Pentatonix’s Avi Kaplan hosts UT a cappella workshop

Students from around the region got the chance to work with a  Grammy-winning artist on Saturday, Jan. 28 in Cox Auditorium on the University of Tennessee campus.

Avi Kaplan, vocal bass for a cappella group Pentatonix, headlined the second annual Contemporary A Cappella Workshop hosted by the UT School of Music.

Work began Friday with rehearsals for UT’s three a cappella ensembles: VOLume, UT Singers and ReVOLution. Kaplan listened to and critiqued their sets. He also chose one song to perform with each group on Saturday.

VOLume performs featuring soloist Dalton Mitchell.
VOLume performs featuring soloist Dalton Mitchell.

“He speaks great knowledge and advice,” VOLume tenor Dalton Mitchell said. “It’s great for us to soak that in. He’s just so down to earth.”

Registration began just before 9 a.m. Saturday. High school students filed in and warmed up with a few UT Singers and Interim Associate Director of Choral Activities Jaclyn Johnson.

Dr. Jaclyn Johnson and Avi Kaplan
Dr. Jaclyn Johnson and Avi Kaplan

Johnson coordinated Kaplan’s visit. The two are friends and alumni of Mt. San Antonio College in California.

All female group ReVOLution performed first with Kaplan joining them for “Cheap Thrills.” Kaplan subsequently lent his talents to VOLume and UT Singers. Between performances, Kaplan held question and answer sessions.

Some students did not know what to expect but were excited to work with a prolific member of the music community.

“I’ve never been to anything like this,” high schooler Raven Woods said.

Her friend Sinceer Truss added she looked forward to “tips on what to do better and the experience.”

This clinic marks only the second for Kaplan.

Kaplan demonstrates transitions within a cappella arrangements.
Kaplan demonstrates transitions within a cappella arrangements.

“I just want to make sure I’m doing everything possible to help [music] grow and flourish. I love to see them excited,” Kaplan said. “I just would hope that they are inspired and that they believe in themselves.”

Some students, including UT Singer Nicole Doyal, will not soon forget his advice.

Featured soloist Nicole Doyal performs with UT Singers
Featured soloist Nicole Doyal performs with UT Singers.

“Halfway through the rehearsal I forgot that he was a famous guy because he was just so talented and knowledgeable and was helping us with our craft,” Doyal said.

But the collegiate singers were not the only performers to closely work with Kaplan. An ensemble from Seymour High School and another from Bearden High School received selections to perform onstage. Kaplan chose each school from YouTube submissions.

“It’s a huge opportunity for them,” Andrea Markowitz, a UT alumna and music director for Seymour High School A Cappella said. “For them to get to do it and only be between 15 and 18-years-old is huge. And it’s with someone who is passionate about the same thing as them.”

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Seymour High students work with Kaplan following their performance.

Seymour High performed a Michael Jackson medley. Kaplan then joined them onstage for advice and demonstration.

Choral Director at Seymour High Jean Burkhart hopes students will become interested in all genres of music from all periods by way of a cappella.

“I love the fact that [Kaplan] has a classical vocal background and to see how good vocal technique translates to any genre,” Burkhart said.

Kaplan grew up in choir beginning in middle school. He later majored in opera in college before getting the call to join Pentatonix. The call came just prior to the group’s appearance on NBC’s “The Sing-Off.”

Since then, Pentatonix won multiple Grammy awards and gained international attention with chart-topping tracks and albums on both iTunes and Billboard. Their most recent Grammy nomination comes for “Jolene,” a collaboration with East Tennessee’s own Dolly Parton.

Kaplan works with students from Bearden High School
Kaplan works with students from Bearden High School.

“When you think about a legend, you have a lot of ideas about what you would want them to be. She embodies everything you would want her to,” Kaplan said. “To be able to keep that humble heart is something that speaks volumes and can really set an example for the world.”

Tune in to the 59th Annual Grammy Awards Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. on CBS to see if Kaplan and Pentatonix will take home another award.

 

Images/Audio by Lexie Little

Edited by Taylor Owens

 

UT Singers performs annual homecoming concert

Last week marked the 100th Homecoming for the University of Tennessee, and while some watched “the stately walls rise glorious to the sight,” others filled the Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall in the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center to hear the UT Singers annual homecoming concert Friday night.

The UT Singers, premier a cappella ensemble and Tennessee’s musical ambassadors, took the stage under the direction of Interim Associate Director of Choral Activities, Dr. Jaclyn Johnson, before a nearly full recital hall. Johnson encouraged the audience to clap, cheer, video, livestream and “woohoo” during the performance.

“Blending is everything, especially with each person on a microphone. Every tiny flaw is amplified, and because the group is only 14 members, there is absolutely nowhere to hide,” Johnson said commenting on the group’s performance and efforts. “We spend a great deal of time devoted to blend and balance.”

The recital hall resonated with balanced sound as the 14 singers performed 14 songs including modern pop hits, classic R&B and of course, “Rocky Top.” Lights were orchestrated to fit each song and were brightly displayed on the stage in hues of pink, purple, blue and orange, creating an enjoyable ambiance for all in attendance.

The singers opened with a mash up of Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” and Fall Out Boy’s hit “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” featuring soloist, Megan Murray.

Murray, a first year UT Singer and junior from Kingsport, loves the opportunity to sing in such an ensemble. She said, “UT Singers has made me love UT more and more every week. It has allowed me to pursue my Public Relations major while still having an amazing outlet to pursue my passion for music alongside others who share that same passion.”

Murray and the other members broke into smaller ensembles for several songs. They branched beyond a cappella by incorporating guitar and piano. Hayley McGinnis belted Tori Kelley’s “Hollow” with an acoustic twist accompanied on guitar by Cory Sauer. Paul Davis III also accompanied Nicole Doyal on piano for Adele’s “All I Ask.”

Their time and efforts reached a pinnacle as they invited UT Singers alumni to sing the Alma Mater as well as “Rocky Top” arranged by recent UT Singer alumnus, Seth O’Kegley. Many alumni ranging from the graduating class of 1959 to the most recent class of 2016 joined them on stage donning their orange and white. Other alumni like HGTV design celebrity, Josh Johnson, watched livestream on Facebook.

The generational group sang in a style unfamiliar to some of the former singers because the group was formerly geared toward show choir.

“As a UT Singer, I’d have been intimidated by the complex a cappella harmonies that make groups like Pentatonix so incredible, but it sure would’ve been fun to learn!  They have paved the way to an entirely new take on the oldest form of singing, and I think it’s awesome that UTS is taking on the challenge,” UT Singers alumna, Liz Mabie, said.

The UT Singers enjoy opportunities to perform for alumni, public and private events. Dr. Johnson and the UT Singers take pride in their service as they “have the honor of singing for multimillion dollar donor and alumni events.”

Their family-like bond and support system enables them to shine individually as they move to the music they make and connect with the audience. Audience members like Ellen Sudarshan enjoyed both the music and their stage presence.

“Their arrangements were really dissonant and resolved really well. I think they all had a great, unique personality onstage, and they were really fun to watch,” Sudarshan said.

The UT Singers join with the rest of their a cappella family, ReVOLution and VOLume, for the Winter Choral Concert on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. in Cox Auditorium. The University of Tennessee Chamber Singers, Concert Choir, Men’s Chorale and Women’s Chorale will also perform. Admission is free.

Featured photo by Lexie Little

Edited by Katy Hill