Mandy Harvey to perform at Strings
Steamboat Springs — When singer-songwriter Mandy Harvey performs, she’s barefoot on the stage. Through the floor and through her feet, she feels the deep vibrations from the bass, the slightly higher vibrations from the drums to her left and rhythm from her pianist, her saxophonist and her electric guitarist.
The group’s sound, which Harvey describes as jazz plus some pop and funk, is light and lilting, personal and motivational.
If you heard Harvey’s perfect pitch and didn’t notice her hands signing in ASL along to her sung lyrics, you’d probably never realize the singer and ukulele player is deaf.
Harvey and her group play Nov. 4 at Strings.
Harvey grew up in Longmont and Denver and dreamed of becoming a choir director, but her music career hit turbulence in 2006, when, as an 18-year-old vocal music education major at Colorado State University, she lost her residual hearing.
She recalls being depressed and angry.
“I was chasing my old life and how I used to do things, when I should have just let it go and learned to live a little differently,” Harvey said. “I’d connected my dream of music with my identity, which was a dangerous thing to do — so I felt like I died.”
But several moments in her life, including playing guitar with her father, helped her feel she could continue in music.
“Mourning is a healthy part of loss,” Harvey said. “I have so much more to give and so much more to do than just one singular dream — I have thousands of dreams, and so many opportunities to do amazing things.”
In 2011, Harvey won the Very Special Arts’ Top Young Soloist Award and the chance to perform at Washington, D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She’s toured across the country, has released three albums and will soon release a fourth, entitled “This Time.”
“It’s about getting up and learning to face the world, instead of allowing it to just pass by you,” Harvey said. “It’s a roller coaster of emotions, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Harvey’s songwriting process often is inspired by sounds she interprets in the world around her.
“You can feel sound everywhere, if you pay attention,” she said.
Harvey began writing music after she’d lost her hearing. Her first song was written for the family of a friend who passed away.
“My understanding of other people’s music ended in 2006,” Harvey said, “which was a long time ago. I just play whatever music is in my head.”
When a song strikes Harvey, she sings it into a recorder and sends it off to other members of her team to chart the music and transcribe it.
Like in any band, the members of her band — who she met a year ago, while filming a commercial for Burt’s Bees — have learned to communicate smoothly on and off stage.
Harvey prefers signing to lip reading, and she notes there’s a lot of eye contact between the musicians to figure out points such as who’s taking the song’s next solo. She can read the bassist’s lips better than those of the electric guitarist’s, so the bassist sometimes is the middleman of communication between them.
“People think I’m doing something that’s impossible,” she said. “When, really, it’s just a lot of hard work, and I maybe do it better than they expect.
“There are hundreds of thousands of musicians with hearing loss,” she added.
Besides touring with her band, Harvey also is as an ambassador, clinic teacher and speaker for No Barriers, a Fort Collins-based not-for-profit that inclusively works with people of various abilities and disabilities to create transformative experiences. The group’s motto is “What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.”
A friend of Harvey’s through the group is a blind man who’s summited Mount Everest. He’s teaching her to rock climb to help her conquer her fear of heights.
“To people who are dealing with a loss,” Harvey said, “I’d say, ‘You are so much bigger than this.’”
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