WORCESTER — Pentatonix is on the "A" list when it comes to the surge of popularity a cappella singing groups have been enjoying in recent years.
"A" for awards, for example (including three Grammy Awards). Also, "A" for arenas, as the group is currently on a world tour taking it to an array of large and prestigious venues.
Pentatonix comes to the DCU Center for a show at 7:30 p.m. June 8. Singer and songwriter Rachel Platten is special guest.
Amid a renewed interest in singing without instrumental accompaniment, the core of a young group — Kirsten "Kirstie" Maldonado (mezzo-soprano), Mitchell "Mitch" Grassi (tenor), and Scott Hoying (baritone), all friends at Martin High School in Arlington, Texas — entered a local radio show competition as a trio with the prize being to meet the cast of "Glee."
Although the high school glee club in the 2009-2015 Fox series was not a cappella, the TV show was helping shape the a cappella wave. In 2007 the a cappella group Straight No Chaser had a YouTube cover of "The 12 Days of Christmas" that went viral and won them a five-album record deal with Atlantic Records. "The Sing-Off," a singing competition featuring a cappella groups, debuted on NBC in 2009. The first of the "Pitch Perfect" movies, a comedy about a female college a cappella group, was released in 2012.
Maldonado, Grassi and Hoying did not win the radio show competition, but they continued singing together before departing to college. In 2011, Hoying was at the University of Southern California and met Ben Bram, a member and arranger for the a cappella group SoCal VoCals. Through a friend, Hoyer also met Avriel "Avi" Kaplan (bass). Hoyer persuaded Grassi (still in high school) and Maldonado, now a student at the University of Oklahoma, to come aboard and enter Season 3 of the "The Sing-Off" as part of a group with himself and Kaplan, and Bram as arranger. Kevin Olusola, a beatboxer, was also added.
The five singers and arranger all met up the day before auditions. They called themselves Pentatonix and were a remarkable hit from their first appearance on Episode 2, singing Katy Perry's "E.T." Their "Victory Song" was Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger."
Pentatonix has gone on to sell millions of albums featuring both covers (including Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah") and original music, and has more than 15.5 million subscribers to its YouTube channel.
In 2015 they had a cameo in "Pitch Perfect 2." Kaplan left the group in 2017 and Matt Sallee was later introduced as the new bass.
Grassi had also immersed himself in musical theater in Arlington while in high school, and won several vocal and talent competitions.
He recently answered some questions via email.
Q: Any Worcester ties or connections?
A: No connections … but I’m excited to make new friends!
Q: When did you first realize that you had something special? Was there a magic moment or did it evolve?
A: I think when my parents came and saw me in my first couple of musical theater productions. Their reactions were so unexpected and very positive, especially when it came to my singing voice.
Q: Were you surprised when you won Season 3 of "The Sing-Off"?
A: Yes and no. Our crowd reactions were the strongest, for sure. But we never EXPECTED to win.
Q: How does an arrangement come together? Is there one person in charge or is it collaborative?
A: Definitely collaborative. The whole group gets together and we all create the skeleton of the arrangement together. We go in in groups of two or three with our head arranger and flesh out the details.
Q: Is there room for improvisation when performing any given number or are you following a strict musical script?
A: I think we start to improvise once the song becomes muscle memory. Improvisation is the spice of life (or, at least, it is for live musicians)!
Q: Do you worry that performing in large arenas (such as the DCU Center) takes away from the intimacy one might expect from an a cappella performance?
A: Not at all. The good thing about our fans is that they are very respectful during shows. If we want to do any intimate moments, they come down in volume and dynamic with us.
Q: What do you think will be "The Pentatonix Sound" five years from now?
A: Who’s to say, honestly. We’re constantly inspired by a variety of different musicians, new and old. I’m envisioning us getting less and less gimmicky, and maybe a bit more classic. Mature, if you will.