'Performance Art For The Hearing Impaired' is a beautiful and compelling blend of American Sign Language, Dance, and Acting. It conveys the meaning and emotion of song through ASL and dramatic expression. Our Glossing Workshop will teach you how to ‘translate’ lyric to a signing performance.  


Donna Surface

It is extremely moving to put music and Interpretive Sign Language together. Interpretive Sign Language not only brings out the meaning of the song and the intention of the song-writer, it dramatizes the emotional content, and conveys the rhythm of the music as well. But when a HEARING person witnesses it, they find the music is amplified through this visual performance, and they often connect with the lyrics more than they do when they just "hear" it. It is said that there is a difference between "hearing" and "listening." People seem to "listen" more when they watch a Performing Artist in Sign.

Signing to music is very different from conversational sign. We do not sign every word, but a much broader interpretation of the words. We do something called "glossing" where the lyrics are translated to signs and the sentence construction of these signs that a Deaf person can understand. The Deaf do not understand prose and metaphors used in spoken language, so we take a sentence and reconstruct it. Signing songs is a much slower, more graceful application of sign language, like juggling with silk scarves instead of knives –  the silk drops slower and you have more time to handle the discipline.

In our workshop we will learn to use signs that convey the meaning the song lyric (prose) suggests.

Performance Or Interpretive Sign Language

There are different names given to the kind of signing you will see Donna do. It is sometimes referred to as “Interpretive Sign Language,” Performance Art in Sign for the Deaf,” or “Performance Sign.” It is not “conversational” in that it is slow and dramatic. The movements, body language, and facial expressions of the performer tell as much as the signs themselves. It is easier to learn than conversational sign. You are not signing rapid fire as Deaf people “talk” to each other, and the way hearing people speak to each other. Instead you are signing an “interpretation;” acting and expressing thoughts and emotions in the music and lyrics while signing key words that can be translated to ASL. You are conveying the tempo of the music, and the underlying message of the piece. The performer becomes a visual interpretation of the music. As you can imagine, you must be comfortable with body movement, uninhibited and uncensored mentally, and in touch emotionally so you do not restrict yourself by becoming self-conscious.

There are many people who sign songs. You have seen them in churches, and at concerts. However, not all of them are doing what is described above. What we have described above is a performance, not just a “translation.” Your “hearing” audience will love this as well. It “amplifies” the music for them, making it more riveting.

Donna offers workshops to learn how to gloss a song for an interpretive performance. Participants are then invited to the evening performance to sign the song they learned in the workshop.

You begin signing music by first writing out the lyrics to the song.

Write the signs you will be using in capital letters under the lyrics. Put the facial expressions and gestures above the lyrics. For example, for the song, Wade In The Water; we are using signs to interpret the intention in the following two lines of the song that are not necessarily the words being sung:

Wade in the water  -  God's gonna trouble the water


American Sign Language

It is said that American Sign Language is the 2nd largest language used in the United Statestoday. It is the language of a national community of Deaf people estimated to be between 200,000 and 500,000 individuals in the U.S.

It helps to understand what American Sign Language is by knowing what it is NOT. Although ASL users gesture, as English uses sound, it is not merely gesture any more than English is merely sound. It is not mime. Even if you were an expert at mime, you would not be able to understand or use ASL unless you learned it first. As with any language, it takes years of study and interaction to learn it properly.

ASL is not universal. ASL users cannot understand Japanese Sign Language, or even British Sign Language, unless they have first learned these languages. There is no universal signed language, just as there is no universal spoken language. Also, ASL is not derived from spoken English and has no roots in that language.  

Donna Surface is co-owner of Spiritwood Music with her husband, singer/songwriter Pat Surface. Donna had extensive acting and dance training both in New York and London, and performed for years in film, commercials, and on the stage. She was drawn to Performance Art In Sign because it integrated her dance and acting training with a beautiful language that uses the entire body to "speak." She began studying Performance Sign with tutors 19 years ago. Each new song added to a show is glossed by Donna before she performs it. She is always learning new signs. It is a vast and dynamic language with endless nuances. Donna considers herself a perpetual student of this beautiful language.




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