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Of a Pentatonic
By: Maya Gavant, 8th Grade,
Stevens Cooperative School, Hoboken, NJ
Pentatonix (or PTX) is a musical group that has taken the online and performing world by storm.
Comprised of five members: Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola, the group started in Arlington, Texas when best friends: Kirstie, Scott, and Mitch started making singing videos. I had a chance to speak with Kirstie who told me, “Scott, Mitch, and I started doing videos in our senior year just for fun. We thought this would be cool to do so we thought, let’s just try it out. We weren’t even planning on making it a long term thing!” Later they were told about The Sing-Off, which is a singing competition television show featuring a cappella groups.
The trio decided they wanted to try out for the show, and then found Avi Kaplan through mutual friends, who joined the group and served as a strong bass in their harmonies “He was known for being an incredible bass,” Kirstie says. The group still knew that they were missing something, and that’s when Hoying found Olusola through a YouTube video where he was beat boxing and playing his cello simultaneously. The five met and practiced for the first time together only a day before The Sing-Off audition, and despite some challenges they made it through. The Sing-Off features different singing groups as the perform in front of and get feedback from renowned artists such as; Sara Barellies, Nick Lachey, Ben Folds, and Shawn Stockman.
At this time, the group transformed to call themselves Pentatonix, which was in recognition of their awing harmonies (pentatonic scale) and number of members. They performed songs such as, E.T. by Katy Perry, Love Lockdown by Kanye West, Dog Days Are Over by Florence and the Machine, and Eye of the Tiger by Survivor, just to name a few. Each song was completed only with vocals. The group even put an interesting new twist on Your Love is My Drug by Ke$ha, and performed their first medley (later one of the talents they would become known for) with a combination of Britney Spears songs: Oops!...I Did it Again, Toxic, and Hold it Against Me. Pentatonix went on to win Season Three (2011) of The Sing-Off, receiving $200,000 and a recording contract with Sony.
Since The Sing-Off, Pentatonix’s fame has grown, mainly through social media. The group has well over 3,000,000 subscribers on YouTube, over 700k likes on Facebook, 173.3k followers on Twitter, and 67,000 followers on Instagram. “I definitely attribute a lot of our success to social media,” Kirstie said.
On November 5th 2013, Pentatonix released their second album, PTX Volume 2 following last year’s PTX Volume 1. The album not only features eight songs, but three originals co-written by the members of the group. When asked about the song writing process Kirstie thoughtfully replied, “It’s different for everyone; what’s really nice about our group is that we all have a bunch of different musical backgrounds, and we all listen to different music, which gives us a lot of different perspectives. We will write in pairs or by ourselves and it really depends on what inspires the person that’s writing."
Fans have been nothing but pleased with the new album, which Kirstie remarks, “I definitely would say it’s different from the first album. The first one was great; we were trying to separate ourselves from the show and find our style and voice. This one has taken longer than we all expected, but we’ve worked really hard on it and we’ve kind of expanded our horizons from what we have done before. There’s a song called Run to You, which is my favorite original on the album; we haven’t really done anything that’s really emotional and really grabs you, that people can relate to no matter what situation they’re in. We’ve never done that before, so that was really cool. I’m really excited and hope everyone likes it; we’ve come a long way."
Even if you don’t
follow Pentatonix closely through social media, you may have seen
their well-known medley videos (Evolution of Music, Evolution of Beyonce)
or their YouTube Award- nominated
Being nominated for a YouTube Award is a huge recognition and has only reinforced the group’s rising fame. “I’m really excited about it, exclaims Kirstie. “Its so awesome in general to be putting so much of yourself out there with something and then to get recognition for it in any way; it’s a really good feeling, it really means a lot to us”.
After seeing some of the videos on their YouTube channel, one can only imagine how much work goes into each and every song, whether it is a cover, a medley or an original piece. Kirstie answered that: “We try and rehearse every day, but it really depends on the song. For example, our Evolution of Music video took so long to put together, it has a lot of transitions and it was probably the most stressful to make."
Besides devoting time to rehearsing, the group recently returned from their first European tour. They performed in Italy, England, France, Austria, and the Netherlands. In Europe, they realized that their fame had reached an international status, and they are now even more anxious to continue touring through the USA. “Touring is really exciting," Kirstie explained. “Recording live videos is really cool, but to me touring is so much better, even if it’s not spot on perfect. The energy you get from the crowd is so amazing and so inspiring, you want to be the best that you can be." She added, “I personally get more nervous about the videos that we record live because it’s going to go on YouTube, so I really do want it to be perfect”.
To top off an already lustrous rise to stardom, Pentatonix was featured in Rolling Stone magazine, an important achievement for the music industry.
When asked what it’s like to be the only girl in the group Kirstie laughed, saying she is asked that quite often. “It’s not weird; I’ve known Mitch since I was eight and Scott since freshman year of high school, and they’ve always been my best friends. We’re really just a big family. Sometimes I have to say that I need my girl time or I need to put on my makeup and it takes me longer to get ready. They need 10 minutes in the morning and I need an hour”, Kirstie continues with another laugh.
All and all, Pentatonix is ready for their next chapter and can’t wait to just keep performing. Kirstie reflected on the past year as a time that the group “really bonded” For her personally, it was “really awesome to be doing something that you love, that you can put your entire self into and people appreciate and support. I really hope we can go as far as we can; we’ve already had so many amazing opportunities and I hope it continues."