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'Signing on' to music: Meet a woman bringing inclusion to Christmas concerts

A woman originally from Lawn, on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula, is taking part in her second Christmas concert in New-Wes-Valley by signing musical numbers.

Newfoundland woman, originally from Lawn, bringing music to those hard of hearing through sign language

A woman with long brown hair and a red shirt does sign language on a stage with a Christmas backdrop.
Sharon Tarrant signs to a rendition of Silent Night during a rehearsal for the Kittiwake Shore Thing's 'Home for Christmas' show taking place this weekend. (Troy Turner/CBC)

Her hands weave through the music and lyrics.

Expressive, flowing, graceful.

She feels each note, each word. 

But she hears very few.

For Sharon Tarrant, volunteering to sign songs at a Christmas concert in New-Wes-Valley is both service and expression. 

"It makes me feel good that hearing people were able to see something that was beautiful and bring that awareness to them that could in turn be something educational for them," she told CBC News in a recent interview.

A. group of people sit in front of a stage, most of them watching the performance of a man with a guitar and a woman wearing as red shirt, on stage.
Tarrant and Clyde Knee perform Silent Night in front of some of the cast of 'Home for Christmas.' (Troy Turner/CBC)

Tarrant was born with 40 per cent hearing loss. She can hear things like the tone and beat of the music coming through speakers, though the singing is not clear. To communicate with others, she relies on reading lips and facial expressions, or uses sign language.

Growing up in the tiny community of Lawn on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula was difficult as she tried to adapt in a world of people with full hearing.

"It presents a lot of different challenges, unique challenges," she said. "I went to a regular school system, and we had to get a lot of accommodations put in place for me."

A grey-haired man with a plaid shirt and grey-haired woman with a pink hoodie chat with younger woman with long brown hair and a red shirt, while reading a sheet of music.
Tarrant chats with Clyde and Geneva Knee during rehearsal. (Troy Turner/CBC)

She finished school in Lawn and went to Memorial University in St. John's, where she completed a degree in environmental studies. But it was integration into the deaf community, she said, that changed her life.

"It was an eye-opening experience," she said. "Not only did I just learn the language, but I also learned what it's like to feel like I belong — what it's like to be a part of something of who I am. It helped me identify myself more, understand myself more.… I got the opportunity to meet some really wonderful people, the entire deaf community."

Through that community, she was introduced to her partner.

Call it luck or a premonition, music was involved. 

"We got up and danced together and I started signing, and it just became very, very moving," she said. "We both became very connected from that day on. And we got together and … we've been together for five years now."

Tarrant moved to New-Wes-Valley with her partner and young child about a year ago. Over the fall, she signed her first concert with the Kittiwake Shore Thing performance group. Tarrant said people were moved, and she was overwhelmed by the response.

WATCH | This Bonavista woman is happy to be signing for Christmas concerts: 

This Bonavista woman is doing sign language for Christmas concerts so everyone gets in the spirit

3 months ago
Duration 3:43
Sharon Tarrant was born with 40 per cent hearing loss. She loves that she can show music in a more visual way — and she’s doing just that for a series of Christmas concerts at the Lions Club in Badger, where the audience will feel each note, and follow every sign.

Ruth Pelley, the show's director, said she almost cried watching the performance.

"It was so emotional to see Sharon do what she was doing, and it just radiated through the audience," she said. "It went over really, really well. So she contacted me when she heard about the Christmas show and she volunteered her time. And she just came on board with us. And we're more than happy to have her sign for one or even two of our songs."

A woman wearing a grey and burgundy sweater stands a table talking to people off-camera while a Christmas tree sits in the foreground.
Ruth Pelley is the director of 'Home for Christmas,' which runs Friday, Saturday and Monday nights at the Lions Club in Badger's Quay, in New-Wes-Valley. (Troy Turner/CBC)

For one number, Tarrant will be signing while Clyde Knee performs an arrangement of Silent Night.

It's a first for Knee, who's been performing for most of his life.

LISTEN | The CBC's Cherie Wheeler takes in a rehearsal of what will be a special Christmas concert: 
When the curtain comes up at a Christmas concert in New-Wes-Valley tonight, the audience will see something they might not have seen before. A new performer with the local theatre group won't be playing an instrument or singing lyrics, but she hopes to move people with HER musical performance. The CBC's Cherie Wheeler headed to a rehearsal this week to check it out.

Read a transcript of Cherie Wheeler's report

"It's awesome," Knee said. "The way that Sharon connects to the audience with her signing is just so graceful and beautiful and the audience can feel, I think, what she's feeling at the same time and the musicians as well. I mean, we all feel the same kindred spirits."

Tarrant says she's looking forward to performing again this weekend for three packed shows.

"I love to see people to see just how beautiful our language, American Sign Language, can be … and hopefully help them understand that they too could learn the language and acquire the same skills, and be able to communicate more effectively between the hearing world and the the deaf community."

In addition to Tarrant's signing with Knee's songs, the shows will also feature group numbers and some sketch comedy with the theme of "Home for Christmas."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Troy Turner

Reporter

Troy Turner is a veteran journalist who has worked throughout Newfoundland and Labrador in both print and broadcast.

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