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Calling sign singers nation wide…
They say you should never meet your idols. But I met one of mine last week and I was faaaar from disappointed. See below, myself with Caroline Parker or Caro as she’s affectionately known… Sign singing diva and BSL actress.
I first saw Caro perform when she was touring the one woman show, “Signs of a Diva” and I went to see it at Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre.
I’ve never seen a show like it.
The intimacy of the production along with the excellent accessibility (sign language AND captions) meant I drove home that night with so many songs in my head, both old and new.
It was the first and probably the only time I have seen a sign singer that not only translates the words but actually embodies the music. She dances, she sways, she accentuates and she pauses… In all the right places.
So it was a dream to meet and work with Caro this week on a separate theatrical piece. Chatting to her about sign singing, it was clear how dedicated she is to the art form and how hard she works to create pieces that aren’t just “lyrics translated” but actual living, breathing songs.
She treated me and our colleagues to a personal rendition of Bette Midlers “The Rose” and her training in story telling, mime, dance and BSL were all evident.
I couldn’t really hear the song playing but I was made aware of its rhythm. The pulse of her movements was addictive, causing us to rock sideways, mesmerised. Her feet tapped to the keys of the piano, her core swayed as the ballad grew in volume.
I explained to Caro how without these visual cues I wouldn’t have understood the music and she agreed that having some kind of musical understanding when you’re sign singing is imperative. Without that, it’s not a song.
“If you’re going to perform a sign song, you must incorporate the music. A sign song without the music is BSL poetry.”
And I couldn’t agree more. Yet this is where the real skill comes in that distinguishes it from BSL poetry, because in order to fuse BSL with music – a task almost like tapping your head while rubbing your stomach – you have to be aware of BOTH stories the song is telling; lyrically and musically.
It’s not easy, I must say. And whether you’re deaf or hearing there will always be elements of a song to work on and explore. Sure, hearing people have the advantage of absorbing musical structures quicker but where there’s a will there’s a way- believe me 😉
It comes as no surprise then to learn that it took Caro four years to develop and polish her own sign song version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody…! With such an abstract plot and varying musical styles throughout, I can’t say I’m surprised…
Caro went on to say that as an artist, you don’t expect other people to simply copy your sign songs, rather – they should develop their own expression of the song. Nobody can or should try and sign in the exact same way as somebody else; songs can mean so many different things to different people.
And I’m particularly keen to see more sign singers in the coming months. Are YOU a sign singer? Or would you love to perform in a sign singing group?
Well… Drum roll please… I’m very excited to say that I will be part of the judging panel for the UK’s very first mainland sign song choir competition next March 11th 2017.
Held at the Albert Hall in Nottingham, the event is the first of its kind as there has never been a platform like it for choirs to perform and compete on such a scale. Organised by Simon Astill of Harmoneyes, the event will be fully accessible and have a high energy, carnival like feel to the whole evening.
Up to 15 choirs can enter to compete, and audience tickets are now on sale.
And to all those entering, you know what I’ll be looking for. Tell the story, make the music come alive and you can’t go far wrong.
Full details can be found here: https://nationalsigningchoircompetition.org/
I can’t wait!
Rebecca-Anne Withey is an actress, sign singer and tutor of performing arts. A black country girl at heart, she now resides in Derby where she works in both performance art and holistic therapies. She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.
The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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