Over a cup of coffee, Tiara Hair rolls up her sleeves to reveal two tattoos. One has five flowers, representing the number of times cancer nearly killed her. Another tattoo – 14188 – is the patient’s number in the hospital.
Given her life — “I lived with a dark cloud” — it would be natural to expect Herr to be more comfortable in the shadows. On the contrary, she likes to be the center of attention in front of the public.
Articulating what she does with her talent diminishes what she has accomplished and ignores the obstacles. However, focusing only on the fight does a disservice to what Herr has to share with the audience and the rest of the cast.
Are you a talented singer and vocal coach? Or is she a good singer and voice coach for those listening?
“I find that everyone I meet thinks that being able to sing well or play music well is something that people who are deaf or hard of hearing can’t have,” she said. While a student at Banks High School, he dabbled in acting and acting.
“When I was in my twenties, a director told me that no one would hire me because the audience wouldn’t understand what I was saying because of my deaf accent,” she said.
Herr, 30, grew up in Timber, a small town in the middle of nowhere in Washington County. After high school, she attended Forest Grove Pacific University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music and biology.
Today, she is a research associate at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, part of Oregon Health & Science University. Herr is working with a team in Beaverton to study the risk of viral diseases by using multiple lasers to analyze and identify the immune makeup of each cell in a sample stained with fluorescent antibodies.
She also plays piano, sings, acts, directs and serves as a vocal coach at Theater in the Grove, a community theater in Forest Grove.
When Tiara was in high school, her older sister, Trinity, discovered that the theater was putting on a musical. Sisters, cousins and friends tried and were selected.
“Tiara can hear musical things that I don’t hear that need editing,” says Ken Centers, who hired Hearn as a voice actor on previous productions he directed. “But there are times when you say don’t listen to me when we talk.
God. Buza reads and occasionally uses hearing aids, but has not received a pair to help with his hearing loss. You don’t use them when you sing, play or perform with other singers.
Herr is currently starring in Portland playwright Pat Kruse Tellinghusen’s Dec. 2-18 production of World War II Radio Christmas. Set in 1940s Portland, the show features songs and stories inspired by the true experiences of veterans. Herr is not only part of the cast of three women, five men and three children, but also wrote the music for the promotional sounds used in the production.
Herr says she learned to sing by focusing on the feel of the tongue in her mouth rather than listening to and repeating notes and phrases.
“I really don’t understand,” Centers said. “The best I can say is that she is an enigma.”
Part of the mystery is why Herr lives. When she was 13 months old, surgeons removed a cancerous tumor from an adrenal gland above one kidney. Months later, Harry’s mother felt even more worried. The gentleman returned to Portland Hospital. Surgeons removed the cancerous tumors and the girl has a good prognosis, her mother said.
“She started complaining when she was three years old,” said her mother, Donna Herr. “Her legs were bruised and she exposed her ribs.”
Another hospital visit revealed that a large cancerous tumor had invaded her liver and displaced the little girl’s pancreas and spleen. The tumor was removed. The doctor suspected other cancerous growths on his leg and told Herr’s mother that the child had high-risk neuroblastoma, a cancer that grows in nerve cells in the body.
“We were told she had a 20% chance of survival,” Donna Herr said. “We called St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis because they specialize in childhood cancer.”
The princes were told to prepare for the trip to St. Jew to pay. If Tiara is admitted to the hospital after diagnosis, the hospital will pay for future medical and travel expenses. They had no money to make the first trip. St. Jude officials eventually told Donna Hearn, the parents of a St. Baby Jude who died of neuroblastoma called to bring her and daughter Oregon to the hospital after learning of Tiara’s condition.
“I definitely believe a higher power was at work,” Donna Herr said. “When we got there they did all their tests and discovered that Tiara had a tumor at the base of her spine. At the start of treatment we were told she would lose some or all of her hearing due to the extensive and intense chemotherapy .
Donna Herr says the medications needed to fight this form of cancer damaged her son’s inner ear drums, leaving him nearly deaf within six months.
For the next eight years, Tiara was run by Mr. St. Jude attended for treatment. At the end of the trip, surgeons removed 40 tumors. She underwent a bone marrow transplant, several rounds of chemotherapy and intense radiation. Although he doesn’t listen like he used to, he has never lost his love for music.
“When I was fighting cancer, my mother and father encouraged me to sing to fight the disease,” she said. “When I felt better he made me sing in the hospital in my beautiful Easter dress. I truly believe my family nurtured the talent I was born with and I never thought for a second that I couldn’t sing because I was not listening.
Tiara Herr was taught to love music by her father, George Andrew Herr. who died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in 2012.
“He sings every morning,” she says. “That’s how he woke us up. He was a great tenant. We listened to music in the car on the way to school and he sang with Barry Manilow.”
Despite her hearing loss, Tiara taught her to play the family piano and sing. Herr says she hears what she calls a “shape” of sound. She said she had perfect hearing by age 6 and could memorize chords, notes and musical phrases.
“I called severe bilateral hearing loss sensorineural hearing loss,” Herr said. “I can almost hear the bass, but when the frequency goes up, my hearing drops to zero. I am 90% deaf. I don’t hear any fire alarms or birdsong, the latter makes me very sad because people say birdsong is so beautiful.”
At the university Mr. studied voice and piano, was a member of the choir and performed with the Taiwan Pacific University Singers.
“I think I was born into a family that was always making music and singing to me,” Herr said. But part of it is always this mysterious thing. After losing most of my hearing, it was as if my other senses found a way to allow me to sing and dance with everyone.
When asked to explain the “mystery,” Herr turns to music theory and history.
“I can even distinguish sounds I can’t hear by listening to the vibration and translating that into the octave I hear in my head,” she says. “I actually got the idea from Beethoven. Deaf, he used his tactile, visual and musical senses to identify and “hear” compositions by resting his head on the piano. That’s basically what I do.
Herr brings that experience and background to Theater at the Grove.
“She’s an inspiration to everyone she works with,” says Jennifer Grimes, who starred at the theater last summer in such Grove productions as Mamma Mia. She tells her story with a grace, optimism and confidence that you wouldn’t expect if you knew her story.
Grimes said it was “incredible” to see Hearn perform as the voice actor of Mamma Mia.
“There were 40 of us and she could see who was singing the right notes and who needed work,” Grimes said. “She worked on every transaction. I don’t know how she does it.
Earlier this year, Herr went to St. Jude returned to participate in research into cancer and its long-term effects on children. She took the hearing aids with her to help the researchers evaluate them.
“I played the grand piano in the cafeteria every day,” she said. “I am amazed that so many children notice that I have hearing aids and a hospital bracelet just like them and that I can sing and act. I hope that I can be an example to children around the world and let them know that not only can they beat cancer, but they can also be musicians with hearing aids”.
Herr does not believe that music should be written on a page and reduced to notes and chords.
“Music is more than sound,” she said. “Music is a feeling. Music is familiar. Music is natural. Everything is musical and lives in all our souls.
– Tom Hallman Jr. 503-221-8224; firstname.lastname@example.org; @talmanjr
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