In recent years, most Australians experienced increased exposure to Auslan (Australian Sign Language), the language of the Australian Deaf Community. This is thanks to mainstream media showing interpreted updates throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
But long before the pandemic and associated broadcasts, a dynamic group of Townsville residents was already actively showcasing Auslan to the region.
Townsville’s Auslan Signing Choir
Townsville Auslan Choir is a signing choir that spreads positivity through regular performances. They also intentionally maintain a welcoming and inclusive rehearsal environment.
15 year old Dwayne Fullerton is Deaf and has been involved with Townsville Auslan Choir (TAC) for around five years. He communicates via Auslan. While Dwayne agrees that the choir is fun, he says “My favourite thing about Auslan Choir is meeting new people who want to learn sign language.”
Dwyane’s Mum, Trish Loveday, is the Choir Director for TAC. She is a NAATI qualified Auslan interpreter and has Deaf and hard of hearing family members. Trish is also an active member of Townsville’s Deaf community.
“The thing that will surprise people when they see an Auslan choir for the first time is the emotion in the signs and the expressions,” says Trish.
“It’s not only signing, it’s actually using the whole body.”
Trish explains that sometimes audience members are so moved by the performances that they spontaneously start to copy and sign along.
Not all members of the signing choir are Deaf
Dwayne says not all members of the choir are Deaf.
“There are also hearing people who know sign language, or who don’t know sign language yet, but are learning.”
Trish elaborates that the choir includes people who are d/Deaf, Deafblind, hard of hearing and hearing. There are also members who don’t have hearing loss, but use sign language as a form of non verbal communication. Trish is emphatic “Townsville Auslan Choir is for all ages and all abilities. Everyone is welcome”.
When TAC performs, they are accompanied by an audio recording of the full song. During the performance, the Music Director sits in front of the choir, facing them, mirroring the signs as a memory prompt. This also serves as a timing indicator for those who aren’t using auditory cues to follow the music.
“People will be surprised when they see a signing choir, that it’s songs they already know,” says Dwayne.
“For some people, it’s their favourite music.”
Teaching a Signing Choir
While other choirs may simply purchase and distribute ready-made sheet music, Trish explains that the process of learning a new song is more complex for Townsville Auslan Choir. Once a song is chosen for the choir, it goes through a rigorous process of translation and community consultation.
“I start by giving the choir the name of a song and artist and they can look it up.” Trish explains.
“It then takes me around six to eight weeks to prepare the song before I then present it back to the choir. I actually translate it myself first because everyone’s translations of songs are different. I search the web for examples of the song using different sign languages (from other countries etc.) and pick what I want out of different versions. Then I need to blend those ideas together. Using my Auslan skills, I make it the best I can. I then work with a Deaf mentor for about two weeks to ensure I’m using the right language and context. I try to run through the song four or five times with the Deaf Mentor to get it right. After the language is confirmed, I make sure it also looks good. For example there might be gaps that need filling. Once it’s all finished, I need to practice it myself for one to two weeks before I can then teach it to the choir.
TAC performs several times a year including Palm Creek Folk Festival and Townsville City Council Carols, as well as other community events.
Townsville Auslan Choir’s next performance will be at the Bunnings Christmas Night Market. TAC will show their festive form as they perform five Christmas carols at the family-friendly event. Upholding the festive mood, Trish confirms “We only sign positive songs!”
See Townsville Auslan Signing Choir at Bunnings Fairfield Waters on 8 December 2022 from 6pm – 8pm.
This article was supported by the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a partnership between the Queensland Government and the Townsville City Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.