Interview with signing choir, Hands 4 Voices member, Laura-Jayne Greene

Published: Dec 5th, 2016

Laura performing in the Hands 4 Voices choirHands 4 Voices is a signing choir based in Essex made up of 50 members who are a mixture of deaf, HoH and hearing. All of their performances are signed using BSL, and they use their ticket sales to help raise money for local deaf charity, Essex Deaf Children’s Society and other organisations.

To date Hands 4 Voices have raised over £17,000, and with lots more performances lined up for the future, there’s no stopping this dynamic signing choir from taking centre stage as a tour de force the deaf – and hearing – community.

In this article we chat to deaf choir member, Laura Greene, 44 who joined Hands 4 Voices in 2010. She tells us about the joys of being able to explore her love for music, while keeping on top of her BSL skills, and how being a part of the choir has helped her to feel proud of her deafness.

A rewarding venture

“Hands 4 Voices is extraordinary and has made such a difference for me. It’s given me the ability to appreciate music and to be a part of something bigger that is helping our local community. It has made me feel proud of being deaf, and it’s amazing to see how our performances can be very moving for people to watch – especially those who use BSL as their first language.”

Discovering BSL

“I started going deaf at 14, but it was only picked up when I was receiving care for my tinnitus. When I got my first hearing aid, I reacted by having my hair cut short – I was determined not to let this new diagnosis affect me. My parents made very little fuss over my deafness, and would say: ‘get on with it, life is tough, make the most of it’. This has probably been the best lesson I’ve had and one I still try to live by.

Hands 4 Voices choir group performing“Of course, I still faced difficulties growing up with deafness. It took me a while to adjust to wearing hearing aids, and I quickly realised how frustrating and lonely living with hearing loss can be. I had mixed responses from people around me, and received some insensitive comments, such as: ‘at least you are not going blind ’and ‘why do you still want to go to university – that’s a waste of an education’. Also, because my speech is clear (apart from an Essex accent) I used to – and still often get – comments like: ‘you’re not really deaf – you can speak’. Many people forget or do not understand that I cannot hear.

“Despite the challenges, I did get into Liverpool LM University, where I studied Applied Statistics and Computing and it was here that I learned to sign using BSL. My boyfriend at the time said he wanted us to learn it together so we took a BSL Level 1 course. It was quite romantic having our own conversations in sign language, but over time – and after our relationship ended – I lost the vocabulary. When I decided to train as a teacher in 2010, I signed up to a Level 2 course, however I soon lost the conversational ability when I stopped using it.

“In 2011 I started working as a teacher in a mainstream secondary school in Essex. One day I was talking to a BSL interpreter at the school who works with hearing impaired pupils about taking up BSL again, and she mentioned Hands 4 Voices. I’ve always loved music and played the piano and cello when younger, so I really liked the idea of joining a choir. So I signed up and started going to rehearsals. I always remember my first session – I was amazed by how beautiful it was watching everyone’s hands move ‘in tune’.”

A proud member of Hands 4 Voices

“Every song Hands 4 Voices performs is sign-interpreted English (and adapted BSL). We perform for lots of charity events, as well as doing our own shows at different times of year. We have performed at Christmas light switch on events, hospice open days and even at a wedding, and we also run workshops at local primary schools, where they teach children how to sign songs.

The Hands 4 Voices choir group“A lot of people wonder how deaf people can take part in a choir, and many think Hands 4 Voices performances involving standing on a stage and signing to the audience. But it’s much more than that – the music being played means our concerts can be appreciated by everyone. I especially love it when we do songs that I know off by heart; my head fills with the music as my hands dance. For songs I’ve never heard it takes a bit more practice to work out the beat and rhythm.

“I think society is a lot more aware that there are fewer boundaries when it comes to disabilities these days and Hands 4 Voices is helping to raise awareness of the beauty of sign language. This is helping more people to better understand hearing loss and deafness – in the same way that the Paralympics helps people to better respect disabled athletes instead of feeling sorry for them.”  

Learning to see the positives

“My time with Hands 4 Voices has helped change my perspective, and I now feel a lot more accepting of my deafness. Don’t get me wrong, being deaf has been a struggle – it can be lonely and I miss out on simple things, like not being able to have telephone conversations with friends or enjoying a few drinks in the pub at ease and comfort. It’s also very frustrating that doctors don’t know why I lost my hearing. But despite the difficulties, I realise that I’ve actually achieved quite a lot over the years, and people who know me would probably say I have done more than most – especially in my career. I have worked for large international companies in the city and travelled solo all over the world – even working as a scuba diving instructor for some time both here in the UK and abroad.

“At the end of the day, everyone has challenges to deal with – we cannot all be, or do, what we want. It’s about adapting and being honest about what you can and cannot do. I just wish people knew that being deaf doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy music, performing and pursuing your passions. At Hands 4 Voices, everyone is very deaf aware with many members working in some form with the deaf or having someone deaf in their family. This makes such a difference to me and how I feel about my deafness.”

Hands 4 Voices is a singing choir that meets weekly in Rochford. In March 2017 the group will be attending the National Singing Choir Competition UK. For more information take a look at the H4V website.

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