VISALIA TIMES

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Visalia native Avi Kaplan up for Grammy

Zachary Newcott, znewcott@visaliatimesdelta.com 4:19 p.m. PST February 7, 2015

Considering that it has clocked-in over 100 million views on YouTube, if you have yet to see the a capella Daft Punk musical mashup performed by Pentatonix, then you may very well be in the minority.

It seems only right that the video has reached such viral proportions, as the musical group that features Visalia native Avriel "Avi" Kaplan is working harder, better, faster, and stronger, than ever before.

That effort may very well pay off Sunday during the 57th annual Grammy Awards when the award for best arrangement, instrumental, or a cappela, is announced.

"We freaked out. It was one of those surreal moments," said Avi Kaplan upon learning that the song was nominated for the prestigious award. The announcement arrived in December when Pentatonix was on the road in Washington DC.

"It's an honor," he said, "a milestone."

For Kaplan's mother, Visalia resident Shelly Kaplan, the announcement arrived just in time for Christmas.

"We were sitting on a big rock in the mountains and he was telling me about all this stuff coming up, and I just looked at him and thought in my head 'My gosh!' " She said.

The road to success has been a long one for Avi, but according to his mother the first step was made in Visalia at Divisadero Middle School when the choir teacher of the school, Miss Manes, sent the girls in her class on a mission to recruit boys. One of those girls, Anjelica Chavez, managed to convince Avi to join in.

"That was his beginning," said Shelly Kaplan. "He was always musical, but we didn't know he could sing."

Once that secret was learned, the path towards a future in music seemed inevitable. When Avi transitioned from Divisidero to Mt. Whitney High School he was one of the few freshmen to be invited to join choir. That's not to say the path was going to be easy.

At the age of 16, Avi, his mother, and her husband, were in a six-car accident that required Avi's mother to undergo back surgery. Where some would find a memory too painful to revisit, Avi instead chose to transform it by writing his original song "Collision."

"He used to play locally," said Shelly. "Whenever he would play 'Collision' Anjelica would look right at me because she knew I would cry."

Sadly, a song had to mark another tragedy in 2013, when the same Anjelica that introduced Avi to choir passed away from illness. Kaplan sung "Ave Maria" at her funeral.

No matter what obstacles life placed in Kaplan's path, he persevered until a big break arrived in 2011. That was when he teamed up with Kirstin Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, Kevin Olusola, and Scott Hoying to audition for the third season of the television singing competition "The Sing-Off."

Despite having only met the day before, the group eventually went on to claim the title, and Pentatonix was born.

The quintet has since toured with sold-out shows spanning 30 cities and four countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and South East Asia.

"Being on the road is unbelievable," Avi said of the whirlwind tour. "It's my favorite part, really. The energy is unbelievable for both the audience and the performers. I love it."

The announcement to Shelly Kaplan of the potential Grammy Award over Christmas was also accompanied by the news of an even greater achievement. The Pentatonix second full-length Christmas album, "That's Christmas to Me," went platinum and achieved the status of being the highest charting holiday album by a musical group since 1962.

According to Avi's mother, the success hasn't gone to their head.

"I think there is a true humility about them," said Shelly, "They know they don't need the glitz and the flash."

For a Grammy award-nominated video that was reportedly shot within the confines of a kitchen, that certainly shows.

Whether or not the road for Pentatonix leads to a Grammy award Sunday, the road for the tour ahead stretches relentlessly onward through the United States and throughout Europe.

As for it one day turning back towards Visalia, "It would have to be the right venue," said Avi.

Nevertheless, he holds his hometown in high regard.

"It's a beautiful place. I love how important music is there, and my hope is that people keep music in the schools and support local programs." He said. "I would love to come back one day for a chance to give back."