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An Ode to Avi Kaplan, Who’s Entering a Post-Pentatonix World

The only Jewish member of the most popular a cappella group in the world is moving on

June 28, 2017
Avi Kaplan in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, June 8, 2017.Facebook
Avi Kaplan in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, June 8, 2017.Facebook

I’ll admit it, I was a latecomer to the Pentatonix bandwagon. I missed the pop-a capella group’s debut on Season 3 of The Sing Off back in 2011. Their first EP, PTX, Volume 1, flew completely under my radar in 2012. And their Grammy win for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella went completely unnoticed by yours truly. Ironically, it was the video for that award-winning song “Daft Punk Medley,” that caught my eye just a year ago as I slogged through tons of subpar a cappella acts for an article on music to listen to during the Omer. I was particularly blown away by the very, very deep vocal stylings of one Avriel “Avi” Benjamin Kaplan, the only Jewish member of Pentatonix. Between him and beatboxer Kevin Olusola, I couldn’t believe that was I was hearing was completely instrument-free.

Pentatonix was a particular breath of fresh air for me, as someone who grew up Orthodox and was subjected to the middling (at best) Jewish a cappella acts that sprung from the woodworks twice a year for the Omer and The Three Weeks. And even the ones that were more decent than the others still cycled through the same 10 songs you hear during services every week anyway, or were doing cutesy Jewish parody versions of popular songs. Mourning periods, indeed.

But, huh? A good a cappella group? A modern one? So from the second I discovered them, I ate them up. So did, interestingly enough, did my father-in-law. (Exactly how he discovered them is still a mystery, but I’ve heard the Pentatonix Christmas EP at least eleventeen times now).

But of course, all good things must come to an end, and in a video released last week on the Pentatonix Facebook page, Kaplan announced his departure from the group. I’m not sure what this means for the future of Pentatonix (or if they’ll now be called the Tetratonix), but I know I’ll definitely miss the glue that his deep bass is. Like here in Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.”

And here in “Evolution of Michael Jackson.”

Or sometimes it’s not even the glue. Sometimes it’s the whole thing. Like in “Imperial March.”

But I don’t think anything will ever top Kaplan’s undeniable talents of both base and beatboxing in “Daft Punk Medley,” recorded in a closet, and filmed in a kitchen. Godspeed, Avi. The Three Weeks don’t start for another two weeks, but it seems like they’ve started early this year. In the meantime, Kaplan is on to… other things:

MaNishtana is the pseudonym of Shais Rishon, an Orthodox African-American Jewish writer, speaker, rabbi, and author of Thoughts From A Unicorn. His latest book is Ariel Samson, Freelance Rabbi.

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