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Music and Deaf Culture

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Junior Intern

Christina Pettus

            Lately, I have been seeing more people sharing and posting ASL music videos. Some people may view them as the latest fad; however, I believe that signing music in ASL is a cultural expression and revolution for music in the Deaf community.

In contrast with the majority’s belief, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals can experience music through the physical vibrations of sound. This experience is similar and equal to hearing people listening to sound. They can feel these vibrations by simply standing in the room, or next to a stereo. I have also known Deaf people who hold a balloon or a drink during a movie or concert in order to feel these vibrations. Overall, the community can experience and has always had a relationship with music; however, they felt that music was missing an important aspect—lyrics in their native language.

With the majority of music being sung in English and almost never including captions, Deaf people were less able to experience the meaning of lyrics in their native language. This lack of cultural meaning within music has fueled the community to create music videos in ASL. This has also inspired musicians, such as, Sean Forbes, to center his work on using ASL, and to create a music network for the Deaf called D-PAN, the Deaf Performing Arts Network. All of these responses towards the lack of Deaf culture in music express how ASL music videos are not the latest fad but a form of cultural expression.

Moreover, these ASL music videos have evolved and greatly expanded the relationship the Deaf community has with music; however, these videos have also stirred up controversy about how to correctly sign ASL. These disagreements show how ASL varies across the country, how lyrics have different meaning to each individual and lastly, how Deaf individuals have varying experiences. Overall, by Deaf people having the ability to experience music in ASL, they can develop a cultural and more meaningful relationship with music that goes beyond vibrations.

Below are links to ASL music videos and D-PAN website. The controversy of the signs can be viewed in the comments:

Deaf Performers:

D-PAN

http://d-pan.com/

ASL Music Videos: Controversy

ASL Student Performer:

Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball”

ASL Student Music Videos: Controversy

http://www.thedeafdream.org/

https://www.facebook.com/TheDeafDream

http://www.thedeafdream.tumblr.com

 This blog post represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views supported by The Deaf Dream.

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