Department chairperson releases debut album “Joy Spring”

Besides being the chairperson of the School of Counselor Education, Mary Hermann is also a jazz vocalist. Photo by Jose Garcia II

Lindsey FitzGerald
Contributing Writer

A multi-talented professor and chairperson in the School of Counselor Education has released her first album.

Mary Hermann debuted her album, titled “Joy Spring,” on Sept. 15 at an album release party. At the event, she shared the stage with her father, Al Hermann, her husband, Antonio Garcia, and a number of other notable Richmond musicians.

On the album, she sings an assortment of jazz standards, Portuguese bossa novas, ballads, sambas and New Orleans medleys.

To Hermann, the album is the realization of a lifelong dream to sing with her father, a world-renowned trombonist. When she was a child, she said he would hum “The Girl from Ipanema” through his trombone mouthpiece on the drive to Tulane University, where he was a physics professor.

“I kind of had that as a role model. You know, that kind of, ‘OK, I can be an academic and also … do this music thing,’” Hermann said.

Growing up, Hermann said she would tie one end of her jump rope to furniture and sing into the other. When she was 13 years old, she told her father her plans of becoming a jazz vocalist. His advice: Go to law school first. After teaching high school French for several years, Hermann did.

She practiced law for a year, but returned to the field of education because she said it better suited her personality. She continued teaching high school French, as well as civics and American government, before earning her master’s and Ph.D. to become a school counselor.

Standing in front of a crowd doesn’t intimidate Hermann, who said that she sees a link between performance and teaching.

“I always did think of teaching as entertaining because I think that’s an element of what good teachers do,” Hermann said. “I was never anxious about getting up in front of people and performing when I was little … I think that was really good for me, you know my first day teaching, I was fine.”

Hermann was a professor of counselor education at Mississippi State University before moving to Richmond in July of 2006. She said she started going to jazz concerts on the VCU campus right away.

In December of that same year, Hermann attended former VCU president Eugene Trani’s holiday party at the Scott House, where she met Antonio Garcia, professor of music and director of Jazz Studies at VCU. Garcia’s troupe of student musicians provided tunes for the event.

“I was thanking them for their contributions and turned around and saw this vision of loveliness,” Garcia said.

Both Hermann and Garcia were born in New Orleans and raised seven miles apart. They said they had mutual friends but never actually met.

“In the conversation that ensued, I realized that I had known her dad … because I’d played with him in New Orleans,” Garcia said. “He was an established player and I was up-and-coming at the time.”

Hermann said she recognized Garcia from VCU Jazz concerts.

“When I saw him I said, ‘You’re the jazz guy!’ You know, something really clever,” Hermann said. “So yeah, he married me anyway.”

After the pair wed in 2008, Hermann began pursuing her desire to be a jazz vocalist. She trained intensively, performed around the Richmond area and finally teamed up with her father, husband and musicians in the area to make a record.

“The people on the CD are amazing players and so much so when I was doing the CD, I would be so busy listening and enjoying what they were doing, it was like, ‘Oh wait, I have to sing,’” she said.

Hermann’s celebration of accompanying musicians carries over into her work as a department chairperson, where she views her leadership role as a way of helping others succeed.

“I love being able to support faculty in their goals,” Hermann said. “I see my role as a department chair as very much of a support role for helping people do what they want to do and find their interests and be successful.”

Donna Dockery, a professor in the counseling department, has known Hermann for seven years. She said what marks Hermann and Garcia is their ability to bring people together.

“Her concerts and music venues have been a really nice way to bring people together socially that far extends from our department,” Dockery said. “You know, there are certainly other jazz people, but often she and her husband will have people gather at a restaurant after a recital and she might sing in or after an event or invite people to the botanical gardens. So you end up having opportunities to socialize and spend time with people maybe you don’t get to see everyday,” she said.

Whether it’s becoming a jazz vocalist, learning Portuguese or developing a new doctoral program, Hermann said she likes a new adventure. But Garcia and Hermann said they consider Richmond their home for the foreseeable future.

“We like the lifestyle here,” Hermann said. “There’s not a whole lot of traffic, we live close to the university, we like what Richmond has to offer.”

For them, the city is a crossroads between the widespread work they love as educators, academics and musicians.

“This was a rare convergence,” Garcia said. “An urban environment that supports the arts, that loves the arts and a place where my students could conceivably try out in the streets, clubs, restaurants, coffee shops what they learned in class and therefore makes us the proverbial school without walls.”

With the release of “Joy Spring,” Hermann’s voice will extend beyond Richmond. Hermann and Garcia said a disc jockey in Washington heard her version of the title cut and asked her permission to use it. He now alternates her version with Manhattan Transfer’s for his theme song.

To Hermann, the album’s positive reception in the Richmond area and beyond is exciting because, she said, it’s the product of doing something she loves with people she loves.

“It’s just a dream come true for me to have this hobby of mine and to work with these amazing musicians,” Herman said. “I have a very full, wonderful life.”

 

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