What goes into making an ASL version of a song? Find out in this New York Times story, Making Music Visible: Singing in Sign. The piece describes a performance of Midnight Train to Georgia, the 1970s Gladys Knight and the Pips tune, turned into a signed version by the deaf actor and dancer Mervin Primeaux-O Bryant and the hearing dancer and choreographer Brandon Kazen-Maddox. The piece is one of a ten part series that covers recordings by Black female artists.
The obvious question for the hearing world: how do you make a song into a sign that retains the emotional content? From the Times: “A good A.S.L. performance prioritizes dynamics, phrasing and flow. The parameters of sign language — hand shape, movement, location, palm orientation and facial expression — can be combined with elements of visual vernacular, a body of codified gestures, allowing a skilled A.S.L. speaker to engage in the kind of sound painting that composers use to enrich a text.”
Bonus feature: the story also includes a performance by the Leipzig, Germany ensemble, Sing and Sign, of a portion of Bach’s St. John Passion.