Musician Tom Sharpe knows he has been lucky. And he realizes he has been given the gift of acting as a conduit to produce music to inspire others. The Mannheim Steamroller drummer who lives in Oswego when he’s not touring now looks to give back because of all he has received.
“I have the opportunity to inspire and motivate people,” he said. “Not everyone gets in front of an audience or has the attention of people listening. I want to make sure that I don’t waste that opportunity.”
The Michigan native who has two music degrees from DePaul University considers the Chicago area home even though he is often traveling with Mannheim Steamroller, the Grammy-winning band known for its Christmas music, or with Dennis DeYoung, the former member of Styx who now performs solo. But having Sharpe Music Ensemble, his own band, allows him to be the creative director and balance out his membership in two high-profile bands.
And he sees performing as his way of contributing to the lives of others in a way that has changed for him in the past few years.
“I can’t do charity concerts all the time but all my concerts have a sense of giving,” he said. “Everyone gets something out of it: spiritually, emotionally.”
Sharpe has reached the point in his career where knows he doesn’t need to accumulate more material items. Instead, his focus is on inspiring people in some way.
“Sometimes I think I’m a vessel for this music,” he said of pieces he has created, not knowing where they came from, only that they filtered through him for people to inspire them.
Amy Rogers, the director of Self Employment in the Arts, has watched Sharpe inspire people first-hand when he performed at the organization’s national conference earlier this year. The group, based at North Central College in Naperville, aims to help artists learn the business side of the arts, the aspect of creating art they often aren’t taught.
“There is the stigma of the starving artist,” she said. “Someone like Tom has had tremendous success with his career.”
To reach the status Sharpe has, one has to have what Rogers called a “persistent belief” in oneself, that if people are going to book you or buy the product you have created, you have to believe in who are and the product you produce.
This isn’t always easy because art is subjective and there aren’t concrete answers like there might be in math.
At the conference, Sharpe conveyed his message through his performance, inspiring the attendees at the same time while also using his own success as proof it’s possible to make a living and be an artist at the same time.
He chose Chicago Family Directions for the upcoming concert because he has long-term friends on the board and they had encouraged him to get involved. After making a donation, he wanted to do more to help the kids that the organization tutors succeed.
“We work with homeless and impoverished first- through third-graders,” said Chicago Family Directions Vice President and co-founder Melanie Murphy.
While Chicago Family Directions is a relatively new organization, getting its non-profit status in 2009, it plans to see the students through all of high school and into college by providing tutoring and guidance. The point is to be a long-term investment in kids who might not have a chance otherwise. All of the funds raised go toward providing tutoring for the students.
For Sharpe, knowing board members was important but it also is about being there for others because he believes no one should ever think they are alone.
“People who need help, I want to help,” Sharpe said. “If you come to me and say, ‘I need help,’ I want to help. As time goes on, I feel more drawn to help motivate and inspire. A lot of kids have nothing.”
He will do both Sunday at the concert: help kids and inspire an audience.