SASL Journal Vol. 1, No. 1 - Page 78

Understanding Signed Music Cripps & Lyonblum Understanding Signed Music Jody H. Cripps Towson University Ely Lyonblum University of Toronto Abstract The existence of music performances rooted in American Sign Language (ASL) and deaf culture indicates that music is not exclusive to the audible domain. Terminologies such as “deaf music” and “visual music” as used in the literature are subject to discussion and clarification. Theory, roles of language, culture, and music and their relationships to each other become important for exploratory investigation regarding what music means to deaf people. As a result, signed music is the term deemed most appropriate to define the original lyric and/or non-lyric musical performances done by native deaf signers. This is different from English-to-ASL translation of songs that may be a common practice at present. Unlike translated songs, signed music performances are originally developed within the signed modality. Signed music frequently includes deaf experiences and is fully accessible. A review of a study on the work of two deaf performers demonstrates how signed music constitutes a unique form of performance art, yet shares elements that are common to music in general. This paper is intended to generate a greater interest among scholars and researchers on the topic of signed music, and expand the scope of signed language performance art. Introduction “I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his [or her] vision wherever it takes him [or her].” - John F. Kennedy, 35 th President of the United States The concept of signed music is new and exciting by all accounts, but at present, the definition of music is far from clear to the deaf community. While deaf people are known for signing or using American Sign Language (ASL), they have frequently struggled with talking about music, especially about the possibility of a form of music that is enjoyable and authentic to their experience. While there are indications that signed music has been around for some time, only in recent years has it experienced a growth with increasing sophistication. While terms such as “deaf music” and “visual/eye music” are used in the literature, the term “signed music” is most accurate. The reasons for this are explained below. One must ask: What does signed music encompass? Is deaf music just another term for signed music? In addition, music is conventionally perceived as primarily an auditory phenomenon. Yet original musical performances created by deaf performers are a real phenomenon, and very much misunderstood at this point in time (J. H. Cripps, Small, Rosenblum, S. Supalla, Whyte, & J. S. Cripps, in press). The aim of this article is to generate a greater understanding of signed music as an art form. This includes taking note that watching original musical performances through hand and body movements appears to be enjoyable and authentic for deaf people. A review of the study published on two deaf performers serves as the basis for the existence of signed music and how it compares SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Summer/Fall 2017 78