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.
World-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.
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.
A Perfect Union of Contrary Things, Sarah Jensen with Maynard James Keenan, is a New York Times Best Seller, debuting on the Hardcover Nonfiction list at No. 10. Maynard sat down for an interview with Phoenix New Times to discuss what New Times calls a ‘biography-autobiography hybrid.’ Read an excerpt of the interview below.
New Times: There is a common theme or code you seem to follow throughout the book in each of your endeavors. Discipline, patience, understanding the process, and the end result all play an important role in much of what you’ve accomplished.
You have 20/20 hindsight with your decisions, and I suppose those can lay out a map of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you might potentially be going. Of course, with a lot of those decisions you’re free-balling.
Do you still follow some of that same road map today when you are venturing into areas of new discovery now?
It’s of benefit, but it can also be a trap if you completely rely on your past experiences and make decisions based on those. Surely, you have some results you can look at, but things change and circumstances change, so I think it’s more important to be conscious and present in the moment and look at the situation before you leap to any conclusions. There’s your balance. You rely on experiences, and you bring those with you when you’re gonna make another decision. But [you] also have to rely on your gut in that moment.
It seems like everyone’s in a band now and can record music in their basement. Everyone’s a photographer with a smartphone, and everyone is a politician on social media. Your mindset can’t remain the same.
Especially with social media, there are people out there that will plant seeds, their intent to distract and to pollute. They’re the butterfly effect of a thing that’s not a fact that will just kind of perpetuate and grow in a way that when someone makes an actual decision on an important matter, that butterfly effect adjusted that decision long ago. That’s if you’re gonna be tunnel-visioned and focus on stuff like social media. There are a lot of things going on in the world that will continue to go on with or without the internet.
All of the projects you’ve been a part of over the years seem to serve as therapy of some sort. Does this book fit that mold?
Yeah, I think anything you do is a form of self-discovery, some form of therapy, if you want to call it that. It’s also a map for my children. [If] something happens to me today, they’ll have something to look at that will give them an idea of who I was. I have a 2-year-old daughter. She only knows so much; I’m sure she’d like to know more when she is older. So this is a small chronicle. This is a slice of the story.
Your early love of the band Kiss is well documented in the book, as is how that terrified your family. They were so freaked out they had your pastor speak with you to get a better understanding of why you liked the band. Were you concerned that if he didn’t approve, that would be the end of Kiss in your household?
No, Kiss is just a metaphor for a bunch of other bands that were around at the time; that was just one. I learned quickly that those kinds of conversations mean nothing. The will of a teenager, generally speaking, is like a force of nature. I learned that early on. There are things I feel like I have to do, and things I have to comply with, but some of my more fundamentalist upbringing in Ohio taught me that hypocrisy runs deep and you just have to make your own decisions based on your own version of a moral code.
Your father really wanted you to participate in sports, and once you realized football wasn’t for you, you became involved with the cross-country team. Your coach instilled in you the motto “Never give up, and you’ll be victorious,” and that translated into you winning the cross-country finals. You mention that this was the first time you saw hard work paying off.
It really is a chipping-away process, and I think a lot of people get caught up in the day weather rather than thinking of the long game. They kind of want immediate satisfaction; it’s just the nature of this generation. Amazon ships for free and it gets there yesterday. It’s like what you said — people with phones saying they are a photographer now: No, no you’re not. There are so many things and you can’t skip a step to be a master at something. There’s a process. And everyone’s process is different, but there’s still this thing called time and experience. You cannot master something without having done it for a long time.
Would you still say that you’re still “kind of quiet, shy, and kind of grumpy” as you were described in the book?
Yes. When you have a mission and you have an idea of how to get something done, distractions kind of just interrupt that process. You tend to maintain focus, which can be confused with being grumpy.
Read the rest of the interview here.