Deke Sharon: The Man Behind the A cappella Revolution

Written by on September 28, 2016

The Godfather of Contemporary A cappella, Deke Sharon, tells all

 

Deke Sharon

Dubbed the Godfather of Contemporary A cappella and the sound behind the world-renowned ‘Pitch Perfect’ franchise, Deke Sharon is one of the household names in the Contemporary A cappella scene.

 

Deke Sharon started his singing journey at the age of five where he sang in a church choir. He later directed a barbershop and doo-wop quartet in high school before moving on to Collegiate A cappella with Tufts University’s ‘Beelzebubs’.

 

You may recognise him from some of his notable works such as the critically acclaimed film ‘The Social Network’, where he arranged the music, ‘The Sing Off’, as a consultant and producer, and ‘Pitch Perfect’ as the vocal director.

Deke Sharon

Deke Sharon

Photo Courtesy of http://www.dekesharon.com

Pitch Perfect

His most regarded work to date is the commercial success that is Pitch Perfect. Being the vocal director, he arranged the music for both the ‘Pitch Perfect 1’ and ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ movies, and is currently working on the third film of the franchise.

 

“Pitch Perfect both makes fun of a cappella and gives a big love letter to it. That’s why I think it works so well. It’s got a lot of laughs but it also has a lot of heart”, expresses Sharon of his love and adoration for these projects.

 

When asked which arrangements were his favourites from the movies, a Sharon deep in thought replied, “One that’s really fun for me is the ‘Party in the USA’ scene. I was very careful to craft the experience such that you realise that you really could improvise it. It’s a pretty simple song and if someone knows the melody then everyone else can build around that. My second favourite scene would be a split between all the Das Sound Machine performances and the Back to Basic’s scene because I got a chance to give a little history lesson to the audience.”

Deke Sharon

Deke Sharon with Rebel Wilson

Photo Courtesy of http://www.dekesharon.com

The struggle, the fight, and the revolution

It was at Tufts University where Deke Sharon first started revolutionising the sound of Traditional A cappella to what we see in Contemporary A cappella today. However, not all was smooth sailing as his Collegiate A cappella group, the ‘Beelzebubs’, rejected him twice.

 

“They didn’t take me because I was too excited about it. I was completely capable of being in the group, it’s just the guys who were in the group who were seniors just looked at this kid who was so excited about a cappella and they were like ‘that’s stupid’”, says Sharon

 

A determined Sharon auditioned a third time and finally became a member of the group. Even then, the seniors of the group were not too thrilled at his suggestions to experiment and evolve the group’s sound.

 

When asked what made him stand resolute, Sharon says, “When I was in the college group, the alumni of the college group hated all of the vocal percussions. They told me I was ruining the group and a cappella. But every night we would have audiences screaming like we’ve never heard before and loving the music. So, I knew that we’re doing something right.”

 

Resistance did not discourage Deke Sharon as he refashioned the Beelzebubs’ sound. This paved the road for Contemporary A cappella to take its course.

Deke Sharon

Deke Sharon

Photo Courtesy of http://www.dekesharon.com

Contemporary vs Traditional

Contemporary and Traditional A cappella differ in a few ways. The Beelzebubs took on a sound that reflected modern rock, which incorporated complex vocalisations of instruments and the integration of a designated beatboxer.

 

“Contemporary A cappella involves the use of the voice as an instrument. Before, it was people singing lyrics or people singing ‘oooh’s and ‘ahhh’s. Now, it’s people making all kinds of different sounds,’ says Sharon.

 

“In Contemporary A cappella, people are using their voices to create layers so as to create a sound that is very similar to what is going on on the radio. The reason vocal percussion exists is to create the experience of listening to a really fully produced track on the radio”, he explains.

 

However, the differences do not entirely separate the two. What is found in Traditional A cappella can also be found in contemporary a cappella today.

 

For example, the dynamic within a Contemporary A cappella group exists in Traditional A cappella. Traditional A cappella focuses on a sound that is built around vocal harmony. Ultimately, Contemporary A cappella encourages a richer sound, which is built around that vocal harmony with the introduction of instrumental mimicry and beat boxing.

 

“A cappella is people. So the way people feel and interact with each other becomes music. It’s a complete musical experience because it requires all of an individual, their minds, their hearts, their experience, their knowledge, their attention, their motion and their relationship with others,” Sharon remarks.

Deke Sharon

Deke Sharon with Hailee Steinfeld

Photo Courtesy of http://www.dekesharon.com

The Future of A cappella

Today, a cappella continues to develop and change constantly as popular music evolves. Sharon suggests that he foresees a future where a cappella will continue to transform with the new sounds being explored.

 

“There are so many new sounds that haven’t been discovered. Where’s the Hawaiian A cappella group? Where’s the Reggae A cappella group? There are so many music styles and directions that are untouched.”

 

Sharon asserts that the joy and satisfaction he gets from singing in a group is what a cappella is all about. Community.

 

“I just want a cappella to get more people singing. Spreading harmony through harmony is my life’s work”, says Sharon.

Deke Sharon

Deke Sharon

Photo Courtesy of http://www.dekesharon.com

 

Writer: Jonathan Lee

Editors: Prashain and Christy Heah


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