HomeBlogsDekeSharon's blogOn Myths and Legends

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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.

And what's so important about this seemingly minor distinction? The fact that beginnings are ugly, and messy, and imperfect. When you start an a cappella group, you're likely rather lousy, and you need to crawl and scrape your way just to get up to mediocrity. This is a very difficult road for young a cappella singers, raised on a steady diet of Take 6 and Naturally 7.

I saw Naturally 7 when they first competed in the Harmony Sweepstakes. Guess what? I was not impressed. At all. Imagine a Take 6 knockoff with 7 guys: a little stiff on stage, muddy tuning, no clear emotional or musical focus, nothing new or particularly compelling.

Now they're one of the preeminent pop/R&B a cappella groups in the world.

The problem is not a lack of goal, vision, or desire for excellence. The problem is an understanding of and persistence trudging through the marshes and the weeds. It's a long, difficult march, and while you're on the path, you not only know you're not great, you can likely hear your peers' low voices as they analyze your imperfections, just as you analyze others. And yourself.

If your personal mythology is that you're somehow inherently great, the constant reminder of your own shortcomings and your group's distance from the upper tiers of a cappella's elite can be daunting, frustrating, and ultimately irreconcilable. I don't know how many groups and singers we lose, but a brief scan of the Harmony Sweepstakes website shows a road paved by many young groups with high hopes... that no longer exist.

Legends are made, not born. When you see Straight No Chaser or Pentatonix, you do not know the extreme effort behind their seemingly effortless rise into the public eye. Both have a work ethic that is second to none. They're proud of their success, but realize the elements of luck and timing, and do not take it for granted. You should not either.

There is no guarantee of excellent, but there is a guarantee of mediocrity. You must pass through the trials of self-doubt and question your own abilities. Perhaps for years. This might not be something that young, recently graduated collegiate a cappella singers are good at doing, but they will have to learn how. There is no other way.

We all need myths to create legend... they just need to be the right myths.


Deke Sharon founded CASA (and other stuff), makes TV shows ("The Sing-Off"), movies ("Pitch Perfect"), sings (The House Jacks), produces albums (Straight No Chaser, Street Corner Symphony, Committed, Nota, Bubs), wrote a book (A Cappella Arranging), publishes sheet music (Hal Leonard), and custom arranges music (over 2,000 songs). You can find him at www.dekesharon.com