SASL Journal Vol. 1, No. 1 - Page 82

Understanding Signed Music Cripps & Lyonblum opportunities with signed language, and decreased exposure to native signing peers and adults (e.g., J. H. Cripps & S. Supalla, 2012; see Van Cleve, 1993 for further discussion on the society’s damaging assimilationist attitudes associated with the integration efforts). With this background, signed music has remained viable by all accounts. The well-known Deaf Studies scholar, Benjamin Bahan (2006) reported on a particular type of song that has been performed in the American deaf community for a long time. The percussion songs, as they are called, were conducted entirely through visual means and some were documented and preserved in film (e.g., T. Supalla, 1994). Some other forms of signed music such as Rescue at the Sea (an ensemble song) can be seen in the widely acclaimed My Third Eye production of the National Theatre of the Deaf (1973), Mary Beth Miller’s Mexican Cowboy (1991), and finally, David Supalla’s A Ballad of the USA Flag (C. Supalla & D. Supalla, 1991). At the same time, deaf individuals who are fluent in ASL and part of deaf culture have frequently accepted the notion that music belongs to hearing people. Society’s perceptions that deaf people are associated with silence, and that music is reserved to the audible form, clearly has created an impact on the deaf community’s consciousness about music in general. Yet, according to the first author who is a member of the deaf community, deaf people have complained about how offensive it is for a hearing person to say that he or she would miss music the most upon experiencing hearing loss. It appears hearing people are outright ignorant about the possibility that deaf people have enjoyed their own kind of music all along. It can be said that signed music sorely lacks formal recognition (as occurred with ASL as the language of deaf people not being recognized for most of the history up to the 1970s and 1980s). Last, deaf people have mixed feelings about the recent trends in how ‘music’ has been brought to their attention. There is a dramatic rise in translated English-to-ASL songs from hearing signers and translators who believe that they are helping deaf people listen to music performances (J. H. Cripps et al., in press). Perhaps internet technology has prompted many hearing translators to sign while listening to a song more than ever. A large number of translated music performances can be found online through YouTube or Vimeo (Leigh, Andrews, & Harris, 2016; Maler, 2015). In terms of quality, translated songs are frequently presented using ASL grammatical structure, movement or rhythm of the signs. These works can look weak, especially if the translator struggles with timing trying to produce musical ASL within the time constraints of songs in English. While deaf people watch a music translation performance, they often find it difficult to say that they have enjoyed the performance. 2 This outcome is justified when one thinks carefully about how the translated performances are difficult to follow based on different cultural knowledge and experiences between hearing and deaf people (J. H. Cripps et al., in press). Music Theory Receptive to Signed Music In the literature from the fields of ethnomusicology and cultural musicology, music is contextualized through its deep-rooted roles within culture. What has been discussed for deaf culture (with ASL playing a central role) supports the concept of signed music. The reported history associated with signed music (and contemporary deaf musicians subject to elaboration later 2 Many songs with lyrics are not really about the words; the lyrics may represent a more symbolic meaning. The interpretation of auditory lyrics is up to the hearing listener. When song lyrics are translated into ASL, the interpretation of the meaning is created by the interpreter/translator, and not left to the deaf listener. Thus, the opportunity for the listener to “in terpret” the musical experience does not parallel the auditory experience and may or may not reflect the original idea of the writer. SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Summer/Fall 2017 82