This song was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 in German (Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht) and is now translated into more than 300 different languages around the world with billions of hits on YouTube. I started wondering about the music working together with British Sign Language (BSL) in its highly stylised art form.
As BSL story-telling is very important in Britain’s Deaf Community as part of the cultural heritage and skills in signed language, I felt that translating ‘Silent Night’ needs to be in that kind of format rather than using English word for word in perfect rhythmic timing as the meaning of the story would be lost.
I invited Nadia Nadarajah who is a native signer to perform ‘Silent Night’. She is a professional Deaf actress from Brighton and has performed Shakespeare’s scripts into BSL on the stage at the Globe Theatre in London with Deafintely Theatre. She is also experienced with using visual vernacular for Deaf storytelling and was a teacher of many other Sign Languages for a decade in various parts around the world.
Watching Nadia signing Silent Night revealed so many character roles descriptively as there are in the story. Nadia becomes the narrator; she naturally shifts seamlessly from one character to another, be it Mary, Jesus, Angels, Shepherd or the Three Kings. The viewer is teleported to a specified location within her signing space such as the manger, heaven, and the desert.
Her signing reflects the music score and the gentleness of the story shines out. There is hardly any lip-patterns and fingerspelling but strong use of signs and symbols such as stars, shepherd’s crook, angel’s wings, singing alleluia and the way it is carried out.
Our close friend and trainee BSL interpreter Rachel Wilson was involved in the background signing the words of the song as a ‘guide’ so that Nadia’s creative BSL is within the mood and phrases of the live music played by me on the flute and my father on his guitar. Local graphic designer Marek Eminowicz filmed for us and edited it with subtitles, and made it so soft and dream-like, very perfectly Christmassy for all viewers to enjoy.
Thanks to Nadia, Roger, Marek and Rachel for spending a few hours on the creation of the video with me, I thought the whole thing worked beautifully, and more. Nadia is such an incredible performer, she has shown BSL at its pure and raw beauty, which is essentially what sign language does to bring the community together. Thanks also to Deafinitely Theatre for the loan of the amazing dress which Nadia wore during the production of Midsummer Night’s dream by Shakespeare.
Best wishes for the New Year! Ruth