Hope. Dream. Believe. No Matter What.
By Kate Howell
Her message is universal: “Hope. Dream. Believe. No matter what.”
Mandy Harvey is an award-winning jazz and pop singer-songwriter who turned a pivotal life event into her strongest asset. In 2007 due to a connective tissue disorder she completely lost her residual hearing at the age of eighteen. Mandy made the difficult decision to leave the music program at Colorado State University forfeiting her lifelong dream of becoming a music teacher. Following a subsequent bout of depression, Mandy pursued several career options but returned to her original love —music— in 2008. As fans of TV’s juggernaut America’s Got Talent will recall, Mandy made a tremendous impact in 2017 as a “Golden Buzzer Winner”. Given the opportunity to go directly to the competition’s live rounds, she eventually placed fourth and became the breakout star of the show’s twelfth season. Since then, her career has skyrocketed, and she’s been touring and performing nonstop. “I’ve only been home maybe three days a month. It’s a lot of travel.”
Hard of hearing throughout her childhood, Mandy began singing in a local choir at the age of four as a way to express herself. The choir also served as an outlet for her to understand all the words that were being spoken. “I had to get close to the piano to hear the pitch,” she explains. “Once people started singing I could no longer hear myself. You get used to trusting yourself a lot more.”
Until she attended college, her entire life was built on the idea that she was going to teach music. To attend school for vocal music education, however, Harvey had to be able to hear. “It felt on several levels that I had died. I made the mistake of pouring my entire identity into one single dream and convincing myself that I was not capable of anything else or creating any other dream. That was my biggest mistake in the whole experience.”
Harvey kept a journal during the period when her hearing was suddenly deteriorating, in which she would write descriptions of what specific sounds sounded like.
“After a certain point,” Harvey stated, “I realized there’s no value in focusing on everything that I can’t do. That mindset didn’t start changing until I moved back home and started taking ASL (American Sign Language) classes and got involved with the deaf community. I 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. That gave me a lot of confidence to start reevaluating my life. I started to think there were different ways to enjoy it. I found my way back into music and realized that it’s not that the music went away after losing my hearing, I just get the privilege of enjoying it and experiencing it differently.”
Harvey’s father, Joe was the one who encouraged her to begin singing again. “We sat down and I started watching him play…I started playing along with him. I began feeling the instrument.” Joe asked her to learn a song to sing. It required her to sit at the piano with a visual tuner working through sheet music, going over the song note by note. She thought he was crazy for telling her to try. After nearly 10 hours she was able to complete the song once without any mistakes. “By the end of the song,” she smiles, “he said I had done it. I started testing those waters…and singing again without being able to hear myself, without being able to judge myself. It was such a freeing experience because it’s always been the thing that held me back so much. Now not being able to hear myself, not being able to judge myself, I found my voice in it.” Ten years, thousands of practice hours, and hundreds of performances later, she found herself on the largest platform yet, America’s Got Talent (AGT).
The memory of her run on AGT remains vivid. The deaf singer wowed unpredictably critical judge Simon Cowell and astonished fans with her ability to feel and communicate music with depth and clarity, despite the daunting challenge of hearing loss. “I went onto the stage with no expectations,” she humbly states. “I didn’t think I was going to get the Golden Buzzer. I just wanted to show up and prove to myself that I could stand on that stage. I wanted to encourage people around me to evaluate their lives and see where they are holding themselves back. I wanted them to dream again. For the Golden Buzzer to come from Simon (Cowell) meant a lot. He didn’t talk about my story. He didn’t talk about my situation. Yes, it’s a part of me and who I am, but it’s not the entirety of who I am. At the core, I’m a musician. I want people to value that part of me. He (Cowell) was judging my tone, my songwriting and pitch.”
Not content to rest on her blossoming recording career, live performances, and inspirational speaking, Mandy released her first book in 2017, Sensing the Rhythm: Finding My Voice in a World Without Sound, with a message of helping others to pursue and realize their dreams. As an Ambassador for the nonprofit organization No Barriers USA, she travels the country to assist others to break through their personal barriers, heighten awareness, challenge stereotypes, and lead the charge toward a brighter future for all. “It’s just having honest conversations and connecting with people,” she said. “That’s part of why I’m involved in this business. It’s never been about fame or attention. It’s about helping to create a community and lift other people up.”
“Mandy Harvey represents, in the truest sense, a No Barriers life. Her story is a powerful testament to resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenge. She has harnessed her challenges and transformed them into a stunningly beautiful gift to the world. Her discoveries and insights can become ours; and with her, we’ll be forever changed.” (Erik Weihenmayer – Blind adventurer, author and speaker)
Be inspired in word and song on Saturday, January 19 when Mandy Harvey visits Yavapai College Performing Arts Center (1100 E. Sheldon St., Prescott). Mandy will give a 45-minute inspirational talk at 5:00 PM that’s free and open to the public. At 7:30 PM, she will light up the YCPAC together with her band in an unforgettable evening of jazz, standards, and original pieces; tickets are required. For those with hearing loss, an ASL interpreter and captioning will be available for both the talk and concert. For tickets or more info: (928) 776-2000 (10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday) or www.ycpac.com.
Kate Howell is Patron Services Manager at Yavapai College Performing Arts Center.
IMAGES: Courtesy of Yavapai College Performing Arts Center