Dawnjel Carpenter, Ben Stichler and Alice Johnson sign the lyrics to “Watch These Hands”  during a performance Oct. 26 at Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.

Dawnjel Carpenter, Ben Stichler and Alice Johnson sign the lyrics to “Watch These Hands” during a performance Oct. 26 at Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Ferndale marching band readies ASL-infused performance for state championships

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published October 29, 2019

 Senior Kita Van Der Vennet plays rain-drenched cymbals during the performance.

Senior Kita Van Der Vennet plays rain-drenched cymbals during the performance.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Junior Thomas Kelly and senior Lucas Langley use American Sign Language to perform the lyrics to the song “Watch These Hands” during a performance Saturday, Oct. 26, at Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.

Junior Thomas Kelly and senior Lucas Langley use American Sign Language to perform the lyrics to the song “Watch These Hands” during a performance Saturday, Oct. 26, at Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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FERNDALE — On Nov. 2, the Ferndale High School marching band will perform at the Michigan Competing Band Association State Championships at Ford Field.

All season long, the band members have been fine-tuning their show. About halfway through it, the band’s performance becomes especially notable when its members stop playing their instruments.

In the show, titled “The Sounds of Silence,” the members perform the lyrics to “Watch These Hands” in American Sign Language. The song originally was performed by Sean Forbes, a deaf hip-hop artist. Other songs in the four-movement show are a piece by Ludwig van Beethoven and “The Sound of Silence,” by Simon and Garfunkel.

Band Director Elon Jamison said that when the band was coming up with the show, it was looking to answer the question — from the point of view of someone who is deaf — “What is the experience of a marching band show?”

“At the same time, we also wanted to see if we could challenge our hearing audience to think about the (performance) differently in terms of, ‘What does a marching band sound like if they’re not playing?’” he said. “We’re marching, but there’s no music, and that’s very, very intentional so that the hearing audience can hear the noises that you make, because you still make sounds even when you’re not actively playing. But the bigger piece of the puzzle was, ‘What can we do to create at least a movement of our show that appeals to the deaf community?’”

Jamison ended up making a connection with Forbes through a woman he goes to church with who also is an ASL interpreter. Jamison reached out to Forbes to ask if they could use his song and if he wanted to teach the kids how to do the sign language.

The band started learning the performance while at camp in August. George Van Der Vennet, a senior tuba player, was “very intrigued” when he first heard that they were going to perform sign language to the audience.

“It’s nothing you’d normally see a marching band do,” he said. “I thought that was amazing that we were able to do that and get taught from (Forbes).”

Senior drum major Minnie Davis-Asare said that the challenging part of learning the signs for the band was how to be expressive enough so that the audience knew what they were saying.

“We also use screens to project words of what we’re saying in sign language,” she said. “So for the band, it was just getting them to be more expressive in their signing.”

Van Der Vennet said that learning the signing wasn’t the difficult part.

“The difficult part was projecting it to an audience way high up in the bleachers and still getting our message across with just those small, little movements,” he said.

Both Van Der Vennet and Davis-Asare were glad to see audiences picking up what the performance was about, as the reception since the band’s first show has been great and they’re hoping it continues into the MCBA finals.

“I think our band is ready to show what they got, and I think we’re ready for finals,” said  Davis-Asare. “I think Sean Forbes would be proud of us.”

The FHS marching band will be performing during Flight IV, which begins at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased — cash only — at Ford Field for $20 for adults and $15 for students and senior citizens. Admission is free for children under the age of 5.

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