Imagine a concert without music, a concert of meaningful and graceful movement of the fingers. Such a concert recently took place at Tooele High School. Students communicated a variety of popular songs and even a few poems via American Sign Language (ASL).
But, according to one student, Nikki Ginnett, a junior, knowing how to present oneself in a sign concert was awkward for some.
“I thought it went really, really good,” she said, but added, “Some people were having hard times on how they were going to go up and present themselves. But once they went up and got comfortable, they did really, really well.”
Students used their fingers to “sing” songs ranging from the “Star Spangled Banner” (signed by Tamy Terry and Jaime Hegsted) to “The Elephant Love Medley” (signed by Toni Tea and her younger sister Sammi). Lighting added to the visual “music.” And for those who couldn’t “hear” the signing, music played in the background as well.
The concert was a fundraiser for a hearing aid for Heather Jones, a special needs student. She picked up the hearing aid three weeks before the concert; using $500 the Tooele Sign Pride club had raised for her. They were able to give her an additional $200 following the concert.
While participants say they are thrilled with the end result of the concert, it started off rocky. “It was the worst rehearsal day ever; we were so worried,” said Coach Kendra Reed who teaches ASL at THS. “ We had lost the music, and it went so well that night … it went so smoothly.”
Several numbers had significance to the students who chose them and many songs offered a lesson of empowerment and possibilities to those born with physical challenges like hearing impairments.
“I let the kids pick and sometimes they do a lot of country because it’s easier and I kind of look over them to make sure they’re appropriate, Reed said.
“The kids usually pick their own and it’s usually something that has special meaning to them.”
One meaningful song in the program was when special needs kids at the high school signed the song “Have a Little Faith in Me.”
“Special needs kids are in my class and they all get excited every year, and the last couple years I’ve decided they’re going to be involved,” Reed said. “A lot of people don’t think they can do anything, so “Have a Little Faith in Me,” is just to let them know they can do things.”
Reed, the sign teacher and track coach who has organized the concert for the last seven years, has made it a habit of having the special needs kids perform a number because they have abilities that can be developed too. Yet, far too often, Reed said, their contributions are overlooked.
Other numbers were performed, usually in groups of two or three.
“We try, because it’s so popular, to not have singles up there,” Reed said.
Two students, Nikki Ginnett and Jessica Jensen, signed the song “Secret.” Ginnett chose the song about a young girl trying to raise a child on her own because she could relate. At age 16, Ginnett, gave her own baby up for adoption to a couple who couldn’t have one of their own. She made the difficult decision because she wanted her child to have both a father and mother.
“If they don’t have a father and a mother it’s even harder on the child [than me] and I never had a dad. It was only me and my mom my whole life,” Ginnett said.
Today Ginnett has plans of going on to major in sign interpretation.
Later in the program Alyssa Marsh, Jalynn Murray and Stormi Reader signed the “11th Commandment,” a song about child abuse. Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) stood protectively behind them on stage with other signers, including Alyssa’s sister Breanne.
“We were standing there until the very end to symbolize we were there to protect the kids and be there for them no matter what,” Breanne said.
At the end of the songs the BACA members and other signers circled around the three who signed.
Another heavy theme of the concert was the poem “Someone Should,” a difficult poem performed by higher level signers.
It was about a mom who told her daughter not to drink — the daughter didn’t, but died when hit by a drunk driver. The song was chosen by a student who had earlier lost a family member due to a drunk driver.
One poem, “Making Sarah Cry,” struck the theme of the entire concert. It was about a girl with a handicap who was teased at recess. One of the key bullies got hurt, had to go to the hospital and had a scar. He came back and went to tease Sarah, but the other kids started teasing him. Then Sarah stuck up for him. After that, all the students decided to play together.
On a lighter note, students signed a dating game show, did a dance, had a light show that fluctuated the rhythm into a visual display and showed a video.
They also signed light, upbeat numbers. Such numbers included medleys of Disney and broadway tunes, remixes including “Yellow Submarine,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Hakuna Matata” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
“The yellow submarine group was in my room practicing for three weeks,” Reed said.
Breanne Marsh, a sophomore, said she was thrilled by a light show early on in the program.
“I think [my favorite] was the light show they did with the music. It was really cool, because it gave a whole different meaning, the way they moved the glow sticks. I never looked at it that way. You could tell the beat of the music by the light,” Marsh said.
Coach Quarez was also involved for the first time this year. He signed “If Nobody Believed in You” with Reed.
“It’s honestly very new for him and he worked very hard to go up there and do that,” Reed said.
Student skill signing to a mass audience, to a beat, is something that could help those, like Ginnett who hope to go on to major in sign, filling the current shortage of signers — a shortage of approximately 300 in Utah.
The concert was organized mainly by Reed who has taught ASL at Tooele high school for nine years. She currently teaches seven classes, at three levels. There are four beginning classes, two level two and one level three.
She started coaching and teaching track in ’93 and ’94. After a couple of years she saw an opening to teach a sign class and applied.
Her prior experience teaching sign language at a junior college in Arizona prepared her to teach the 60 students who signed up the first year.
Today, Reed is teaching 220 students, including 17 from Grantsville through Ed-net, a program that allows them to see a live broadcast of her teaching in their own classroom.
Reed first began learning sign language when her own daughter was born deaf.
The idea of the concert is unique to Tooele as far as Reed knows.
Her students thought of it themselves several years ago.
“Every year they get better with what they’re going to do and who they’re going to help — I let them pick — it’s really neat,” Reed said.
Three different levels of students — 1, 2 and 3 — participated.
Their skills helped penetrate a message powerful to the ears and eyes.
“I thought it was wonderful, everyone seemed to enjoy it and be really touched and moved by it,” Breanne Marsh said.