BSL & Music

Sign language and music. Not the most obvious of bedfellows, I grant you, but when it’s done well, it works. Whether by sign singing (translating mainstream songs to BSL to the music – a la Fletch@) or original work (SignMark and Sean Forbes, step forward please) it can and does work, and is enjoyed by hearing and deaf alike.

Tonight, I am going to perform poetry and sign songs at a BSL music gig in Bath, only the second time I’ve ever done sign songs in public. Belting out 9 to 5 in front of the mirror doesn’t count. Hoping it goes well! I’m confident of my timings, my worst nightmare now is that the music is so loud it overloads my hearing aids and I lose my place – but the vibrations should keep me on track – or I totally forget the words and stand there like a lemon. Probably quite common stage worries, but anxiety-inducing all the same. Am still looking forward to it though – should be a laugh!

Yes, I like music. Yes, I understand music. Most deaf people do at least understand the concept, despite what some hearing people may think. I’m reminded of an incident back in Uni, When a poster in the Deaf Studies dept advertising a similar BSL / music gig was defaced by someone who had written something to the effect of:

“What’s the point? Deaf people and music? How do they hear it?”

This is the scribbled conversation that followed over the next couple of days, as far as my memory allows:

“We feel the vibrations!”

“Yeah sure but you can’t hear the words, what’s the point?”

“That’s what the BSL is for”

And then, below that:

“Look up and to your right :)”

Sure enough, when I looked up and to my right, I saw the CCTV camera, little red light winking at me. I couldn’t help but laugh that the idiot would have looked up and realised their ignorance was being recorded for all to see. I don’t know if anyone ever caught up with them, but I hope the moment of realisation that they were being taped and sniggered at had a lasting effect. At the very least, it put an end to the conversation.

I feel the vibrations, when the beat is clear. When the words are clear, I hear them. If there’s no distinguishable beat or words, I’m lost. This may be why I struggle with Amy Winehouse and many, many other so-called musicians – slurring your words into a microphone and yelling indiscriminately over a crashing guitar and an apparently drunk drummer does not help. Is it too much to ask that music sounds and feels like, well, music?

I should have no such issues tonight, the interpreters are booked, so bring it on! Just make sure there’s somewhere I can sit down…

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