‘Sounds of Silence’ strives to be seen

Maggie Li, Features Editor

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Senior Julia Shelley and sophomores Olivia Cohen, Erin Rosenfeld, Emily MacDonald and Zoe Shiman (left to right) rehearse “Sounds of Silence” in the drama room on Jan. 25. Cohen and Macdonald, along with junior Riva Akolawala, sang, while other members both sang and signed during the rehearsal. Photo by Sydney Stumme-Berg

For most people, listening to music is a purely auditory task, but sophomore Erin Rosenfeld seeks to expand the experience of music into something visual as well.

“Being hearing-impaired has taught me that you don’t need to speak in order to communicate with people” said Rosenfeld. “… Sometimes it isn’t about the things you hear, it’s about what you see and experience that allows you to connect with others.”

Rosenfeld, along with senior Julia Shelley and sophomore Zoe Shiman, are set to sign the lyrics of the song “Burn” from the Broadway musical “Hamilton” in American Sign Language. Their act, called “Sounds of Silence,” is scheduled to perform during the 2017 Variety Show.

“How it works… is that we’ll have three singers and three signers, so the signers will stand in front, and we’ll sign everything that they’re singing behind us,” Shelley said.

Rosenfeld, who came up with the idea for the act, said she wanted to combine her love for theater with her love for sign language.

“I used to communicate using sign language with my mom when I was little, and then as I’ve been getting older, I’ve been teaching myself [more] sign language and learning more about it, so it’s just something that’s really important to me,” Rosenfeld said.

According to Rosenfeld, being hearing-impaired makes school and theater difficult because she has to work hard to understand what people are saying since she relies on lip-reading.

“I’m exhausted every day from paying extra attention to what’s going on around me,” Rosenfeld said.

Rosenfeld said she would not trade in her experiences of being hearing-impaired if she could because she loves the special connection she feels to sign language, which she hopes to spread with this act.

Annie Jo Ermel, director and choreographer of the Variety Show, said “Sounds of Silence” is “powerful, individual and creative.”

“We can see three different ways of storytelling [in the act],” said Ermel. “We have a vocal style because there are people singing the song. There’s a sign language aspect, which is a physical thing … it’s like dancing but with your hands: to tell a story through your hands is really intriguing. And then the third way is your face and your heart and having to show emotion that way.”

According to Shelley, the song “Burn” was chosen because it talks about issues that affect many different groups of people. In the song, Eliza Hamilton is reading letters from her husband, Alexander Hamilton, and burning the letters in response to him cheating on her.

“It’s more of calling into question issues of human interaction and kind of what defines loyalty and kind of what people’s [roles are] when they’re in, like, a committed relationship to one another,” Shelley said.

Ermel said the song  contributes to the meaning and difficult of the act.

“The fact that they’re doing an unspoken thing, [reading letters], in an unspoken way is really, really interesting,” said Ermel. “And it’s such a powerful song that you would think that you want to sing it, and you want to yell it, but they have to do it in an unspoken way.”

Shelley said she appreciates being part of “Sounds of Silence” because it is unlike anything she has ever done before.

“It’s kind of taught me … [to recognize] something we take for granted, like the ability to listen to music [and] have that appreciation that it’s something that people in the hearing-impaired community do not have,” Shelley said.

Rosenfeld said her act is not only about the hearing-impaired community, but also about embracing individuality in general.

“This act is a little window into what it’s like to be different and how you can emphasize on those traits and become something beautiful instead of hiding your uniqueness,” said Rosenfeld. “If you have something that’s different about you, embrace it. … All in all, I simply want this act to mean something to everyone who sees it.”

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‘Sounds of Silence’ strives to be seen