Song Sign

I write this blog with a slight amount of dread as I know this topic is of much debate within the Deaf community. I do not wish to fuel that fire, I understand both sides of the argument but will always appreciate signed songs as an art form.

If done right there can be no denying that it takes amazing talent and knowledge of language to express a song in sign. As a university student I often used to head down to the student union with my fellow signing friends and we would have a sign-a-long to our favourite tunes on the dance floor. Whilst this was fun and a great exercise for practising British Sign Language (BSL) vocabulary, it’s the equivalent of someone having a blast on the karaoke, most of it would not make sense to a BSL user.

Last Christmas I was invited to sign songs in a Christmas production. A challenge that proved to be bigger than I had imagined. Inspired by deaf poet Dorothy Miles and ‘Signs of a Diva’ star Caroline Parker I wished to embrace the emotion and metaphors included in songs, through this I discovered that it is not just about translating the lyrics from English to BSL, the song’s emotion needs to be captured to make this artistically unique and a signed ‘cover’ of the song in it’s own right. For me, songs proved very difficult to interpret as I had to bear in mind rhythm, rhyme, emotion and metaphor to name but a few elements; at university I was required to perform Shakespeare in sign and I can tell you, songs are in another league completely! However, in this Christmas production I was not signing well known songs, these were originals written by the performers and musicians. After research, the preference of the deaf audience was found to be a ‘Sign Supported English’ (SSE) style for this performance, this involves BSL signs in an English structure. I saw my role here to be purely a translator of lyrics, obviously pace and rhythm factored in the translation. It was a tricky balance to communicate these lyrics and rhymes in combination with BSL poetry. Nevertheless, unlike the established solo song sign artists, I had the wonderful opportunity of working with the composers, performers and musicians. It just made me wonder about the amazing things that could happen through collaboration. I would love to see live musicians and signers working with songwriters to develop this art form for the Deaf and possibly the hearing community too.

3 responses to this post.

  1. I am not technically abled and reponded in the wrong post!


    • Thanks for the comment. It is great to find out things from your perspective!
      I agree, song sign is an evolving art form, with much variety, that I think needs to take risks. Unfortunately for some that does mean it will be criticised. However I see criticism as a good thing, it helps us learn and improve. I used to fear the Simon Cowells of the Deaf world but it is great to see people that are so passionate and willing express their view. That attitude gained rights and made BSL an official language. I hope that will continue so that the benchmark is raised in the Arts and accessible/inclusive work will be created to the highest possible standard.


  2. […] area of interest to me, the second post I ever wrote, waaay back on August 25 2010 was entitled “Song Sign”, it commented on my own feelings for the creative art form, feelings which haven’t really […]


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