By Jeffrey Weisbord ’15

Have you ever tried to enjoy American Idol on mute? Probably not, and you’re hardly alone. But, for more than 600,000 deaf Americans, the volume on Idol and other music shows is always off. So how do they find pleasure in music?

One way, according to Antoinette Sacchetti, a part-time professor in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, is by watching performers who convey the beauty of music through sign language, facial expression and body movement.

Last spring, the students in Ms. Sacchetti’s Expressive Sign course learned how difficult yet rewarding this can be. The course, which was open to students from all majors, culminated in an “American Sign Language Idol,” during which students were judged on their ability to convey well-known hits wordlessly.

My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to, Your dreams stay big, and your worries stay small… Without uttering a syllable, Melissa Felson ’14 performed Rascal Flat’s “My Wish,” conveying more emotion than most could fit into a thousand-page memoir. The routine was dedicated to her younger brother and best friend Steven, who has autism. She adeptly signed the lyrics while conveying the song’s raw emotion in her facial expression and carefully choreographed dance movements. Watch me as I dance under the spotlight, listen to the people screaming out more, and more… In contrast to the touching and tender nature of Ms. Felson’s performance, an energetic group performance of Usher’s “More” immediately conveyed the upbeat tone and lively character of the smash hit. Brian Cerisano ’12 was at the center of the routine, and shimmied and signed his way to a masterful interpretation of Usher’s tune. Mr. Cerisano, who had previously taken American Sign Language 3 with Ms. Sacchetti, says, “She has a way of bringing the language to life and making you want to learn and absorb all you can.”

Megan Moravek ’13 has enjoyed Professor Sacchetti’s tutelage in four separate courses, but found Expressive Sign to be particularly memorable, largely due to the final project. “The rec [center] atrium was buzzing with excitement, and our whole class did splendidly,” she says.

The ASL Idol performances, as well as others throughout the course, were videotaped and posted online for students to watch and discuss. “The goal of the music videos is to convey the raw feelings and emotions that standard music videos would, but to do so while replacing the song’s lyrics with ASL,” Ms. Sacchetti says, her face lit up and hands gesticulating, almost as if she were signing. “The goal of the course itself is much broader. I try to inform my students of the deaf community as a whole.” It’s a community that Ms. Sacchetti is familiar with, having been raised by deaf parents.

This piece appeared in the Adelphi University Magazine Fall 2012 edition.

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