Blog Archives

Deke Sharon, New York Times Feature

Deke Sharon, author of The Heart of Vocal Harmony, was recently featured in the New York Times. His latest venture? A Broadway play, In Transit.  In addition the “guru of a capella” shared stories of his evolving career and his lifelong mission.


00156135World-renowned arranger and producer Deke Sharon, whose credits include television’s The Sing Off and Pitch Slapped, the movies Perfect Pitch and Perfect Pitch 2, and, this fall, Broadway’s first a cappella musical, In Transit, puts emotion where it belongs – front and center – in The Heart of Vocal Harmony.

Where did a career like Deke’s begin? Back in the early 90s, he was the co-founder of House of Jacks with singers he met not he college circuit. A few years later he enrolled in Tufts University just so he could join their a cappella group, Beezlebubs. In the midst of all this Kurk Richard Toohey Jr. became Deke Sharon.

It wasn’t meant to be a stage name. Everybody called me Deke, and my mom had remarried, so I had all these different names in my childhood. I just wanted an identity of my own.

That newly found identity poured through Deke’s work for years to come. With a book such as The Heart of Vocal Harmony he is fulfilling his lifelong mission of creating harmony with harmony. A capella has surely evolved since Deke began his career back in the 90s.  In addition to In Transit, he’s traveling to workshops, camps, master classes, concerts, recurring studios, and overseeing the touring group Vocalosity.

In his book, The Heart of Vocal Harmony there’s focus on honest unified expression and the process of delivering an emotionally compelling performance. It delves into an underdeveloped vocal topic – the heart of the music and the process involved with expressing it.

He truly believes that groups of people singing together creates goodness int he world. And at this moment in time, we really need that kind of harmony.

Kristin Anderson-Lopez

The Heart of Vocal Harmony features discussions with some of the biggest luminaries in vocal harmony: composers, arrangers, directors, singers, and groups, including Eric Whitacre, Pentatonix, the Manhattan Transfer, and more. It is a unique and invaluable tool for helping singers connect with the song and deliver powerful and emotional performances each and every time.


Check out the full feature here.

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On Myths and Legends

deke4Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon, author of A Capella ArrangingEnjoy the following excerpt from his blog, CASA.

On Myths and Legends

In most fields, having a community that’s relatively very educated and Western-minded leads to an increased level of productivity and success.

However, the current contemporary a cappella movement, largely born out of East Coast elite collegiate a cappella circles, might also be hindered by the very same element and perspective.

When it comes to science, math and medicine, an exacting precision is essential. In the fields of economics and law, great consideration, research and care are all needed before action is taken.

Not so in music.

You cannot get better at performing by thinking about it. You cannot become a better singer by studying vocal pedagogy texts. Cerebral pursuits are without a doubt valuable, but the average Ivy League grad is likely already as cerebral as she needs to be to embark on an a cappella career.

There’s a deep, strong current that runs beneath our best Universities, and after drinking four years from the aquifer, we graduate a class of young, eager minds who all share a common perception: the belief that they are excellent.

Personal mythologies are essential to us all, bolstering our resolve in difficult times, and allowing us to forge our own paths when prudence suggests the road more travelled. But the myths have changed over the generations, and there seems to be an increased belief in one’s current self as the core mythology as opposed to the belief in one’s self in the future.

Keep reading at CASA.org!

A Capella Arranging

The world loves to sing. From barbershop groups to madrigal choirs to vocal rock bands, there are tens of thousands of vocal groups in America. The success of mainstream television programs such as Glee and The Sing-Off not only demonstrates the rising popularity of vocal music; it reflects how current trends inspire others to join in. In addition, through various online and on-the-ground vocal music societies, the “a cappella market” is well defined and well connected. Like singing itself, a cappella is a global phenomenon.

At the heart of every vocal group is the music it performs. This often means writing its own arrangements of popular or traditional songs. This book is the long-awaited definitive work on the subject, wide ranging both in its scope and in its target audience – which spans beginners, music students, and community groups to professional and semi-professional performers, vocal/instrumental songwriters, composers, and producers – providing genre-specific insight on a cappella writing.

The tone of the book is instructive and informative, yet conversational: it is intended to stand alongside any academic publication while remaining interesting and fun.  A Cappella Arranging is a good textbook – and a “good read” – for every vocal arranger, whether amateur or professional; every vocal music classroom, and any professional recording studio.

Best of Breed

deke4Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon, co-author of A Capella Arranging with Dylan Bell, talks about The Bobs on his blog at CASA.

One of the problems within popular music is the alarmingly short public memory toward legends. I remember being upset that no one was paying any attention to Ray Charles, one of my idols, throughout the 80s. Thankfully, the public rediscovered him, but the world’s stages are full of musicians who deserve more focus than they’re getting today.

None more than The Bobs.

In the early 1980s, there were very few professional a cappella groups, and many of those had a sound and style reminiscent of doo wop. Not so when Gunnar Madsen assembled some singers from the Western Onion Singing Telegram Company and searched the local scene for a bass (which they found in Richard Greene, best known to locals as the voice behind the “Fall in-to the Gap” radio ads.

The quartet was offbeat and perhaps even off-balance, with 3 guys and 1 woman (an unusual combination, even today) plus a small synthesizer in their early shows at the Great American Music Hall. Doesn’t sound like an a cappella group, does it? That’s because they didn’t care. It wasn’t about trying to do something that had been done, but rather blazing their own path in a music scene (think new wave and early 80s pop) that was coming to terms with the integration of technology into music.

Keep reading at CASA.org!

A Capella Arranging

The world loves to sing. From barbershop groups to madrigal choirs to vocal rock bands, there are tens of thousands of vocal groups in America. The success of mainstream television programs such as Glee and The Sing-Off not only demonstrates the rising popularity of vocal music; it reflects how current trends inspire others to join in. In addition, through various online and on-the-ground vocal music societies, the “a cappella market” is well defined and well connected. Like singing itself, a cappella is a global phenomenon.

At the heart of every vocal group is the music it performs. This often means writing its own arrangements of popular or traditional songs. This book is the long-awaited definitive work on the subject, wide ranging both in its scope and in its target audience – which spans beginners, music students, and community groups to professional and semi-professional performers, vocal/instrumental songwriters, composers, and producers – providing genre-specific insight on a cappella writing.

The tone of the book is instructive and informative, yet conversational: it is intended to stand alongside any academic publication while remaining interesting and fun. A Cappella Arranging is a good textbook – and a “good read” – for every vocal arranger, whether amateur or professional; every vocal music classroom, and any professional recording studio.

A Cappella Group Checklist

deke4Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon, co-author of A Cappella Arranging, shares some insights on forming a successful a cappella group. Visit his blog for the full list.

Got a note from an ambassador wanting to take his region to the next level. He’s got multiple a cappella festivals, a harmony sweepstakes, ICCAs… but knows that a city’s reputation starts and ends with its local groups.

So, this got me thinking: what elements are needed, and which things don’t matter quite as much? Thinking out loud:
(note: this is not for all a cappella groups, but rather those that have a chance of blowing up in today’s media)

NEEDED: SOLOIST

Yes, everyone in your group must be able to sing well, but not all of them need to be amazing soloists. What do I mean by “amazing soloist”? A lead voice so compelling you would buy this person’s solo album: Jeremy Lister. Scott Hoying. Margareta Bengtson/Jalkeus. Jerry Lawson. The group can share solos, but you need at least one person whose voice is world class.

NOT NEEDED: SIMILAR VOICES

You’ll have an easier time building a blend if you create a group around similar voices, but it’s definitely not necessary. You can be Take 6 or you can be Straight No Chaser. Both are winning formulas.

NEEDED: GREAT BASS

After the soloist, the second loudest element in all popular music is the bass. That’s how it should be in your group’s mix as well, and that voice should be as low and as powerful as possible. The octave pedal can work, but if your group name isn’t a palindrome (hello, Sonos!), I don’t like your chances.

NOT NEEDED: GREAT VOCAL PERCUSSIONIST

Not every contemporary group features vocal percussion. If you’ve got one, great. If that’s not part of your sound, not a deal breaker.

NEEDED: ORIGINAL MUSIC

Your ensemble will likely have more success with cover tunes than original tunes early on, but eventually having music that you’re known for will become essential to keep you from simply being a cover band in the eyes of the public. Note that this isn’t always an original song, but it can be: Straight No Chaser has found success with both “The Christmas Can Can” (old music, new lyrics, new concept), and “Who Stole The Egg Nog” (entirely new). An original arrangement can serve this purpose, but it has to be as arresting and memorable as, say, the remake of “Mad World.”

NOT NEEDED: ORIGINAL CONCEPT

Yes, it’s excellent if your group has a new sound or approach, but I have to admit, there are plenty of bios boasting a sound and style unheard ever before in a cappella, and most fall short. Don’t tell the world you’re different. Show them. Don’t focus on being amazingly different. Just be amazing. Not convinced? Nothing about Pentatonix on paper looks much different from many other groups. There’s no huge fundamental concept behind it all, but the way they do what they do has indeed become revolutionary, and inspired millions.

Keep reading on Deke Sharon’s blog!

A Cappella Arranging

The world loves to sing. From barbershop groups to madrigal choirs to vocal rock bands, there are tens of thousands of vocal groups in America. The success of mainstream television programs such as Glee and The Sing-Off not only demonstrates the rising popularity of vocal music; it reflects how current trends inspire others to join in. In addition, through various online and on-the-ground vocal music societies, the “a cappella market” is well defined and well connected. Like singing itself, a cappella is a global phenomenon.

At the heart of every vocal group is the music it performs. This often means writing its own arrangements of popular or traditional songs. This book is the long-awaited definitive work on the subject, wide ranging both in its scope and in its target audience – which spans beginners, music students, and community groups to professional and semi-professional performers, vocal/instrumental songwriters, composers, and producers – providing genre-specific insight on a cappella writing.

The tone of the book is instructive and informative, yet conversational: it is intended to stand alongside any academic publication while remaining interesting and fun. A Cappella Arranging is a good textbook – and a “good read” – for every vocal arranger, whether amateur or professional; every vocal music classroom, and any professional recording studio.