Deaf Singer Brings Inspirational Message to Kean
Singer-songwriter Mandy Harvey’s talent and love of music has taken her on international tours, to the finals of the TV show America’s Got Talent, and recently onto the stage at Kean University -- even though she cannot hear the music she performs.
The jazz and pop vocalist who lost her hearing at age 18 gave a concert at Kean’s Enlow Recital Hall on February 22 with support from several ASL students from Kean. Earlier that week she conducted a master class for students in Kean’s School of Communication Disorders and Deafness, teaching them about the importance of accessibility to music for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Harvey said that her most important work is to encourage others to overcome difficulties.
“I want to show a different side of what a disability looks like,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, every single person is battling something. We have a responsibility to encourage each other.”
Her message resonated with Kean students.
“I learned how she inspired people, without letting negativity affect her,” said junior Eloisa Franco, a biomedicine major who plans to attend medical school.
Harvey lost her hearing to a connective tissue disorder while a college freshman majoring in music in Colorado. She feared she would have to give up music. Instead, encouraged by her father, she used an electronic guitar tuner that displays musical notes to reteach herself to play guitar and sing.
She now uses an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to translate conversations and questions to her, although she can speak and sing clearly.
Harvey taught the Kean students how she relies on different vibrations and textures of sound to feel music. She spends hours learning and perfecting each song, and counts measures and relies on visual cues from her band to stay on track during a performance.
She performs without shoes so she can feel vibration through her feet, a technique she used on America’s Got Talent, where she earned a “golden buzzer” from judge Simon Cowell and advanced directly to the finals. She ultimately finished fourth in the 2017 season.
“You can almost see a story in music. Different parts feel so incredibly different,” she said, as the students stood with hands on the piano, feeling the vibrations. “As an interpreter who is preparing for a show, you can prepare a plan for how best to tell that story.”
Harvey has released four albums and now travels the world to advocate for access for the deaf and hard of hearing. At her Kean concert, assisted listening devices were available and an interpreter was provided.
Two Kean students also performed a song with her, in ASL, at the concert. The students were Sierra James of Fords, a junior psychology major and ASL minor; and Atiya Gladden of North Brunswick, a junior majoring in criminal justice with a minor in ASL.
"Kean has done an incredible job of making music accessible,” Harvey said.
“She works so hard,” said senior biology major Nura Sbeah, who said she wants to get more involved with ASL to work with children with disabilities. “Everybody has their own experiences, it’s just how you let it affect your life.”