Home / News / Introduction to Signing Songs

Introduction to Signing Songs

28 July 2016

There is an index of Dr Paul Whittaker's signed videos - they can also be found in the Song Bank along with their individual notes.

Watch Paul's introduction to British Sign Language

See also: Introduction to the 2018 signed songs

An introductory note from Paul on signing the songs:

Signing is a great way of learning and understanding the songs, and, of course, provides access and inclusion for those who may not be confident in, or even unable, to sing.

I’m aware that a lot of viewers may not know much about signing so here some general points. Notes on the individual songs can be found with their signed videos.

The approach to the songs is BSL (British Sign Language) and the emphasis is on the meaning and musicality. If you signed every word the sense of the lyrics would be lost, and there is no time to sign every word anyway! Imagine you are painting a picture with your hands and face: you have a blank canvas and need to describe what you are signing about.

Please do respect BSL as a language, and respect those who use it. It does have its own rules, grammar, etc and it’s estimated that there are 151,000 BSL users in the UK, of whom 87,000 are deaf. If a BSL user cannot understand your signing then you’re doing something wrong!

I’ve tried to make the videos as easy to follow but it’s always worth involving a local deaf person or BSL user to help you, if possible. The interpretations are entirely my own: you may well have a different interpretation, which is absolutely fine. Remember though, learning a few songs in sign language will not make you an expert. Like spoken Ianguage, BSL has lots of regional variation and it’s worth checking your local signs with a local BSL user.

f you’re keen to learn more then find a local BSL class, start a signing club or choir in your school. I’m happy to help and advise, even visit you to lead a workshop, so do contact me on paul@paulwhittaker.org.uk or via the Friday Afternoons office.

Happy signing!

Paul Whittaker was born in Huddersfield in 1964 and has been deaf all his life. He has a music degree from Wadham College, Oxford and and post-graduate performance diploma from the RNCM, and for 27 years ran the charity "Music and the Deaf."

For many years he signed major musical shows across the UK and has also appeared at the Proms, Edinburgh International Festival and worked with The Sixteen choir, Rambert Dance and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. For the past three years he has been working with Leif Ove Andsnes and Mahler Chamber Orchestra on their Beethoven Journey which included events in Hong Kong, Prague, Lucerne and Bonn.

In 2007 he was awarded an OBE for services to music, and holds Honorary Doctorates from the University of Huddersfield and the Open University.

Paul now works freelance and is delighted to be returning to Aldeburgh, having signed the original Britten "Friday Afternoon" songs and a performance of "Noye's Fludde" during the centenary celebrations two years ago.