A big-hearted jolly elf once said, “The best way to spend Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
The American Sign Language Club and classes at South Kitsap High School continue to prove the same holiday spirit exists in an expressive, yet silent language.
Family and friends packed into the high school Dec. 7 for a night of classic Christmas carols and songs at the annual ASL Winter Performance. The concert was composed of twelve well-known Christmas songs which students would first teach the words for and then perform the song in its entirety while each song played over the speaker system.
Helping organize the popular event was Elizabeth Cordy, the ASL teacher at the high school. Cordy is a fluent speaker in ASL and was able to be interviewed by Kitsap Daily News with the help of a translator. She said Christmas is the perfect time for others to learn about the language too.
“We’ve been doing it (the winter performance) for several years,” she said. “Most of the community loves Christmas songs, so signing and seeing the signing is more inspirational.”
Each of the lessons and performances was designed to encourage the audience’s participation. Kids and adults alike could be seen practicing the signs at their seats, and then singing along with the performance.
At the end of each song, the audience was also encouraged to partake in silent applause, which was described as “jazz hands in the air”. This type of applause gives the ASL speakers visual appreciation similar to the sound effect for their performances.
Cordy said the audience is always a big part of the performance and also gives her less experienced kids a chance to continue learning while still being involved with the program.
“We try to involve the audience because ASL 1 students aren’t really ready for the concert, so they volunteer to teach, so next year, they are prepared and know what to do,” she said.
The performance gives audience members the chance to see not just the language itself, but the unique emotional pull that the language offers. Since the language cannot rely on things such as volume and sound, it instead relies heavily on the movements and facial expressions of its user.
For songs that entail more of an uplifting feel such as “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”, the students’ faces were exceedingly joyful, and their body motions mirrored such joy. For other songs that express the possible heartbreak of “Blue Christmas”, the language was presented as more pleading and romantic.
“It depends on the music and what the song’s about,” Cordy said, “and the facial expressions and body gestures really show that emotion.”
Cordy said she was impressed by her students on all levels during the performance and also hopes members of the audience picked up a liking for ASL along the way.