Pearl Award Nominee Overcomes Hearing Challenge to Record CD
As long as Sherée Fitzgerald can remember, she has loved music.
Like many young girls she dreamt of becoming a singer. At four, she would stand on the fireplace hearth and belt out "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" to the amusement of family and friends. But the slight lisp that was so adorable at four never went away.
The little girl with big dreams had a hearing loss that some believed would prevent a career in music. Her hearing loss is in the higher frequencies, which are crucial for diction and word recognition.
Despite this, Sherée's rendition of "Healing Waters" (from her new What Matters Most album) has recently been nominated for a prestigious Pearl Award as "Inspirational Recording of the Year."
The annual Pearl Awards, sponsored by the Faith-Centered Music Association, will be televised August 26th at 6:00 pm on KJZZ-TV.
Sherée was raised in Northern California. Early on, her mother taught her that musical gifts were intended to bless the lives of others. She loved to perform for church groups, accompanied by her mother or sister.
Her high school teacher, Gerald Smith, also encouraged her and reinforced her mother's message on the power of music to uplift and inspire others.
"He taught me that music could create an energy of love and acceptance in spite of differences among people," Sherée said. "I experienced personally how music could unite a diverse group. Since then, I've felt compelled to always use music to share a positive message."
Sherée recalls working with her teacher on a German art song. "It was frustrating because I could not hear the German Z sound (ts)," Sherée says. "My teacher wrote it down phonetically and literally showed me where to place my tongue.
"In my excitement over learning something new, I began using it in the wrong places in English words. From time to time, people would comment on it. I would just thank them and go on because I could not hear the problem."
A recent hearing test revealed why Sherée had difficulty learning the German art song. Her hearing loss is moderate at 2000 hertz and profound at 3000 hertz. The most important frequency for speech diction occurs at 2000 to 4000 hertz. Because of this, Sherée has difficulty hearing many spoken sounds.
"You can tell Sherée has had hearing loss for a long time because of the way she speaks--with a slight accent," says Troy DeMill, her audiologist. "People with this level of hearing loss struggle with the r, s, ch, k, and d sounds."
"My music teachers were often perplexed by me," Sherée said. "Few understood how serious I was and how much I wanted to improve. Some thought I wasn't paying attention when I missed parts of what they were saying. So I would change from teacher to teacher, hoping to find someone who knew how to help."
Record producer and songwriter Bill Tate observes, "With her child-like accent, sunny personality, and the fact that she misses parts of the conversation, it's easy to interpret Sherée as less than serious about her music. But nothing could be further from the truth."
One teacher finally told her to give up all thoughts of a career in music, saying, "You are not giving enough to this, and you don't know how to speak."
Still, Sherée refused to let go of her dreams. "I believe God has given me musical talent for a reason. To give it up would be to abandon one of my missions in life," she said. "Developing a talent takes faith and tenacity. Perhaps this has taken a little more faith than usual!"
Her first recording was an inspirational children's album, The Spirit in All Things. Then she recorded a collection of hymns in Spanish, Sirviendo Con Gozo ("Sharing with Joy"), a favorite in Latin America.
Next, producer Dennis Lisonbee of Provo and arranger Greg Hansen of Orem worked together to create her most recent inspirational album, What Matters Most.
Lisonbee says, "There were special steps we took along the way to accommodate the hearing problem. "We brightened the headphone mix above 2000 hertz, boosted certain instruments and turned up the overall level," says studio owner and engineer, Guy Randle.
In order to finetune the album, Sherée halted the project for a time and flew to LA to attend a professional vocal camp sponsored by Seth Riggs. There she was inspired by Nashville vocal coach, Brett Manning.
Manning carefully analyzed her singing. Baffled, yet intrigued by her speech problem, he devised a system to sharpen her consonants. He took on a Professor Higgins role; gently teaching Sherée step-by-step the building blocks of consonant production. The results were astounding.
"She essentially relearned phonetics from
scratch," Lisonbee said. "I was amazed to hear how subtle changes in her diction
improved the vocals. Things began speeding up considerably in the
studio. When she sang the final song, 'What Matters Most,' we laid it down
in record time."
"In the end, the team produced an extremely high quality, professional album," Lisonbee said.
"Few people realize what a triumph this album represents. It's a triumph of tenacity over adversity, the fulfillment of a young girl's dream to share music with a message."