Music blares as folk and gospel songs are performed in concert by a swinging mod-style band of ten. The audience claps along and finally breaks into signing.

It’s not a misprint: the deaf audience is feeling the rhythm and mood of the music through two young ministers who are interpreting it into the language of signs. As the deaf catch the “words,” they begin signing along on songs such as “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” or “I’m in Love with My God.”

For the young deaf students it is the first time they have ever attended a youth concert and had the kind of emotional, musical experience that a hearing person can have. Responsible for this breakthrough in communication are the Reverend Daniel Pokorney and Father Rudolf Gawlik, Lutheran and Roman Catholic chaplains at the world’s only liberal-arts college for the deaf, Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C.

Athough the deaf can read words of songs or hymns and together rhythmically sign the words, they never in that way approach the feeling and impact possible in a concert designed for them. Pokorney and Gawlik composed verses to songs that preserve the original rhythm and feeling by using a combination of sign language, pantomime, and gestures. The result is expressive, gentle lyrics that somewhat resemble those used by Hawaiian hula dancers.

The concert, first performed last December at Gallaudet, was enthusiastically received, and the troupe is still on a series of tours. A new show, “Sacred and Secular Music,” is in the works.

The rock-gospel concert has made unique progress, but its popularity reflects the huge problems still facing the deaf today. In many respects these persons form a subculture isolated from the mainstream of American life; this often excludes them ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.