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 â€œin the 30s,â€ but her name would have to change to â€œWendellâ€ or something.
â€œI have an old soul,â€ she says. â€œIâ€™ve always loved old bands.â€
She grew up listening to oldies. When she was younger, she envisioned singing backup for artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole.
Even Harveyâ€™s debut vocal jazz album, released in the fall of 2009, is filled with jazz standards like â€œAt Last,â€ â€œThe Way You Look Tonightâ€ and â€œWhat a Wonderful World.â€
She loves singing, often performing in Old Townâ€™s hot jazz spot Jayâ€™s Bistro. According to former voice teacher Cynthia Vaughn, Harvey is down-to-earth, likes bad movies and plays video games.
Nearly three years ago, during her freshman and only year at CSU, Harveyâ€™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.
â€œI donâ€™t want to be known as the deaf vocalist,â€ she says. â€œIâ€™m a vocalist who happens to be deaf.â€
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.
â€œShe has natural talent, but she has been a trained musician since sheâ€™s been in school choirs,â€ said former CSU professor and Harveyâ€™s longtime voice teacher Cynthia Vaughn. â€œâ€¦ And that didnâ€™t go away when the hearing went away.â€
By the end of her career at Longmont High School, Harvey had joined three school choirs â€“â€“ Womenâ€™s Choir, Bel Canto and Chamber Singers â€“â€“ even at one point conducting.
â€œChoir was our world, and thatâ€™s where we stayed,â€ 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.
â€œ(Cave) knew how much she wanted to be a music teacher,â€ Liebing said. â€œShe had expressed that. She had been modeling him. She had been taking every bit of advice she could get from him.â€
Harvey says: â€œItâ€™s just recently that Iâ€™ve kind of taken a shine to performing. I never really wanted to be in the spotlight.â€
Clearly music was the dream, and teaching was the focus for Harvey. The school: CSU.
â€œItâ€™s a good program. Itâ€™s just really small,â€ Harvey says of the CSU Music Department. â€œAnd so they donâ€™t have a lot of (credibility). Not yet.â€
But just a month into her freshman year, the window of Harveyâ€™s dream of teaching music quickly slammed to shut.
Eventually she would leave the university, slipping into a deep depression.
The â€œcrappyâ€ time
A senior at Longmont High School when the news of Harveyâ€™s hearing loss surfaced, Liebing was charged with delivering the news to the pairâ€™s high school choir director Cave.
â€œ(Cave) was angry,â€ Liebing said. â€œHe just took the news and went â€˜God dammitâ€™ or whatever he said and put his head down and marched out of the room and went back to his work because he didnâ€™t want to think about it.â€
Vaughn, who had worked with Harvey since she was 15 years old, was equally distressed.
â€œI think itâ€™s fair to say that I shared her sorrow through the hearing loss,â€ 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 â€œpooped outâ€ in February 2006.
â€œI pretty much stopped showering on a regular basis. I slept all day long,â€ she says. â€œI closed all the windows in my room and played online poker.â€
At one point Harvey, who calls herself a â€œfirm believer in Godâ€ and says she never swears, cursed to the heavens.
â€œThe first time I ever cursed in my life was during my funk at CSU,â€ she says. â€œOne day I was just so pissed off, I just was like â€˜F you, God.â€™â€
She stopped attending class. Though she completed the goal of finishing out the semester, life at home seemed worse.
She couldnâ€™t communicate with her family. She stopped eating and became bulimic. The effort to just brush her teeth seemed almost too much to overcome.
â€œI use to write down stuff that I couldnâ€™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.â€
Most importantly, she didnâ€™t sing for a year after leaving school until one day in their familyâ€™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.
â€œEventually, I was just like â€˜I can do it!â€™ and had this epiphany moment.â€
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 fiancÃ© 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.
â€œI thought, â€˜OK â€¦â€™ I couldnâ€™t imagine that happening,â€ Vaughn said.
Despite her doubts, she invited Harvey to tour the Old Town studio. But Vaughnâ€™s tune changed after striking the ivory of her baby grand piano and Harvey sang back the same note.
â€œI asked her, â€˜How did you do that?â€™ and her answer was, â€œI donâ€™t know. I just want to sing,â€ 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 Harveyâ€™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.
â€œSheâ€™s like a butterfly. The metaphor fits perfectly,â€ he said.
â€œNow, Iâ€™m opening all these other doors that I didnâ€™t look at before,â€ Harvey said. â€œ I open a freaking huge barn door.â€
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 sheâ€™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 doesnâ€™t like straying too far from the piano so that she can follow the melody line.
â€œ90 percent of the time Iâ€™m on the right key with no visual cues at all. But itâ€™s not consistent, so I donâ€™t like being in a position where I canâ€™t see the piano,â€ she said.
She canâ€™t take requests for songs she doesnâ€™t know.
But not hearing the music does have its advantages. Itâ€™s freeing, as Harvey says.
â€œYouâ€™re like youâ€™re worst critic. When you canâ€™t hear how high the notes are, you just sing it.â€
Vaughn said: â€œNow that she canâ€™t hear the high notes, sheâ€™s fearless.â€
She often frequents Jayâ€™s Bistro in Old Town, where she holds her own and more and knows more than 25 songs by heart. Many donâ€™t even know of her hearing impairment.
â€œThey never come listen to me because they think itâ€™s bizarre. They come to listen to me because they think Iâ€™m good,â€ she said.
And this fall she released â€œSmileâ€ 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.
â€œI could wake up tomorrow and not remember how to do everything that I do now. Once I canâ€™t remember, itâ€™s gone,â€ she said. â€œSo I just want to do as much I can now, and then when I have grandkids I can be like, â€˜This is what I did. Thatâ€™s me. Wasnâ€™t I awesome? Hell yeah!â€™â€
Entertainment Editor Johnny Hart can be reached at email@example.com.