Skip to main content

Music students from UT, area high schools and multiple states will have the opportunity this week to learn from an expert—Avi Kaplan, bass vocalist in the Grammy award-winning a cappella group Pentatonix.

Kaplan will teach at the second annual Contemporary A Cappella Clinic for high school students on Saturday, January 28. The workshop is being presented by the UT School of Music.

Kaplan will spend Friday working with UT’s a cappella ensembles, the UT Singers, VOLume, and reVOLution.

Kaplan’s visit was coordinated by Jacyln Johnson, the School of Music’s interim associate director of choral activities.

“When I began conducting the UT Singers last year—they are the oldest choir on the UT campus—I continued their transition to contemporary a cappella,” Johnson said. “The contemporary a cappella genre has exploded so much because young singers are able to use their classical choir training to sing popular music on the radio. It is fantastic for recruitment to choral programs and allows choral students to feel a part of the popular, mainstream music.”

With a cappella’s popularity rising, the UT Choral Area set out last year to create an event where local high school singers could learn more about the musical genre. The result was the first High School A Cappella Workshop.

Johnson immediately turned to Kaplan, a friend and fellow alumnus of Mt. San Antonio College in California. He agreed to teach at last year’s workshop, which drew more than 600 students, and is coming back this year.

Kaplan, who plays guitar, composes, and arranges music for both choral and a cappella, made a name for himself as a vocal bass in the a cappella community through his involvement with Fermata Nowhere, an award-winning male community college a cappella group, and Sincopation, a jazz ensemble that won the Monterey Jazz Festival Competition.

His current group, Pentatonix, formed in 2011 and won the third season of NBC’s vocal competition show, “The Sing-Off.” To date, the group has sold more than 2.8 million albums in the U.S. alone, won multiple Grammy Awards, has more than 1.4 billion subscribers to its YouTube channel, and has appeared in the movie Pitch Perfect 2.

During the workshop, Kaplan will work with high school students from Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Alabama. More than 600 students are expected to attend.

“Avi will listen to them sing, then give critiques and helpful hints about how to take their singing further toward the professional level,” Johnson said. “His expertise and experience with contemporary a cappella music is unmatched, and he is a fabulous clinician.

“It will be a weekend of learning, sharing and making new friends.”

UT’s three a cappella ensembles—UT Singers, reVOLution and VOLume—will perform at the workshop. Ensembles from Bearden High School and Seymour High School applied and won the chance to perform as part of an on-stage clinic with Kaplan.

Johnson said Kaplan’s advice to students last year was that great performances begin with the songs themselves.

“Poor arrangements are difficult to sing, tune poorly and expose individual voices in unflattering ways,” she said. “Great arrangements make the group shine. He also taught us how to take our standard arrangements and add more layers to keep them interesting as the song progresses. Other elements such as microphone technique and vocal tone production were exceptionally helpful.”

The experience of being coached by such an accomplished performer goes beyond honing technical skills though.

“When working with a professional musician, students have the opportunity to see that their dreams can come true, and that hard work makes for great success,” Johnson said. “Avi’s passion for music is absolutely palpable, and those who interact with him leave with a renewed sense of inspiration and determination. I have been a professional musician for over 15 years, and even I was awestruck by his knowledge, musicianship and kindness.”


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,