There were no rattlesnakes in Boston…
BY OLIVIA CAMERON- At every Grande Glee session over Zoom, Sharon Ponte and her 10-pound Maltipoo are there to chime in on a few notes. With each puppy howl and octave shift, Sharon is impressed by the improvement and everlasting support of Grande Glee. As the group’s musical director, she couldn’t be happier to do what she does.
“I’ve never worked a day in my life,” Sharon said.
She is often overcome with excitement when she sees a singer’s range expand from five notes to two whole octaves. But Sharon has worked with singers and talents from all walks of life.
“It all started when I was 5 years old,” she reminisced. “I was standing in my music class, singing and thinking to myself that this is where I was meant to be.”
Sharon studied at Berklee College of Music, which propelled her right into a musical career path.
“I’m a jazz singer by trade,” she said with a smile.
Sharon went on to teach music at Taylor Ranch Elementary School.
“I kid you not, the school was in the middle of a cow pasture. Rattlesnakes would greet you at the classroom door. I’m from Boston. There are no rattlesnakes in Boston!”
After a couple of years shooing rattlesnakes from outside her door, Sharon found herself giving private singing lessons while reveling in the birth of her two sons, Lucas and Noah.
“My sons are my roadies,” she said, alluding to her backstage helpers for each of the recitals and performances she produced.
Lucas, the younger of the two, was always the backstage manager, while Noah would be in charge of lighting and sound.
“I remember when Noah was seven, he was hooking up a microphone on a grownup performer who was extremely nervous, and he was telling her she would do a fine job and reminding her to breathe,” she laughed.
Sharon gained experience as a music teacher at Edison Collegiate High School and State College, where she directed musicals like “Hairspray.”
“I was Wesley and Wyatt Locke’s music teacher, too,” she said.
That’s when Boca Grande’s Royal Palm Players recruited Sharon to point them in the right musical direction.
“I’ve known Erica Ress Martin for several years now. And for the past seven years, we’ve both been a part of Grande Glee.”
As Grande Glee’s music director, Sharon is elated to see the growth in vocal range as a whole. But as a voice instructor, Sharon has been tasked with teaching her pupils the right way to sing. After all, to sing safely is to sing correctly.
“Look at Adele. She sang incorrectly all of these years because she never took lessons, and she gave herself polyps on her vocal chords,” she said. The vocal chords can rub together if they are doing all the work rather than the diaphragm, which can create calluses that are removed surgically. “Justin Timberlake did the same thing.”
In order to teach a student how to sing correctly, Sharon utilizes a series of vocal exercises to practice using their diaphragm. From there, she counts on muscle memory to lead the way.
But when her students get it right, they feel it.
“You get so excited for them when they finally get it. Then, when they’re able to sing correctly, their octave range expands.”
Sharon showcases an impressive singing range herself, from soprano to bass. “I teach a lot of men, so I can sing down into their octaves,” she explained.
Some of her students have told her they were led to believe they had a poor voice in their childhood.
“They were told to mouth the words in their elementary school recitals,” Sharon grimaced. “You don’t tell kids they can’t sing. Anyone can learn to sing. You’re not going to be Pavarotti, but it’s not rocket science.”
With that in mind, Sharon has spent the past seven years pushing Grande Glee singers from their comfort zones. She challenged them years ago with an idea of reciting the whole show of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” After opening night, they were a hit.
When Grande Glee had live practices in prior years, Sharon made sure to wear her chunkiest heels to keep the tempo.
“They’d talk about my stomping my foot a lot. So much so that they nicknamed me and made sure the stomping trope would stick to my name.”
Now the group meets over Zoom to sing and share their fond memories of shows in prior years. They reminisce about their first singing lessons with Sharon and look forward to practicing in person once again.
Sharon is fascinated with the musical “Hamilton” in particular. With luck and a little faith, Sharon won tickets to see the musical live, and she took one of her young vocal students to sit in front-row seats.
“I surprised her with a ticket, asked her what she was doing tomorrow night and told her to get dressed up to see Hamilton. She was madly in love with the show.”
With yet another stroke of luck, Sharon won tickets to see the musical again and decided to take one of her sons.
“As a theatre major, he talked about the lighting the entire time,” she said.
Sharon’s passion for fine arts naturally rubbed off on her two sons, who now share her love of theatre and creativity. One graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in theatre and plans to go to school to be a Disney Imagineer. The other is a third-year mechanical engineering student at the University of Central Florida who builds robots. His robotics team received international top scores last year.
“It was always a running joke that my kids would call during Grande Glee practice, and I would ask them, ‘Where have I been on this day at this time for the past seven years?’ ”
Sharon told her sons that the next time one of them interrupted rehearsal, she’d take ten dollars from his account and give it to his brother.
“It never happened again!”
Sharon is optimistic about the future of Grande Glee.
“We’re hoping to meet in person again before too much longer. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful work with such a positive and supportive group of people.”