5:06 pm, Wed Feb 20, 2013.

By Jesse Disbrow

The Ithaca area has long been known as a hotbed for a cappella music and this Monday, February 25, Pentatonix, a group that has been said “will revolutionize a cappella music” will take the stage at the State Theatre at 8 p.m.

The group features five voices and – as is the style of a cappella music – no instruments. However, their sound was more than enough to win themselves the third and final season of the reality singing competition “The Sing Off.” The visit to Ithaca is one that the group is looking forward to.

“I’ve always heard about Ithaca’s a cappella community and entrenching and just how vast it is,” said Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying. “So a cappella fans, and people who are in a cappella groups are always the most fun fans at shows. I cannot wait to play a show in Ithaca, because I know those a cappella groups will be there, and we do a little audience participation thing with the group where the audience gets to sing, so I can’t hear them all belt it out. It should be a really fun show; it’ll be like a ‘choir nerds unite’ show.”

Hoying, the creator of the group, was studying at the University of Southern California when he heard about “The Sing Off.” The self-described choir nerd contacted two old friends, Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi; they had worked together as a trio in high school. Back then the threesome had made arrangements of pop and dance music for fun, winning some local talent competitions, and they had uploaded some of their videos to YouTube. However, to make it in the competition, the group was told by a mutual friend that they would need a strong rhythm section. The search was on for a bass voice and a “beatboxer” to fill out the sound.

Within the first day of looking, the group found Avi Kaplan. Hoying said that Kaplan had a reputation as an awesome bass with a low register and a style that fit the trio’s musically.

“Ironically, he had already seen our trio before on YouTube,” said Hoying. “He said ‘Oh my gosh you all are that trio from Arlington (Texas), that’s so cool. Yeah, I would love to join your group.’”

Hoying said finding a beatboxer was much more challenging. Pentatonix is a group that is inspired not just by pop or classical music, as are most a cappella groups, but it is also greatly inspired by dance music and electronica. Many of their songs are vocal remixes of popular songs, in the style a DJ may spin at a club. In order to pull off that sound they needed a beatboxer who was dynamic and musically creative.

Enter Kevin Olusola. Hoying said they found Olusoa after watching a YouTube video where he accompanied his own cello in what he called “celloboxing.” After a look through his other accomplishments, including a degree from Yale, multiple trips to Carnegie Hall, and a top finish in an international competition hosted by Yo-Yo Ma, Hoying and the group thought that Olusoa might be the kind of hard working person they would need for their group to succeed. The group crossed their fingers that he would fly out to California and join up, and Olusoa was willing. Hoying said that after an initial meeting, the group found that they had an easygoing chemistry.

All members collaborate on all the arrangements, regularly producing videos for their PTX Official YouTube channel, and last year they released their PTX Vol. 1 EP. Hoying said that while the covers of songs like “Video Killed the Radio Star,” “Your Love is My Drug,” and “Love Lockdown” are still going to be a large part of their repertoire, the group is working towards become truer artists by arranging and creating their own original songs. Two of their compositions appeared on the EP, and Hoying said they feature a few more on their 2013 tour.

“We have a bunch of new stuff planned for our show,” said Hoying. “We have a bunch of new arrangements, new staging with a big platform, a backdrop and lights. Just more of a production in general.”