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Feeling the Music
Musicians often say they “feel” the music. But that has a whole different meaning when jazz singer Mandy Harvey says it:
“I’ll feel and concentrate the drums through the floor, through my feet and then the bass through your chest. And then if a saxophone player is next to me then it will be on my arm. So you just designate different parts of your body so you can concentrate on who’s playing what and when.”
Harvey relies so much on these parts of her body because she can’t rely on her ears. Three years ago she went completely deaf. And although it was a big blow to her confidence, she stuck with music. She’s just released her second album, called “After You’ve Gone.”
During her conversation with Colorado Public Radio's Ryan Warner, she said discovering that she can still sing after losing her hearing has helped her reclaim her identity.
Photo: Harper Point Studio
TRANSCRIPT (from a longer version of the interview that aired 12/31/10):
Ryan Warner [RW]: From Colorado Public Radio, I’m Ryan Warner. And this is Colorado Matters. Musicians often say they “feel” the music. But that has a whole different meaning when jazz singer Mandy Harvey says it...
Mandy Harvey [MH]: I’ll feel and concentrate the drums through the floor, through my feet and then the bass through your chest. And then if a saxophone player is next to me then it will be on my arm. So you just designate different parts of your body so you can concentrate on who’s playing what and when.”
[MUSIC: “This Song is You”] I hear music when I look at you / A beautiful theme of every dream I ever knew...
RW: Harvey relies so much on these parts of her body because she can’t rely on her ears. Three years ago she went completely deaf. And although it was a big blow to her confidence, she stuck with music. And she’s now out with her second album. It’s called, “After You’ve Gone.”
[MUSIC: “This Song is You”]...some enchanted land / Down deep in my heart / I hear it say / Is this the day?
RW: Mandy Harvey sat down with us and here’s how the conversation worked: she read my lips-- and answered in her own voice. She’s says she’s loved singing since she was a little kid.
MH: Ya, I actually started performing when I was four. And never stopped after that.
RW: Performing what at age 4?
MH: Well, I actually started...you know those old church pageants during Christmastime? So, I got up there and I put on my little star suit and I had lines and stuff like that. So I was up on stage by that time. And ever since then I started joining choirs and whatnot. But I guess my overall passion for music really blew up in high school. I was in 3 or 4 different choirs at the same time, plus musicals, plus drama, plus anything I could get my hand on.
RW: Things changed when you turned 18?
RW: What happened?
MH: I went to CSU for vocal music education. And pretty quickly after I had started, about a month in, is when I started noticing I couldn’t understand my teachers very well. So I kept trying to deny it and move up closer and figure out a way to understand them. But it got to a point where I was falling behind in my classes. And so I talked to my mom -- and this has always been, like an internal fear since I’ve had hearing issues all my life and surgeries all my life. I’ve always had this back thought of what if one day, it all goes away.
So, I talked to my mom and we went and we saw an audiologist and I had lost a good chunk. And so they told us to come back. And so we went back the next month and it had dropped a little bit more. And it was just a really weird experience because you go in with this hope that, “Oh, maybe I just have a severe ear infection or something like that. It’s all going to go away.” And then their just like “Yup, you need hearing aids,” slap you on the butt and head out the door. You know.
So by spring of 2007, I’d already been fitted for hearing aids and the next month after that they weren’t helpful anymore. Once you hit a certain point, the only thing that is made louder is just white noise. So you walk around and tiny little things are blown out of proportion but it doesn’t make any sense. So it’s more like [SIMULATES THE NOISE] and that’s all you get. So I just stopped wearing them and then after awhile they just kind of said that’s where you’re gonna go.
RW: Is there a track on the CD that at all reflects this time in your life?
MH: Ummm, not one that reflects everything that’s going on in my life. The song that is more about the loss of my hearing would be, “I Won’t Cry.” Which is actually a song written by a friend of mine named Donna and it’s about her relationship and how it kinda fell apart. And so I found a lot of connection to it cause it was just a loss for me. It wasn’t necessarily a person, but it was just a loss.
[MUSIC: “I Won’t Cry”] Time will take this ache away / Life will heal this empty space / One day I’ll look back and find / You’ve hardly even crossed my mind / And I won’t cry
RW: Were you determined to stick with music?
MH: I actually gave up on music for about a year. I left the school and I didn’t have much else to do so I moved in back with my parents. Which is always a humiliating thing when you’re 18-19 years old -- “Hey folks!” After about a year, my dad and I were playing on the guitar and that was something that I always connected with him with. So we’re playing and he’s like “You should learn this song.” And I did. And it was this epiphany moment of “Wait a second, I can still do this.” It’s not what I was thinking it would be and it’s not exactly as fun as I thought it would be, but I can still do this. And then I kinda got this mad rush of I can steal my identity back, somehow. So I spent awhile trying to wrap my head around the idea of singing without having anything to go off of other than my head -- which is scary.
RW: Yeah, because singing is so much about the feedback you get back from yourself.
MH: Yeah. Yeah, It’s not like a piano that you can plunk any note you want and you know that it’s going to turn out right unless the piano is wickedly out of tune. But it’s not like that. It’s...there’s no buttons that you push that 100 percent will always be there. It’s all based on muscle memory and in your head and without being able to hear it, you don’t have that confirmation that you’re doing it right.
RW: Did you get in touch with someone who helped you develop your vocal abilities?
MH: I actually got involved with Cynthia Vaughn. She was my old vocal coach from when I was in high school. She was also one of my teachers from when I was at CSU. And she basically helped me get my confidence back and pointed me towards Mark Sloniker, who’s the pianist at Jay’s Bistro that I play with every week. She didn’t really help me find my voice necessarily, but it was more like “Yeah, you’re doing it right, try this. Yeah, you’re doing that right. Try this.”
RW: You mentioned Mark Sloniker on piano on the new CD as well.
MH: Yeah, he’s on both albums actually.
RW: And the new CD is called “After You’ve Gone.” You’re listening to Colorado Matters, I’m Ryan Warner. The jazz singer and musician Mandy Harvey is our guest.
Okay, we’ve kind of make a big deal of the deaf thing, right?
RW: Yeah, should we?
MH: [LAUGHS] Well, it’s one of those things that it gives a lot of people hope and it’s a marker for someone who says, “Oh well, I lost my dreams” and they’re like, “Well no, I just have to do my dreams a little bit differently.” But I don’t know, if I can be helpful to somebody with going through that experience, I would love to do that. But at the same time, I just am following my passion and I’d rather have my life be focused around my passion instead of my inabilities.
RW: And I understand that at many shows, you don’t even make reference to this?
MH: I don’t. I mean I always sign when I sing. But most people...if they don’t know me...they come in and they’re like, “Oh gosh, she can sign - that’s really pretty. It’s almost like dancing.” And then they leave and they never know. It’s not like I start, “Oh yes, hello, my name is Mandy and I am deaf. Let me blow your mind with my abilities!” [LAUGHS]
RW: Did you consider doing that?
MH: No [MORE LAUGHTER]
RW: I mean, I will say, that’s a compelling act. Right? I mean, not everyone’s got it, you know?
MH: [STILL LAUGHING] Yeah, but then you get those people who are like, “All right...blow my mind!” I’d rather do it...if I was going to be that much of a ham, I’d do it at the very end. So they’re sitting there and they’re like, “Wow, you’re a great singer!” Oh, by the way...and then they’re like “Whaaaa?!?” You know, that double take look. That would be the best.
RW: [LAUGHS] Let’s talk about a song that your pianist, Mark Sloniker, had some big influence on.
MH: Gosh, all of them. Mark and I tag teamed both my albums and music in general. We would sit down together and we would arrange music and get everything in the right keys and such. There’s a couple of tunes on this album specifically that he wrote.
RW: Well, can I jump in and say I think I know one of them. And I have listened to it 10 or 20 times since I got the CD.
MH: [LAUGHS] It’s a beautiful song
RW: So, I’m going to butt in
MH: Go for it
RW: And I think it’s called, “Smile”
MH: Yeah, with an “s”
[MUSIC: “Smiles”] In the rainbow lives life’s colors / Red and yellows, greens and blues / And in those colors I see smiles / That pour from deep in the heart of you...
RW: Did he write that recently?
MH: He wrote it actually in 1988. So [LAUGHS] the same year I was born.
MH: Yeah, I don’t remember exactly what the emotion behind it. But I think it was right after he had started his family.
RW: It’s so optimistic.
RW: And it’s a little...how do I put this...it’s a little cheesy and I love that.
MH: Yeah, well the part of it that I really connect with is on the second verse, down at the very bottom it says something to the effect of, “there’ll be smiles if that’s what you choose to see.” Which is what Mark and I really connected on is that crappy things happen all the time. They really do. And some of them like, pull the rug out from underneath you. But if you go through it and you force yourself to smile and look at the positive side of things, then you’ll make it through.
[MUSIC: “Smiles”] And you’ll see smiles / In the skies of blue / There’ll be smiles / From every point of view / And in love and life / When you smile with me / There’ll be smiles / That’s what we choose to see
RW: Longmont Jazz singer Mandy Harvey’s our guest on today’s Colorado Matters. Her new album is called “After You’ve Gone.” When we come back... what Harvey calls “the silver lining” of her deafness. This is Colorado Public Radio.
[MUSIC: “Witchcraft”]: Those fingers in my hair / That sly come hither stare / That stripped my conscious bare / It’s witchcraft / And I've got no defense for it / The heat is too intense for it / What good would common sense for it do / 'Cause it's witchcraft ...
RW: You’re tuned to Colorado Matters. I’m Ryan Warner. And this is our guest, Mandy Harvey, the jazz singer. She’s had to adapt musically since losing her hearing three years ago.
I’m realizing that as we play this music on the show...you can’t hear it.
RW: And you have never heard your albums the way that other people will hear them. That takes, I would think, such a tremendous amount of trust in everyone you work with.
MH: I’m a slight picky when it comes to who I work with [LAUGHS] And that’s why it was so hard to have even just one original tune on this album. Every album that we’ve done, we’ve made a point to put us in a more uncomfortable position. Because the first album, I knew basically every song that was on there. Like, I had remembered them from when I was a kid. So, I had...
RW: They were standards
MH: Yeah, I had heard them at one point in time or another. This current album, I hadn’t actually heard...I want to say 95 percent of the album. So all the songs, basically, but one....yeah, but one, I had learned after I lost my hearing.
RW: Let me guess what the one is.
RW: Is it “Somewhere Over the Rainbow?”
RW: I have to say, I’m so happy you sang the pre-verse. What is that called? The opening?
MH: Yeah, I think they actually call it the “verse” in jazz music. What we would call like a prelude or whatever, is called the “verse.” And then you have A/B sections for the rest of it.
RW: It’s somewhat rare to hear this part of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and you sing it beautifully.
MH: Oh, thank you.
[MUSIC: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”] ...When all the clouds darken up the skyway / There’s a rainbow highway to be found / Waiting from your window pane / To a place beyond the sun / Just a step beyond the rain / Somewhere over the rainbow....
RW: Is there a fear in including music that is so often sung like that song, on a CD?
MH: The nice thing about losing my hearing when I was 18...if that’s even a possible [LAUGHS] phrase...is that I don’t have a whole bunch of memory of stored musicians’ versions. So I don’t have much to get stuck in my head. I think a lot of people’s problem when they record stuff that they had known when they were kids is that they try to emulate the person who sang it originally. And I think it loses it’s meaning when you’re trying to sound like somebody else.
RW: Judy Garland! Judy, I’ve gotta do...
MH: Yes. “I must channel the Garland of the Judy.” [LAUGHS] Yeah, no. I remember her singing it. I honestly can’t remember what her voice sounds like, so it was never part of my understanding when I went to record it.
The other good thing is that all the people who I work with have a beautiful regard for what the lyrics mean versus how it's been sung before. So we try to hone in on where is it going, what emotion are we tying to it first, before we even arrange the music at all.
RW: There's a track on the new CD that I think you strike the mood so elegantly. And it's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"
RW: And I can see a frown on your face. I can see you dragging your head as you're walking down the sidewalk when I hear you singing this.
[MUSIC: "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"] Everytime we say goodbye / I die a little / Everytime we say goodbye / I wonder why a little ...
RW: You do sound so glum
RW: What do you tap to get there?
MH: That one is, that one was arranged by Mark and he put a lot of really beautiful, intricate chords. But where I was going with it was...my best friend is my cousin, her name is Maura. And she's basically my twin, I'm two and a half months older than she is and we grew up together so we saw each other every day. And then her family -- immediate family -- moved when I was in elementary school and so I only get to see her once a year.
And my mom had one of those old station wagons, you know the one with the seat in the back? So I just remember her sitting on the front porch and she was waving at me goodbye as we were driving, pulling away. So I just rememember sitting there and just crying 'cause I knew that I wasn't going to see her for a couple years.
RW: That's so cinematic
MH: [LAUGHS] Yeah, it was very dramatic for me. Cause you know when you're a kid and you're just like "That's my only friend in the world! I'm so alone now!" [LAUGHS]
RW: And that's what you got for "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"
[MUSIC: "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"] ... There's no love song finer / But how strange the change from major to minor / Everytime we say goodbye ...
RW: Well Mandy Harvey, let’s wrap up with one last song. It’s called, “With You.”
MH: Right, the one that I wrote with Mark Sloniker.
RW: Talk a little bit about it.
MH: That one actually has a very specific feeling and meaning behind it. When I was growing up, there were these two older couples who were across the street. And one of them, I was really close with. There was a colonel and his wife and he had a been like a colonel of some sort in World War II. And he was telling me all of his war stories. I was like his best buddy and we would play chess every day.
But he was telling me that when he came back from the war, that he had a hard time communicating with his wife. So they spent a good year not ever really talking at all and so one day he got fed up with it and he grabbed her hand and they went walking. They walked for miles and miles and miles until they just broke the silence and started communicating again and laughing again and remembering all their old jokes again. Because it was just so hard having somebody who went through what he had gone through to be able to express that to his wife, who was scared enough and didn’t really want to know.
[MUSIC: “With You”] We always promised to smile to each other / We always promised to laugh with each other / We always promised to make the best of everything / We didn’t wanna get stuck in the silence / We didn’t wanna shut down for bad weather / We only wanted to find eternal spring...
MH: The song has a very specific beat to it and it’s supposed to feel like walking. It’s also a very easy beat to understand for a lot of my friends who are hard of hearing or deaf. But it’s just about getting past the weirdness that had happened and going back to being best friends
[MUSIC: “With You”] We could be happy again / Know what we knew then / Happy again / Right now
RW: Mandy Harvey, thank you for being with us
MH: Thank you for inviting me. I had such a fun time.
RW: Mandy Harvey recently released her second album. It’s called “After You’ve Gone.” The jazz singer lives in Longmont.