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January 11, 2006

Master of a cappella shares talent with Memorial students

Elkhart Truth (IN):

Those who associate a cappella music only with sacred chants and selections from the Renaissance should listen to Deke Sharon. At 38, the San Francisco native seems more like one of the students with whom he worked Tuesday at Memorial High School than an award-winning singer/arranger/conductor. Actually, Sharon is one of the most respected innovators in an area that is drawing increasing attention in the music world -- contemporary a cappella. His quintet, The House Jacks, has released its own quintet of CDs and the group performs in Europe, where a cappella has a strong following, and in Asia. Its schedule gives new meaning to the term "frequent flyer."

Sharon's enthusiasm for all things a cappella -- including voices as instruments -- and their effect on young people is contagious. Memorial choir director Claudia Phipps caught that bug when she met Sharon last summer at the Show Choir Camp of America in Ohio. "I wanted to reach new students and educators," the lanky musician explained. Phipps obviously believed her Gold Rush jazz choir, which includes several a cappella pieces in its repertoire, was ready for the reach.

Sharon and vocal music go back a long way. He began singing in church at age 5 and with the San Francisco Boys Choir at 7. He was touring at age 9. The magic of unaccompanied harmony, however, struck him "like a shaft of light" during summer camp at Lake Tahoe. "Someone started to harmonize in thirds on a popular song," he recalled. "I thought ... how do they do that?" He continued to pursue music and a role as one fourth of the wrangling quartet in "The Music Man" and hearing a group from Massachusetts' Tufts University sealed the deal.

He started his own quartet in high school, then headed east to attend -- simultaneously -- Tufts and Boston's New England Conservatory of Music, earning degrees from both. "I got a liberal arts and a conservatory education at the same time," Sharon grinned. "It's good to multi-task." Most people listen to music from the last 30 years, he said, noting that contemporary a cappella brings the music of their lives to this form.

Surprisingly, singing contemporary a cappella may be a gateway to music for kids who may not have sung before, Sharon and Phipps agreed. "Get kids involved in music through the music they are familiar with," Sharon said. "It opens all kids of musical doors." While Sharon travels, his wife, an executive with The Gap whom he met when she was singing with another a cappella college group, is home with their daughter, age 2, and son, 51/2. In the summer, dad takes over.

He admitted freely that he initially recruited The House Jacks from other college groups. It began with seven and is now down to five, a number he found better to work with as they progressed to complex harmonies. If the name is a bit puzzling, it was voted on by original members from a list of thousands, according to Sharon. A house jack, it seems, is a portable device used to raise an object for moving short distances or, as applied to the singers, raise the roof.

Former president of the Contemporary a Cappella Society of America, Sharon arranges hundreds of songs for groups around the world as well for as his own, is the founder of Disney's American Vybe and Groove 66 and has been called "the voice of a cappella music." Not bad for a young man who is most happy that "I am close to going full time in music."

Posted by acapnews at January 11, 2006 12:27 AM