Photo: Sarah Andrews
It was Saturday, Nov. 20, and the Drake University choir rehearsal was ready to start, but their beloved accompanist was nowhere to be found. He was never late.
Maybe he slept through his alarm, some members thought.
Rehearsal went on without him until the afternoon, when five male vocalists decided to check on the accompanist at his home.
Last semester, Drake lost an employee who would be remembered by students and faculty for his sarcastic, yet inspirational words, easy-going personality and most of all, his love for music and the family he had within the choir department: Tom Harvey.
“I will forever remember his striped, button-up shirts, too-short pants, skinny, little legs and goofy grin,” said junior Mary Jane Morgan, a choir member. “He always had something to say that could make you smile.”
GROWING UP WITH TOM
Harvey lived his entire life in Des Moines until his death of a heart attack at 57.
He grew up loving music. He began taking piano lessons when he was 9 years old from Mildred Zeliadt, who lived down the street.
Although his talent was apparent to others, Harvey wasn’t always certain that music was the path he was supposed to take.
Kris Weyant, Harvey’s younger sister, remembered a specific moment when Tom contemplated quitting music altogether.
“When Tom was 12 he started to get discouraged with piano and asked his grandpa ‘How do I get better?’” Weyant said. “My grandpa told him, ‘Practice. Tom, you have a God-given talent and you can’t just throw it away. You were meant to share it with the world.’”
Afterward, Harvey never questioned his passion for music.
When he was 17, the Des Moines Symphony asked him to play with an ensemble part of a concert series featuring young artists in central Iowa.
In 1986, Harvey had the opportunity to play at the Canterbury Cathedral in the United Kingdom. The organist at the cathedral wrote a letter asking to grant Harvey permission to perform.
“Please allow Mr. Thomas Harvey to play the organ,” the letter read. “He is aware that the visitors’ ears must be respected.”
Harvey especially enjoyed his time at Drake accompanying students and choir ensembles.
“One of his favorite things to talk about was a student making progress, whether it be gaining more confidence, feeling comfortable with their voice or becoming a blossoming singer,” Weyant said.
When Harvey came to Drake in 2001, he immediately formed a bond with Aimee Beckmann-Collier, director of choral studies. Beckmann-Collier placed high trust in Harvey’s opinion of the students’ progress and how to improve the ensembles.
“He would send me emails after rehearsal to lighten the mood if I had been discouraged, laugh about the craziness or affirm something I said in rehearsal,” Beckmann-Collier said. “We had a very unique, partnered relationship.”
The two connected first through music, but a friendship soon developed where they would talk about anything. After his death, she said that the atmosphere of the auditorium wasn’t the same.
“It felt just empty,” Beckmann-Collier said. “I kept waiting for him to walk through the door and sit at the piano.”
In the 10 years that Harvey was at Drake, he made lasting friendships with many students and faculty members that soon turned into familial relationships.
“The students were his kids,” Beckmann-Collier said. “They were the ones he was proud to talk about to others.”
As an accompanist, Harvey was required to accompany 16 voice students in each lesson and spend an extra 30 minutes a week outside of the lesson with each student. A lesson spent with Harvey was called “Tom Time.”
During the outside lessons, Harvey was there not only to accompany the students, but help them learn the music and find a passion for it.
Junior Jon Edgeton spent three years working with Harvey. They developed a friendship that reached beyond the student-faculty connection.
“He made us realize we do love music — not for grade, not for teachers, but because we love it,” Edgeton said.
During one “Tom Time,” Edgeton forgot his longboard in Harvey’s office. He asked Harvey to bring it to choir, which he did with a grand entrance. Harvey skated through the doors, receiving loud applause from the entire choir.
Junior Gabe Early was the last person to perform with Harvey before his death. Harvey taught him the importance of loving others.
“He never took for granted the value of a human being,” Early said. “He once told me, ‘No matter how much you hate someone, there is something you can love.’”
Harvey made sure to connect with each vocalist, whether it was giving tips to cure a hangover or buying a T-shirt with “10 Reasons to go to an Episcopalian Church.” Harvey found a way to reach each person in a different way.
Tom Harvey loved the job so much, he once said it “felt like home.”
On Nov. 21, the Drake Choir Concert started. The man who had sat behind the piano for 10 years was not there. A different set of fingers touched the keys.
While the choir has not found a permanent replacement, it has slowly moved on. Still, it hasn’t forgotten the man who touched so many lives at Drake.
“We say his name very often, because it’s important to keep Tom in the center of what we do,” Beckmann-Collier said. “We really have a sense that he lives on.”