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Signing on for a concert

A South Kitsap High School choir uses American sign language to interpret songs for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The Sun Link
Bremerton, WA
Ann Strosnider
Sun Staff

May 24, 2004

Karen Reeves, 16, cavorts across the Burley-Glenwood Elementary gym, thrilling the school's 600 young students with her imitation of Michael Jackson doing the "Free Willy" song.

With a full choir behind her, Reeves dances and gesticulates to the music, but doesn't sing.

The South Kitsap High School junior is part of a musical group billed as "the best choir you'll never hear."

Now in its sixth year, the group is the school's Sign Choir, 40 performers who use American Sign Language to interpret songs for the deaf and hard of hearing and to provide entertainment for all. The sign choir's spring concert will be Thursday at the high school's performing arts center.

To drum up interest in their concert and to share the beauty of ASL with the younger set, the students performed at Sidney Glen and Mullenix Ridge elementary schools as well as Burley-Glenwood last week.

ASL teacher Karen Johnston said she started the choir when she was hired.

"Before I came here I had been teaching at the Utah School for the Deaf," Johnston said. "I started something similar there and it became well known in Utah. When I was hired by Dale Green (director of professional and technical education at the high school), I brought the idea with me."

South Kitsap has 270 to 300 students enrolled in ASL, Johnston said. They can get college credit for the class through Seattle Central Community College.

Reeves says sign choir is an ideal activity for students like herself who are interested in acting.

"This is really cool because you get to act and sign to music," she said. "I get to perform, and I love performing."

Best of all, you need not be able to carry a tune to be in the choir.

Senior team leader Rikki Leblanc, 17, said the group attracts as many as 500 people to its concerts.

"We have all-ages audiences so we try to pick music that engages everyone," she said.

Some of the songs they'll be signing at Thursday's concert include "You've Got a Friend in Me" from "Toy Story," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" and "Can't Wait to be King" from "The Lion King," "Kiss de Girl" from "The Little Mermaid" and "Summer Lovin' " from "Grease."

Some of the songs feature soloists, but most incorporate the entire choir as well.

The choir wants to let the hearing impaired know about their concert.

"During our winter performance we had about seven hearing-impaired persons see us perform and we'd love to see more for future performances, said Amanda Umberger, head of the sign choir promotions team.

As the elementary students learned, clapping at the end of a sign choir concert isn't really appropriate since deaf people wouldn't be able to hear it. Instead, everybody raises their hands above their heads and shakes them around -- the ASL way of showing delight in a spirited performance.

Reach reporter Ann Strosnider at or 360-792-9219.


Silence is golden

What: Sign Choir spring concert

Where: South Kitsap High School performing arts center, 425 Mitchell Ave. in Port Orchard

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Cost: $2

Information: (360) 874-5600



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