Embracing silence
Pitch perfect phenom Mandy Harvey hits all the right notes, on and off the stage

Embracing silence
Stew Mosberg - 10/11/2018

Imagine you are standing on stage, performing songs that you have written, back-up musicians playing alongside, and an appreciative audience applauding wildly. Thrilling to be sure, but what if you couldn’t hear any of it?

Although she has been totally deaf since the age of 18, Mandy Harvey, an “America’s Got Talent” runner-up (2017), has been winning over audiences around the world with her concerts and motivational speaking engagements.

On Tues., Oct. 16, Harvey will be at the Community Concert Hall playing ukulele and singing her own compositions of jazz, blues and pop in a voice that has been described as pitch perfect, according to an L.A. Times review. “From the first note, Mandy Harvey tames her audience into stunned appreciation as she glides pitch-perfect from breathy jazz standard to growling blues,” it read. “At show’s end, the audience is on its feet.”

Born 30 years ago in Cincinnati, one of four children, her family later moved to Florida and eventually Colorado. In 1998, she attended Twin Peaks Charter Academy in Longmont and gleefully entered singing competitions. At her high school graduation, she was named “Top Female Vocalist,” and with a dream to be a vocal music educator, she was accepted into Colorado State University. But it was not to be. Hard of hearing as a toddler, her audible range continued to deteriorate as the result of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare disorder of the body’s connective tissue that can cause a defect in the middle ear. It eventually led to a complete hearing loss during her freshman year of college. Devastated, she dropped out of school.

“When I lost my hearing, I lost myself and my identity,” she remarked. “Waking up in the morning and facing the day was a struggle. One of the biggest successes I ever had was walking outside my front door while being deeply depressed.”

There have been a number of musicians through the years that faced physical challenges. Many composers and instrumentalists have been blind, and Beethoven, as most people know, became deaf, yet continued to write some of the world’s most beautiful music. But few, if any, singer/performers have been totally deaf. How, one might ask, did Harvey overcome such a loss?

The singer is gifted in many ways, not the least of which is in her optimism, inspiration and ability to accept what destiny handed her. Asked about her success, she defines it differently than most. “Success is measured in so many forms. I never would have been as comfortable singing in front of others had I not lost my hearing,” she said. “It’s a freeing experience to sing without being able to judge yourself. I was the worst critic of them all.”

At some point after moving back in with her parents, Harvey says she realized there was no value in focusing on things she couldn’t do. She started taking American sign language classes and got involved with the deaf community where, she explains, she found clear communication. “It was the first time I was in a room full of people who were all communicating, and I understood what was happening around me,” she said. “That gave me a lot of confidence to start re-evaluating my life.”

She took up singing lessons again from her former singing teacher and found that she could sing in perfect pitch. Ironically, she can’t hear her own voice but is able to stay in tune by singing through memory, sight reading, visual tuners and sensation. “You get different vibrations,” she explained. “Deeper ones hit in a different spot and they are thicker. And then lighter ones you can feel up higher and they kind of tingle.”

With a renewed confidence, she began to perform in small but well-known jazz venues in Colorado. She received high-praise from JazzTimes after her debut album, 2009’s “Smile,” was released, and is now working on her fourth.

The major break came after her dazzling performance on “America’s Got Talent,” which led to national exposure, other television appearances and a performance at the Kennedy Center. Harvey is an ambassador for “No Barriers” a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities overcome their obstacles. Her own inspiring story is chronicled in a book she wrote titled, Sensing the Rhythm – Finding My Voice in a World Without Sound.

In helping others to face loss and physical challenge the singer tells them, “If I take back any of the bumps, bruises or scrapes I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be the same person. This is going to be hard but you’re going to get through it, and you’re going to be better for it. Just keep going.”

Harvey’s tour schedule is international in scope, returning from Finland just last week, she has brought her music and inspirational speaking engagements to Canada, Sweden and the Bahamas this year. She is home on the Front Range roughly three days out of the month, “The rest of the time,” she says, “I’m happily busy making people smile.”

Prior to her performance at the Concert Hall, Harvey will offer a pre-show presentation from 5:30-6:15 p.m. that is free to the public. She will provide her inspirational story of never giving up, which she refers to as “Wisdom for Life.”

In her heart, Harvey is a singer/musician who just happens to be deaf. “Yes, it’s a part of me and who I am, but it’s not the entirety of who I am,” she acknowledged. “At the core, I’m a musician. I want people to value that part of me.”

Top Shelf

Rockin' Reverend, a king & a doll, and gastro heaven
Rockin' Reverend, a king & a doll, and gastro heaven
By Chris Aaland
04/18/2019

Dude, where’s Makar? He’s in a burgundy and blue jersey, of course! The day after skating in the NCAA men’s hockey championship game for UMass – and two days after winning the Hobey Baker Award as the most talented college hockey player in America – Cale Makar signed his entry-level contract for the Colorado Avalanche.

Meltdown goes big for 25th
Meltdown goes big for 25th
By Chris Aaland
04/11/2019

The sweet sounds of banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, guitar and upright bass will fill the air this week as the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown turns 25. The Meltdown rolled out all the stops for the big anniversary, too, by booking one of its finest lineups ever.

Delicious water and funkalicious roots
Delicious water and funkalicious roots
By Chris Aaland
04/04/2019

It just doesn’t take much anymore. I spent my 51st birthday Sunday afternoon at Durango Craft Spirits, listening to tunes with my buddy Michael McCardell, while enjoying a couple of old fashioneds and a mule.

Goodbye to BREW, gospel- ninja-soul & Cuckoo's 20th
Goodbye to BREW, gospel- ninja-soul & Cuckoo's 20th
By Chris Aaland
03/28/2019

Sadly, one of Durango’s favorite nightspots and a magical brew-pub, BREW Pub & Kitchen, closes its doors this month. Like many other restaurants and businesses, the aftermath of the 416 Fire chipped away.

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

It's Snow Joke
It's Snow Joke
By Stephen Eginoire
04/18/2019

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” Hall of Fame baseball catcher Yogi Berra once said. That’s a sentiment no one can argue with in these parts. According to Snotel, as of April 12, we are sitting at 153 percent of average snowpack in the San Juans.

Slippery When Wet
Slippery When Wet
By Stephen Eginoire
04/11/2019

What could be a better way to squander a beautiful, warm spring weekend than to spend it sloshing through an icy, water-filled canyon where the non-appearance of direct sunlight is the only guarantee?

Salty Dawgs
Salty Dawgs
By Stephen Eginoire
04/04/2019

A few thousand CFS of cold, clean, snowmelt roaring through one of the driest climates in the United States is a sight to behold.

Etched in Stone
Etched in Stone
By Stephen Eginoire
03/28/2019

With tens of thousands of Ancestral Puebloan sites spanning the Four Corners, rock art decorates countless desert-varnished boulders and cliff walls. These ancient etchings conjure tales that almost seem best left to the imagination.

Read All in Day on the Life