For many people, music is primarily an aural art. This Friday, however, Augustana Deaf Awareness will conduct Burst of Sound, its annual celebration of American Deaf culture and sign language, with an American-Idol-themed show.
Burst of Sound, specially subtitled “ASL Idol” for this year’s edition, is a talent show featuring acts rendered almost entirely in American Sign Language. This year’s group of 20 performers includes members of the Sioux Falls Deaf community, as well as deaf and/or ASL-fluent Augustana students, who will stage everything from poetry and stories to jokes and skits.
This year, music will play a more prominent role in the show. Many of the acts are ASL translations of current radio hits and will be enacted by partners. One will translate the song’s words into signs, and the other will sign a more figurative interpretation.
Sophomore deaf education major Megan Minatra, who is collaborating on an ASL version of “Pompeii” by Bastille, said that experiencing a song in a new context enriches it.
“ASL is a beautiful language,” Minatra said. “When you can see and hear it, it gives new meaning to the songs.”
Minatra added that the show, while accessible to all, has particular resonance with those fluent in ASL.
“You’re very connected because of your knowledge of the language,” she said.
In order that Deaf performers and audience members can better appreciate the various songs—most of them popular songs translated into ASL—percussion instruments will be used to emphasize their base rhythm.
“People often think that Deaf people can’t enjoy music because they can’t hear, but they can feel it,” senior and Augustana Deaf Awareness president Jayne Hess said.
According to Hess, many deaf individuals possess outstanding visual acuity, allowing them to contrive intricate choreography for their various sign performances.
The ABC Story, a special narrative technique in which a storyteller incorporates the fingershape alphabet into an ASL-translated story, is one example of this “unique feature of deaf culture,” said Hess.
At Augustana, Burst of Sign dates back to the 1980s. Since the program’s inception, it has donned a number of different themes, including diversity, patriotism, Deaf history and, most recently, Deaf culture around the world, according to deaf education professor Monica Soukup.
Soukup has attended a Burst of Sign performance each of her fourteen years teaching at Augustana, and several before that. She cites steady attendance records as “an indication that there are many people who are interested in American Sign Language and the Deaf community.”
For Augustana Deaf Awareness, the event is, according to Hess, “the highlight of the year.”
“It’s our showcase—a chance to bring the Augustana community and Deaf community together,” she said.