Causes

Helping deaf people see music

Ms Goh (second from far left) song-signing at the Story Carnival last month. With her are (from far left) Mr Jaffar Sidek, Ms Vivienne Wong and Mr Feng Lee. Telling stories using songs is a way of promoting deaf awareness, said Ms Goh. Ms Lily Goh at
Ms Goh (second from far left) song-signing at the Story Carnival last month. With her are (from far left) Mr Jaffar Sidek, Ms Vivienne Wong and Mr Feng Lee. Telling stories using songs is a way of promoting deaf awareness, said Ms Goh. ST PHOTO: DANIEL ONG
Ms Goh (second from far left) song-signing at the Story Carnival last month. With her are (from far left) Mr Jaffar Sidek, Ms Vivienne Wong and Mr Feng Lee. Telling stories using songs is a way of promoting deaf awareness, said Ms Goh. Ms Lily Goh at
Ms Lily Goh at the Story Carnival last month. Ms Goh, who lost most of her hearing as a toddler, uses hand signs, body movements and facial expressions to convey the meaning in songs.PHOTOS: REVOLTBEE.COM, JONATHAN CHOO
Ms Goh (second from far left) song-signing at the Story Carnival last month. With her are (from far left) Mr Jaffar Sidek, Ms Vivienne Wong and Mr Feng Lee. Telling stories using songs is a way of promoting deaf awareness, said Ms Goh. Ms Lily Goh at
Ms Lily Goh at the Story Carnival last month. Ms Goh, who lost most of her hearing as a toddler, uses hand signs, body movements and facial expressions to convey the meaning in songs.PHOTOS: REVOLTBEE.COM, JONATHAN CHOO
Ms Goh (second from far left) song-signing at the Story Carnival last month. With her are (from far left) Mr Jaffar Sidek, Ms Vivienne Wong and Mr Feng Lee. Telling stories using songs is a way of promoting deaf awareness, said Ms Goh. Ms Lily Goh at
Ms Lily Goh at the Story Carnival last month. Ms Goh, who lost most of her hearing as a toddler, uses hand signs, body movements and facial expressions to convey the meaning in songs.PHOTOS: REVOLTBEE.COM, JONATHAN CHOO

In fast-paced Singapore, there are those in need - and those who go out of their way to meet those needs. This is the latest in a series on noteworthy causes that The Straits Times is spotlighting.

It is lunchtime on a Saturday, and a small audience has gathered to listen to a music performance.

It is a typical set-up: two female singers taking centre stage, accompanied by two male guitarists.

The music starts. But instead of lifting the microphone to sing, one of the singers is using hand gestures to express herself.

It is not just her hands that express the song, however. Ms Lily Goh's body movements and facial expressions also convey its emotion as she performs alongside singer Vivienne Wong and guitarists Jaffar Sidek and Feng Lee.

Together, they epitomise the inclusive community being aspired to at the Story Carnival on Sept 2.

The carnival was held at the Enabling Village, a community space in Lengkok Bahru, in Redhill.

It is also her life's work, for Ms Goh, 38, is the founder of ExtraOrdinary Horizons (EOHorizons), a social enterprise that seeks to integrate the deaf community with mainstream society.

The six-year-old enterprise offers song-signing performances, and has performed at corporate events for entities such as DBS Bank and the British Council.

EOHorizons also sells handicrafts made by deaf people, and offers sign language interpretation services as well as workshops for those interested in learning sign language - all in line with its mission of bridging communication between the two worlds.

MAKING WORDS COME ALIVE

(Song-signing) makes the words physical, the emotions visual. We are using her language. There's a real connection.

PROFESSIONAL STORYTELLER ROGER JENKINS, on Ms Lily Goh using gestures to express the songs' emotions.

The earnings from its work help provide income for the enterprise's 23 freelance staff, eight of whom are deaf.

Ms Goh, who lost most of her hearing at the age of two from an unknown cause and can now hear only loud sounds, discovered song-signing herself while she was studying information technology at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 1998.

She already could play the xylophone and marimba, two mallet percussion instruments that she began learning when she was 10 years old and for which she has a Grade 8 certificate from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

She plays by reading the music score and sensing vibrations that emanate from the instrument. She also makes use of a hearing aid to keep in time with the other musicians.

When she is learning a new song to sign, however, Ms Goh works with a hearing person who provides her with cues to keep the tempo. After several practices, she is able to song-sign on her own.

"Music can be appreciated by many, but the deaf can feel, see and express music with our hands," said Ms Goh, who has performed at various events, including an arts festival in Cambodia featuring a diverse range of artists with disabilities.

She does not just sing other people's songs. For the performance on Sept 2, she signed the song If You Were In My Shoes, which she co-wrote with musician and composer Audris Ho.

Portraying the struggles faced by a deaf person who refuses to give up and remains hopeful in the face of enormous exasperation, the song made it to the semi-finals of the 2015 UK Songwriting Contest in the music video category.

"This is how we promote deaf awareness... by telling stories using songs," Ms Goh said.

Professional storyteller Roger Jenkins said Ms Goh's performance that Saturday helped him to connect emotionally with the songs.

"(Song-signing) makes the words physical, the emotions visual. We are using her language. There's a real connection," said Mr Jenkins, 64, a former drama teacher and veteran of the Singapore arts scene.

Song-signing is not a mere translation of the song lyrics word for word into sign language, but a creative interpretation of the song's message, which allows the performer to present an original improvisation, said Ms Goh.

She now pursues her passion in music through EOHorizons, which she juggles with part-time studies in sociology at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

She also plays the marimba in the Purple Symphony, a 90-strong orchestra consisting of musicians with and without special needs. Some of them, including Ms Goh, performed the National Day song We Will Get There at this year's National Day Parade. Ms Goh helped to choreograph the song's hand signs for the 400 pupils from Henry Park Primary who also performed.

On Oct 28, she will also play at the annual Purple Parade at Suntec City to celebrate the abilities of those with special needs.

She hopes more can be done to improve the deaf community's access to the performing arts scene. For example, more theatre shows can have interpreters for deaf people.

It is also her wish that the public would look beyond disabilities and instead seek to know people for who they really are. "It's about being able to understand you for the person inside and not just as a person with a disability."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2017, with the headline 'Helping deaf people see music'. Print Edition | Subscribe