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American Sign Language: "musical signing"


A student writes:

Dear Dr. Vicars,
I wanted to ask you for your input on a research project I was hoping to do. I am a hearing student at the University of ______ studying music education with voice as my primary instrument. I wanted to research how sign language can be applied to my studies. At the School of Music we are classically trained, and it is part of our training to learn how to sing in multiple languages. We focus mainly on English, German, French and Italian, but we take classes that require us to learn diction in many different languages. I thought it would be a good idea to bring another language into the program that perhaps has never been considered. I have also recently become aware of the first musical in ASL on Broadway and of many song signers across the country. I was hoping to focus the project on interpreting poetry and music into ASL and hopefully bringing in people that could help teach more people at our school. I would love to have your input on this idea. I have been taking your online lessons and am working hard to become fluent. This project is another step I want to take as I become more involved with the ASL community. I am not sure about whether or not it is appropriate for me to learn how to interpret in this way and then perform singing and signing for the project presentation being a hearing person. I want to make sure that if I do this, it is done in a way that would not offend anyone.
I appreciate your time and I would love any kind of input that you can give.
Thank you so much,


Dear [Name-on-file],
You state, "...done in a way that would not offend anyone."
That isn't going to be possible.
Someone is always going to be offended by something.
I encourage you to move forward regardless.
You state, "I am not sure about whether or not it is appropriate for me to learn how to interpret in this way."
Learning to sign without interacting with Deaf people is like learning to swim without getting into the water.
It is not "inappropriate" to read about swimming online or to watch videos of other people swimming online.
However it would be inappropriate to call yourself a "swimmer" if you've never gotten into the water.
I encourage you to find some local Deaf.
I also recommend you haunt
I recommend you do NOT try to "sing" in English and "sign" in ASL at the same time.  If you are going to sing in American Sign Language use ASL features, grammar, and phraseology.
Consider (in at least ONE version of your song) turning off the music.  Sure, interpret the "song" into ASL then turn off the music and sign the song. the music while you sign the song and then render a video of the performance without sound.
Consider fading the sound/music in and out as you sign the song.
Consider using "light" or "varying colored lights" as your music -- instead of sound.
What makes signing become musical is not signing with sound/music in the background but rather signing becomes musical when you do the signs in beautiful, interesting, and/or creative ways.
Best wishes,
- Dr. V



Notes: Also see: Music and the Deaf:  1 2 | 3 | 4


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