First published in the November 2010 issue of the Hearing Times
Laura is 23 years old. She currently works as a student ambassador encouraging young deaf people into higher education, and is also a talented photographer. We interviewed her to find out about her most recent project – working as a sign language facilitator for artsdepot’s unique Signing Choir in Barnet, North London.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself?
I come from North London, just down the road from artsdepot! I am severely deaf and grew up in a deaf, signing family. I recently graduated with a business degree, and I now combine working as a student ambassador with working part time with the Signing Choir!
How did you become involved in the choir?
I’ve always really, absolutely loved all types of music and my interest in signing songs has grown over time. Last summer I was working at artsdepot at Cafe Kapish, the deaf cafe alongside a deafblind play called ‘Not by Bread Alone’ by Nalaga’at, an Israeli theatre company. That’s when I was asked to join the Signing Choir.
What kind of songs do the choir sign?
A mixture of classic pop songs, current chart hits and musical show tunes. My favourite is ‘I’m a Believer’ by The Monkees! It’s very high energy and the expressions are good fun! It’s also fun to practice the positive expressions for the “then I saw her face” line!
Is your role helping the choir to express the meaning of the song using the right signs?
I tend to incorporate explanations along the way, to show why we might opt for a certain sign over another (without complicating it too much!) and to do this, I work closely with Joe Bunker, the musical director. However, it is open to suggestion, and we’re hoping that as time goes on, we’ll try more different interpretations.
The choir sees deaf and hearing teenagers sign the songs together – how has that worked so far?
It’s one of our key aims – giving both hearing and deaf young people the opportunity to participate in performance together. Some of the members of the choir have experience with sign language, but the majority are unfamiliar – so it’s a learning curve for them!
Are the hearing students enthusiastic about signing?
They really are, and we do a lot of basic conversation-related signing to warm up. I’ve noticed that they seem more expressive when signing with music than without! They’ve picked up the signs very quickly. And one deaf student said that he was really interested in how the song could be interpreted in very different ways through BSL, as his prior knowledge was more SSE
(Sign Supported English) based.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened so far?
There were a lot of laughs when we gave everyone sign names the other day! We based them on interests, hobbies, their appearance, and played a memory game – it was a great ice breaker!
What is the best thing about the Signing Choir?
Probably the fact that it’s something that both hearing and deaf young people can get involved in. But then something follows a close second.. the expressive part of it, the way that you see some who are usually quite shy, come out of their shell when they sign.
The current term runs to December, what do you hope the choir will achieve by then?
I’d love for us to have mastered a few songs, but besides that, I think the most important thing is for the group to feel confident in signing songs, and to have learnt about sign language, deafness, and expression along the way. And of course, to have had a good time! Each term, the group starts again, with old and new students. The Signing Choir project is funded for the next two years, so watch this space!
For more information about artsdepot’s Signing Choir, go to: http://www.artsdepot.co.uk/