ASL and the ‘Performance’ stigma in the pulpit.

I attend a Deaf Inclusive Church. Hearing of course are welcomed and many are our family members and close friends. However, when it comes to how sign in forms of ASL or Sign English is done, there is pretty much a split mostly down the middle as to how much ASL Expression is used in conveying the readings or music. I am one of those Deaf people who is known for my expressive talents. However, I have also been scolded by being too expressive and there by turning it into a performance. Au contraire (on the contrary) I must dispute this. For one thing, I have NEVER performed at my Parish. No one has ever SEEN me performed. There is a very visual difference between someone performing a piece from say, Shakespeare to doing a reading in the proper expressive language of American Sign Language. Signing with a dead pan face that is so often accepted as the normative norm is simply killing the reading and music. For those of you are hearing, I must ask you when you have attended readings in a hearing church, is the voice mono-toned? Or do you have the natural vocal range? Have you attended Mass/Church where a person has practice and delivers a well toned reading?

My argument would be, that most of you who hear will say ‘Yes’. May I also be so bold as to surmise that upon hearing a well spoken reading verses a panned, awkwardly spoken one, leaves you feeling wanting and a well rehearsed one with the tonal expressions in the right place, uplifted and learned?

American Sign Language and indeed ANY signed language depends on facial and body language to give out the tones one reads. One writing expresses this about performance of ASL very well. Most Deaf do not really “get” music. Unless you have someone who knows what they are doing. Say what “Half and Half” do. In their case, they perform music to a very satisfied customer right here. I just saw them for the Christmas Music spectacular. Want to see a performance in ASL, the Interfaith Gospel Choir as done by Half and Half had me getting out of my chair! That a lot to say for a woman who still has 100 pounds to lose. What they do is perform, but they also do not over take the music. Especially if they are sharing the stage.

A reading and performance of music in a Deaf Church can be a touchy topic. I do not think it needs to be. What I think needs to be, is how we are reaching the people. Do they understand what been said in the reading? For the most part, very sadly, I am told no or they have no memory of it. (***SIGH***) in other words, utter fail. We need to KNOW for real how ASL works as a LANGUAGE. If there is no expression, you are not expressing the language only half empty gestures.

Nancy Louise