The emotional art of signing a song
If you’ve watched the national anthem before the Super Bowl, you may be familiar with the idea of signed singing. It involves a sign-language interpreter performing a song, often next to the singer. The best renditions don’t convey just the lyrics of a song; they convey its emotion.
A good performance “prioritizes dynamics, phrasing and flow,” Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim writes in The Times. Deaf singers prepare by experiencing a song however they can. Mervin Primeaux-O’Bryant, a deaf actor and dancer, tucked a small speaker into his clothes, so that he could feel the vibrations of “Midnight Train to Georgia” while recording an interpretation for a series of American Sign Language covers of seminal songs by Black women.
“Sometimes interpreters don’t show the emotions that are tied to the music,” Primeaux-O’Bryant said. “And deaf people are like, ‘What is that?’”
In the performance, Primeaux-O’Bryant tugged at an invisible whistle to correspond to the woo-woo of the band’s horns. To interpret a drawn-out “oh,” he used movements that gently extended the words, his hands fluttering into his lap.