Jan 202010
Authors: Johnny Hart

Mandy Harvey says she was born in the wrong decade. The 22-year-old former CSU music education major says she should be her age “in the 30s,” but her name would have to change to “Wendell” or something.

“I have an old soul,” she says. “I’ve always loved old bands.”

She grew up listening to oldies. When she was younger, she envisioned singing backup for artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole.

Even Harvey’s debut vocal jazz album, released in the fall of 2009, is filled with jazz standards like “At Last,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and “What a Wonderful World.”

She loves singing, often performing in Old Town’s hot jazz spot Jay’s Bistro. According to former voice teacher Cynthia Vaughn, Harvey is down-to-earth, likes bad movies and plays video games.

She’s deaf.

Nearly three years ago, during her freshman and only year at CSU, Harvey’s loss of hearing quickly progressed. From August 2006 to February 2007, her world slipped quickly into silence.

Nerve damage in her brain caused 110 decibels of hearing loss in each ear, or about the same amount of sound experienced at a rock concert.

Three years from then, Harvey sits a budding local musician on the verge of stardom, while being far more than just a novelty.

“I don’t want to be known as the deaf vocalist,” she says. “I’m a vocalist who happens to be deaf.”

The in between then and now, however, was a time of tragedy, triumph, humility, growth, pain and perseverance, with a side of music.

A dream snuffed out

Since she was a toddler, Harvey has performed as a vocalist in a variety of productions, including church pageants.

Throughout her youth, she attended voice lessons, paying for half of them from her own pocket while a silent donor helped with the other.

“She has natural talent, but she has been a trained musician since she’s been in school choirs,” said former CSU professor and Harvey’s longtime voice teacher Cynthia Vaughn. “… And that didn’t go away when the hearing went away.”

By the end of her career at Longmont High School, Harvey had joined three school choirs –– Women’s Choir, Bel Canto and Chamber Singers –– even at one point conducting.

“Choir was our world, and that’s where we stayed,” said junior journalism major and former Longmont classmate Jordan Liebing.

Here she envisioned her dream to teach music, with some inspiration from Longmont Choir Director Adam Cave.

“(Cave) knew how much she wanted to be a music teacher,” Liebing said. “She had expressed that. She had been modeling him. She had been taking every bit of advice she could get from him.”

Harvey says: “It’s just recently that I’ve kind of taken a shine to performing. I never really wanted to be in the spotlight.”

Clearly music was the dream, and teaching was the focus for Harvey. The school: CSU.

“It’s a good program. It’s just really small,” Harvey says of the CSU Music Department. “And so they don’t have a lot of (credibility). Not yet.”

But just a month into her freshman year, the window of Harvey’s dream of teaching music quickly slammed to shut.

Eventually she would leave the university, slipping into a deep depression.

The “crappy” time

A senior at Longmont High School when the news of Harvey’s hearing loss surfaced, Liebing was charged with delivering the news to the pair’s high school choir director Cave.

“(Cave) was angry,” Liebing said. “He just took the news and went ‘God dammit’ or whatever he said and put his head down and marched out of the room and went back to his work because he didn’t want to think about it.”

Vaughn, who had worked with Harvey since she was 15 years old, was equally distressed.

“I think it’s fair to say that I shared her sorrow through the hearing loss,” Vaughn said.

Eventually, Vaughn would lose contact with her former pupil.

However, nothing compared to the devastation and depression Harvey experienced when her hearing finally “pooped out” in February 2006.

“I pretty much stopped showering on a regular basis. I slept all day long,” she says. “I closed all the windows in my room and played online poker.”

At one point Harvey, who calls herself a “firm believer in God” and says she never swears, cursed to the heavens.

“The first time I ever cursed in my life was during my funk at CSU,” she says. “One day I was just so pissed off, I just was like ‘F you, God.’”

She stopped attending class. Though she completed the goal of finishing out the semester, life at home seemed worse.

She couldn’t communicate with her family. She stopped eating and became bulimic. The effort to just brush her teeth seemed almost too much to overcome.

“I use to write down stuff that I couldn’t hear anymore and try to describe it so I could remember what it sounded like. Then I would get even more depressed because I would feel sorry for myself.”

Most importantly, she didn’t sing for a year after leaving school until one day in their family’s basement studio.

Her father had asked her to sing a Nickel Creek tune, a song she knew before she lost her hearing, which she ended up singing in the right key.

When they revisited the song later, she sang it correctly again.

“Eventually, I was just like ‘I can do it!’ and had this epiphany moment.”

Things looked up. Harvey started learning American Sign Language. She found herself communicating again. She started attending deaf socials, where she said she met her best friend and fiancé Greg.

And she started making music again, eventually recording that Nickel Creek song with her father to a CD.

She contacted Vaughn with the hopes of taking lessons again in her newly opened music studio.

“I thought, ‘OK …’ I couldn’t imagine that happening,” Vaughn said.

Despite her doubts, she invited Harvey to tour the Old Town studio. But Vaughn’s tune changed after striking the ivory of her baby grand piano and Harvey sang back the same note.

“I asked her, ‘How did you do that?’ and her answer was, “I don’t know. I just want to sing,” Vaughn said.

Opportunity was knocking, and the doorway was cracking.

A barnyard-sized opening to her future

Liebing used the metaphor of a butterfly to describe Harvey’s transformation.

  • Stage one: A talented, yet shy caterpillar of a musician preparing for the future.
  • Stage two: The cocoon of a soul whose dream had been crushed.
  • Stage three: A beautifully transformed being with a bright future.

“She’s like a butterfly. The metaphor fits perfectly,” he said.

“Now, I’m opening all these other doors that I didn’t look at before,” Harvey said. “ I open a freaking huge barn door.”

When Harvey decided to focus on jazz vocals, she only knew about 20 songs. According to Vaughn, her goal was to learn more than 50.

Today, Harvey knows more than a couple hundred jazz standards.

Because she’s developed perfect pitch, where a vocalist can see a note played and sing it back, she can perform new and memorized works.

However, her loss of hearing does limit her. She doesn’t like straying too far from the piano so that she can follow the melody line.

“90 percent of the time I’m on the right key with no visual cues at all. But it’s not consistent, so I don’t like being in a position where I can’t see the piano,” she said.

She can’t take requests for songs she doesn’t know.

But not hearing the music does have its advantages. It’s freeing, as Harvey says.

“You’re like you’re worst critic. When you can’t hear how high the notes are, you just sing it.”

Vaughn said: “Now that she can’t hear the high notes, she’s fearless.”
She often frequents Jay’s Bistro in Old Town, where she holds her own and more and knows more than 25 songs by heart. Many don’t even know of her hearing impairment.

“They never come listen to me because they think it’s bizarre. They come to listen to me because they think I’m good,” she said.

And this fall she released “Smile” her debut album and work of love. Her goal: to finish five albums by the age of 30. Two more are in the works.

For now she works on it. She wakes up every day and practices her speech. She focuses on trying to remember, because any day it could be gone.

“I could wake up tomorrow and not remember how to do everything that I do now. Once I can’t remember, it’s gone,” she said. “So I just want to do as much I can now, and then when I have grandkids I can be like, ‘This is what I did. That’s me. Wasn’t I awesome? Hell yeah!’”

Entertainment Editor Johnny Hart can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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