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Episode 42: Art and Music as Collective Therapy: Speaking with Musicians, Mandy Harvey & Adrian Anantawan – Condensed Version



Welcome to part two of our new Alchemy Series, sponsored by Wells Fargo and Prudential, where we speak to experts and thought leaders to attain nuggets of wisdom during COVID-19. The arts have played a critical role in everyone’s lives during this trying time. When crisis occurs, art and music take on a new role in our lives. Whether that is escape, relief, or outlets of creativity, the importance of the arts becomes clear.

Dave and Erik speak to two of our No Barriers Ambassadors, Mandy Harvey and Adrian Anantawan, each talented and resilient musical artists to shed some light on the role of art during this pandemic.

» Hear an extended version of our interview with Mandy and Adrian here (full transcript).

Adrian Anantawan

Born without a right hand, Adrian Anantawan began the violin at nine and has since established himself as a rising star in classical music. Memorable moments include performances at the White House, the Opening Ceremonies of the Athens and Vancouver Olympic Games and the United Nations. He has played for the late Christopher Reeve, Pope John Paul II, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He has also helped establish the Virtual Chamber Music Initiative at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Centre — a cross-collaborative project that develops adaptive musical instruments for use by young persons with disabilities within a chamber music setting. Throughout the year, Adrian continues to perform, speak and teach around the world as an advocate for disability and the arts.

Keep up with Adrian:

Mandy Harvey

Mandy Harvey is an award-winning singer, songwriter, and motivational speaker who lost her residual hearing at the age of nineteen while a freshman vocal major at Colorado State University. She pursued multiple career options, but returned to music, her true passion. She quickly became an in-demand performer and has released four albums. In 2017 she appeared on America’s Got Talent and earned a Golden Buzzer from Simon Cowell for performing her original song “Try.” In addition to performing and speaking, Mandy has become an ambassador for No Barriers USA, with a mission to encourage, inspire, and assist others to break through their personal barriers. Sensing the Rhythm is her first book.

Keep up with Mandy:


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Episode Transcript

Adrian: I think that art and music are sort of the most human things that we can do and it's an act of resistance to continue to open yourself to grieving, to open yourself to emotions, to reaffirm understanding of who we are at our best. This is almost like a fight that you do against the virus.

Erik: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no-barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in in the summit exists a map. That map that way forward is what we call no barriers.

Dave: Continuing with our Alchemy series today, you meet Adrian Anantawan and Mandy Harvey, two world-class musicians who reflect on the role of music and art in these challenging times. Born without a right hand, Adrian is a violinist who has performed at the White House, the opening ceremonies of the Athens and Vancouver Olympic games and the United Nations. He's played for the late Christopher Reeve, Pope John Paul the second and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He's joined by Mandy Harvey, who despite losing her hearing at the age of 19 is an award-winning singer, songwriter and motivational speaker who you may have watched on America's Got Talent where she earned the golden buzzer from Simon Cowell. Enjoy the conversation.

Erik: Welcome to our new weekly No Barriers Podcast series where we will continue to explore this extraordinary moment in our lives with a pandemic taking over the world while still remaining true to the theme that we've always emphasized here, which is what's within you is stronger than what's in your way, which is a theme that we think the world needs to hear more than ever right now. A special thanks to Prudential and Wells Fargo for their support of this podcast series. Well, I'm so excited to have Mandy Harvey and Adrian Anantawan with us today. One of my questions, because you guys are some of the most talented musicians in the world and when I've seen you both in person, you have that experience. It's this deeply emotional connection that transforms you. And I'm wondering from the perspective of being a musician now in your home and not being able to offer that kind of experience, what role can music be playing in our lives right now to help us through this?

Erik: What role, how do we look to music as a source of support? And maybe I'll let you start Adrian.

Adrian: I think a lot of us turn not only to music but also just art in general because I think that this virus is, I think what's so challenging about it is it's so inhuman. It's a strain of RNA essentially that destroys human life and community art and just the simple act of being able to give a hug to someone. And I think about, I hear these stories of people who have lost loved ones and aren't able to say goodbye to them in close physical contact. And I think that art and music are sort of the most human things that we can do.

Adrian: I think that these forms of expression have always been here for us in terms of how we produce and how we appreciate it to make us understand why we are human, essentially. And it's an act of resistance to continue to open yourself to grieving, to open yourself to emotions, to really just expose yourself as much as possible to various art forms in order to reaffirm understanding of who we are at our best. And at the same time sort of, this is almost like a fight that you do against the virus. This is like, okay, this is something that more than ever is important and our lives and to continually as producers of art to reaffirm our commitment, to deepen our understanding and expression and the tools that we have as much as possible.

Erik: It seems like two kind of frames of thought, right? Like there's the group that says, "Hey, when times are tough, you got to cut art out and just buckle down and focus on what's important." And then Adrian saying, "Hey, in times of darkness, art becomes more important." Maybe, what do you think first for processing our humanness for maybe even escapism a little bit, what do you think about that?

Mandy: We need the ability to escape. We need that ability to have our heads less pushed down with so much negativity and have that positive light and that hope and those people who rally around you. I think, I'm looking forward to a day when we can yes, express this and I think that the art behind it and us talking about it is going to be a beautiful way for us to heal. I think music will be therapy and art will be therapy for a little while. But when it's over, I think there has to be an understanding that this can't be the way that it is forever. It's just not real. It's not. We've lost the genuine side, the human nature side of art,

Erik: And Adrian, most of us aren't like professional performers and entertainers, right? So some of us are just using art right now to get through, right? Almost like meditation, right? So, people are probably getting sick of me saying this, but I've been playing my guitar more than ever. I gave it up 20 years ago. Now, I've been playing like two or three hours a day. It's hard to come back out into the real world again. So, have you seen a lot of examples in COVID, of people actually doubling up on their pursuit of art in one way or another? Not when, not performing for others but just for their own sanity?

Adrian: Absolutely. Yeah. This idea of everyone turning to a creative act in order to find some control over something that feels like things are outside of your control. And I think it's going to produce a lot of people who reestablish relationships to things that they may not necessarily have had the time to do because of just so many other aspects of life getting in the way. And I hear all these stories about people going through self-improvement projects and I think this idea of continuing to pursue excellence in your own life is never going to change. But I think that people just have had the opportunity even just to walk outside more often in their own neighborhoods for instance.

Dave: Both of you perform live all over the world. So I'm curious, if you imagine you had the opportunity to be up on stage right now in this critical moment in a live concert. I'm curious, what you would use that moment to share with people.

Mandy: Honestly, I wouldn't change what I was doing. I've been singing and I've been doing little mini-concerts and stuff like that, but my message is the same. People keep asking me the same questions. They say, "Mandy, when you lost your hearing and you were in the biggest mess of your life, what did you do to find hope?" That's always been the question that most people ask and that's as relevant now as it is for anybody. I think for the first time people are finally understanding the impact of making those painful steps to get up off the floor and actually move forward but also they're really starting to understand the benefit and the power behind having a rope team and people to encourage you and push you forward and people as a part of your life as a giant community. It changes everything.

Mandy: And so I think just by continuing to say and continuing to express and talk about what I've always talked about, I just think that more people will understand more. So it's now we have an opportunity to have a mutual pain that we can hold onto and take control over and use as a benefit, as a tool to bring people together. Just the same as when 9-11 happened in the US, imagine that next day. How many people came together and videos being shared of our firefighters doing what they could do and celebrating and it was just, we came together as a nation and now we have an opportunity to come together as a world.

Adrian: If people were to come to a live performance, I would just find a way to demonstrate gratefulness of just the role that everyone plays in order to help each other. Because I think that we give a lot of attention, rightfully so, to our health care workers, and I think that everyone has a part to play in terms of engaging with this. Whether you're staying at home or if you're on the front lines. And to just find a way, I don't know exactly how that would be, just to artistically express that sense of everyone is part of this rope team. Everyone is learning to elevate each other. These no barriers philosophies that resonate more clearly to me then than ever.

Erik: Are you finding yourselves being more creative than maybe in times past or does that kind of shut down?

Mandy: Yes and no. I think, it's so fresh right this moment that there's been a like a couple of weeks of just trying to figure out how am I going to pay my mortgage? So there's kind of that stress. But in it, I've been recording snippets and parts and pieces of all of these different emotions and I've been writing them down so it's like I've been like all of this stuff is collecting in my mind and then probably this weekend and starting all of next week it's ,just going to start pouring out. And so I will have the benefit of using these emotions and even the fear and the happiness and all of it. There's incredible positivity in everything that's been happening as well. Even though it's freaking terrifying.

Mandy: There's been so much of joy that's been coming about and all of these emotions and all this energy is going to pour out. It's just been kind of you're in survival mode. And then when you finally kind of figure out your footing after survival mode finishes, then you're able to, for lack of a better word, regurgitate everything that just happened.

Erik: What about you Adrian? That's great.

Adrian: Yeah. I've been doing a lot of virtual projects with friends and it's just collectively therapeutic. It's like our profession and our therapy at the same time. So it's an interesting mix for professional musicians at least because we get that sense of what you're doing Erik. Like, Oh I can play my guitar for three hours a day and find that creation. And at the same time we're processing this in an artistic way and then I'm doing a lot of teaching as well. So, how do we give tools to kids in order to express that in a way that we can turn to because we have the skill to learn an instrument for instance, or to make music. How do we continue that for them in a virtual environment?

Adrian: And I think it just speaks again to, we are all in positions where we are partially victimized by this virus and we are also in places of a privilege as well. And I think both are amplified in their own ways. So there are just so many different roles that I'm beginning to understand that I encompass not only as a teacher, an artist, now like part-time cook or house cleaner for my house for instance. How do we just transform and maybe that's the alchemy part of it. How do we transform these challenges in a way that give us a sense of urgency at a very uncertain time.

Dave: Yes. I've got a question for you all. I know all of our listeners have different musical preferences, but give us a song to listen to right now from either something that you guys wrote yourselves, something that, something you're listening, it doesn't have to be your own, but give a recommendation. What would you pick?

Adrian: Yeah, I've seen some incredible recordings online of orchestras that are all using their cellphones and overlapping their own recordings to sort of come together. A very powerful one I saw early on was the Rotterdam Philharmonic. It's on YouTube and they did Ode to Joy together. And I just reflect on, there are so many aspects of different recordings that would be amazing. But this one was particularly just hitting on so many different levels I think.

Dave: Right. How about you Mandy?

Mandy: I don't know. It's tough because I think people draw from so many different things. I think there's a lot of different songs and stuff out there that's very, like, Oh, we're going to get through this and oh, we're strong. But, I think for some people they just kind of want to be pissed right now, and have songs that they can just scream along with.

Mandy: There's so many angsty songs out there which are a lot of fun. But one of the songs that popped into my mind because of a request this week was a Fleetwood Mac Landslide. That's fantastic. But when you re-listen to it, they're going through changes and they don't know, they don't really know what's going to happen but they have to grow, they have to, they don't really have a choice and they have to accept themselves and they have to move forward. And, so there's been a lot of songs like that that's really been really impactful for me. But I would encourage anybody, think of your favorite album and put that on and remember why it was your favorite, but also listen to it with the mindset of COVID and see if it changes its definition. And I think that that is just a beautiful way to appreciate the artists, but also appreciate the songs that were written.

Dave: Well, thank you guys so much for making this work and for joining the podcast and for being a part of No Barriers for many years now. For those of you listening, you can check our show notes to find out more about Mandy and Adrian and where to find their music, how to get involved with their work in our show notes section of nobarrierspodcast.com. But thank you guys so much for joining us.

Mandy: Thank you

Erik: Thanks guys.

Adrian: Thank you.

Mandy: I love you.

Erik: I love you too.

Dave: So Erik, that was amazing. What stuck with you from that conversation?

Erik: This idea of adaptation. These guys are masters of adaptation. They live their life adapting, trying to figure out how to bring forth their art. And so this is a great time for us all to think about adaptation, right? Kids right now are doing school online, right? And they have a lot less structured time, right? They're not maybe going to sports practice. So this is a great time to take up like an art project or really start learning something new and adapting to something. So in a way, right? We want to come out of this stronger and that'd be a great way to use our time. And as Adrian said, very therapeutic as well.

Dave: Yeah. And I think for me, just listening to the personal stories of how much this is impacting the careers of Adrian and Mandy at this point in their lives with all the cancellations. Sort of that very real and palpable sense of we are all deeply impacted by this. And it is okay if what we're trying to do is just keep it all together right now and to accept the breadth of how we all might be responding, whether this is a time of creativity and innovation for you or it's a time of grief and trying to just get through it, that that spectrum is all okay. And that music and art actually can speak to you no matter where you are on that spectrum. If you're in that dark place or if you're in that, I'm going to make the most of this place that music and art play a role for us.

Erik: And Mandy also mentioned that, yeah, you freak out and you go through this survival mode and then you start, and I love this word she used, she talked about, then you regurgitate it all back out. And that's art, right? So I bet you like amazing art and music and sculpture and painting. I bet it's going to be an amazing growth from this crisis. I bet amazing stuff's going to come out.

Dave: Well, thank you Erik. Thanks to our guests. That was another great conversation. We encourage our listeners if you enjoyed the conversation to share it with someone else and build our No Barriers Podcast community. We thank our sponsors, Prudential and Wells Fargo and as always you can find show notes and our tips from this conversation. A one page piece of paper that you can pull away with you and say how it might apply what I learned today to my own life right now. You can download those tips at nobarrierspodcast.com in the show notes. Thanks so much for listening today.

Erik: Thanks everyone.

Dave: The production team behind this podcast includes senior producer, Pauline Shafer, executive producer, Didrik Johnck sound design, editing and mixing by Tyler Cottman, graphics by Sam Davis and marketing support by Megan Lee and Karly Sandsmark. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan band for our intro song Guidance and thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com



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