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An Introduction to the Use of Song Signing

An Introduction to the Use of Song Signing

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Ide O' Sullivan. Originally submitted for Self Directed Project in Music at University College Cork, with lecturer Mel Mercier - Supervisor in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Ide O' Sullivan. Originally submitted for Self Directed Project in Music at University College Cork, with lecturer Mel Mercier - Supervisor in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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An Introduction to the Use of Song-Signing
In January 2010, I travelled to Solihull, England to attend a residential weekendorganised by Sing Up – an English national singing initiative that was launched in 2007. Theweekend was directed by a subsection of Sing Up, appropriately named Sign Up, created incollaboration with Music and the Deaf – “a national charity opening up enjoyment of music andthe performing arts to the hearing impaired community”
founded by Dr. Paul Whittaker OBE.Paul himself was born in Huddersfield in 1964 and he has been deaf since birth. He has a degreein music from Wadham College, one of the constituent colleges of Oxford University, a post-graduate diploma from the Royal Northern College of Music, and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Huddersfield. In 2007, Dr. Whittaker was awarded an OBE for Services to Music by Queen Elizabeth II and is an inspirational figure in the world of music for the Deaf.I attended the third of three weekends organised to instruct and support educatorsinterested in encouraging deaf children to sing, sign and write their own songs. The group wasdiverse, comprising of both deaf and hearing teachers, choir directors and musicians. There were
mutually singers who were interested in developing their signing proficiency and capable signerswho were seeking assistance with their singing, but all with the common purpose of creating provisions for deaf children to be involved in music, particularly song-signing.Song-signing is a technique that involves interpreting song into sign language. It is a toolthat is often used to represent the world of music – a world that is often wrongly left closed todeaf people – in a form of communication that is familiar to a deaf viewer/listener. In recentyears, the appreciation and recognition of song-signing has increased and now is used as a pedagogical tool, both in the music teaching of deaf students and the integration of deaf childreninto mainstream music class. Using a selection of the songs regularly taught to national schoolchildren nationwide as the repertoire, the group in Solihull learned to song-sign the various pieces with the initiative after returning home to teach the pieces to their own students; whether deaf, hearing or integrated together.Many positive outcomes came from the workshops, not only as a result of the educationalaspect of the weekend, but also due to the unique opportunity of gathering together the individual people from around the country who share this common area of interest. As a yetunderdeveloped (and still disregarded by many) area of education, the rare opportunity to formrelations within this community is invaluable. The rare chance to share signs, songs and ‘tricksof the trade’ (whether this be alternate signs that may be more appropriate to the context or songsthat were attempted with the children and were not successful etc.) was much appreciated by the participants and, as this was the final in the series of workshops, strides were made to determinemethods of encouraging continuing relationships between the partakers and their respectivestudents. One of the most optimistic results of the weekend was an initiative to create a ‘pen pal’
type situation between the schools, using video technology such as ‘Skype’ or ‘Youtube’ todevelop connections between and encourage the interest of the children involved.In recent years, as a result of the rapid development in video sharing technology (such asthe aforementioned Skype, Youtube and the multitude of other video hosting websites availabletoday) the distribution of signed songs has taken on a new life. Between British Sign Language(BSL) and American Sign Language (ASL) alone, there are currently over 8,300 individualvideos by ‘vloggers’, choosing to upload their efforts on Youtube. The majority of these clips arehomemade videos, filmed by young adults interpreting songs from the popular singles chart.These videos are targeting the young adult demographic with some videos gaining over 840,000views individually, for example CaptainValor’s interpretation of Miley Cyrus’ commerciallysuccessful hit, ‘Party in the U.S.A.’
The range of ability evident from the videos certainly varieswith some signing being of quite poor quality, however with proficient signers likeCaptainValor, allyballybabe and lovesbth leading the way, there is much talent also available to be enjoyed and shared on the site. These videos promote deaf culture, use of sign language andof course, song-signing, marketing it in a ‘cool’ manner that appeals to young people.This immersion of song-signing into current day popular culture has been a gradual process that has been developing over the past number of decades. Through celebrity promotion, predominantly by Acadamy-Award Winning Actress Marlee Matlin who has been profoundlydeaf since the age of eighteen months, real efforts have been made to promote the use of song-signing. Matlin made a guest appearance in 1988 on the twentieth season of the educationalchildren’s television show, Sesame Street, collaborating with multi-Grammy Award winning

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