A Cappella Festival: Vocal instruments & ‘Pitch Perfect’

Featured Image: Virginia Wesleyan’s Vox Vera and Director Bryson Mortensen onstage before performing for high schoolers.
Victoria Haneline | Marlin Chronicle 

‘Pitch Perfect’ Music Arranger Deke Sharon workshops A Cappella performances with VWU, local high school.

The A Cappella Festival, held on Feb. 24, was a musical performance by Vox Vera and local schools, all of whom received coaching from Deke Sharon. 

The performance, held in the Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center, included contemporary hits like “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon, all arranged by Sharon. Sharon was the music director and arranger for “Pitch Perfect” and is considered one of the primary founders of contemporary a cappella.

A cappella is a field of music that involves singing with no instrumental accompaniment. Contemporary a cappella, such as that sung by Pentatonix or in “Pitch Perfect,” involves vocal instruments, a technique similar to beatboxing that Sharon pioneered in college, according to his IMDB bio.

“I love when we do events like this,” Jacob Barnett said. Barnett is a Virginia Wesleyan alumnus who graduated last year who sang with Vox Vera for the performance. “It’s always such a pleasure getting the younger minds out here.” 

Barnett, a Music Education graduate, said that he loved these kinds of events because they showed younger people that there can be a career in music.

The performance included nine different schools of all age groups, from Peasley Middle School to Tidewater Community College. Sharon said that he taught these workshops to inspire young people to sing. He said inspiring the singers at the performance was amazing, because they would spread that passion.

“They are going to go back to the schools, and they’re going to sing for their student body and they’re going to inspire other people to join choir,” Sharon said. He said that being in choir was great for kids, because they were happy and interconnected with other kids as a result of choir.

Sharon talked about how choir gave people a sense of community and a group they could belong in. “It’s very hard to feel alone when you sing in a choir,” Sharon said. 

Matt Rapach, who is the conductor for Jamestown High School, said it was an amazing opportunity for his students to learn from Sharon, a leader in his field. He said that their library included many pieces by Sharon already.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for us,” Rapach said, referring to working with Sharon. He mentioned how learning contemporary songs was a big draw for his students, but they also genuinely enjoyed the medium.

Barnett said that the contemporary music was a big change for him. “I was originally not super thrilled about it, because I come from a more classical music background,” Barnett said. “But the things that he said and the things that he helped us work through immediately stuck with me.”

Before the performance, students workshopped their songs for twenty minutes with Sharon over the course of the day, starting at 11 a.m. on the day of the concert.

“I’ve been singing for so long,” Barnett said. “Just in the twenty minutes I got to work with him, I immediately noticed some great differences in my voice and how I can perform.”

Sharon said that choir is an amazing opportunity for students. He said that while most education is intellectual, music classes offer not only intellectual learning but interpersonal and emotional learning.

“So many aspects of what it means to be human are taught in a way in music classes, particularly vocal music, and in theater classes that just can’t be taught anywhere else,” Sharon said.

Jason Tesauro, the introductory speaker at the event, said in the opening speech that singing was a great way to teach people the power of diversity, which he said was the strength of our country.

“Everybody needs each other, because when they come together, what they make is stronger,” Tesauro said.

Sharon said that he believed a cappella was the best way to get people to reconnect with singing, calling it a “gateway drug” to singing because it uses popular music. He compared it to reading, where once they get into it with the simpler pieces, people will explore harder pieces of their own interest.

Sharon said that before recorded music, everybody would sing, and that our ancestors probably sang before language was developed. He said a cappella is an amazing way to reconnect with that past.

“When a person sings in an a cappella group, they get an opportunity to really reconnect with the way humans existed and interacted from the beginning of what it meant to be human,” Sharon said.

By Victoria Haneline