The Youth Sign Choir at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon is going to be meeting weekly beginning in January to prepare for a sign language concert on Sunday, February 27.

Around the world, music knits together communities. But, for people hard of hearing or deaf, seeing their favorite song in American Sign Language (ASL) being performed brings a commonality of the love of music to all people. In an effort to teach music and sign language to the youth of the community, First Presbyterian Church of Brandon is bringing back its Youth Sign Choir.

The choir will be meeting weekly to practice this dramatic form of praise songs performed under black lights while wearing white gloves. The first practice will take place on Sunday, January 9, with the first performance taking place on Sunday, February 27.

According to Director Phoebe Irby, there is no need to have any sign language experience because it will be taught during the Sunday night practices. Youth participants will be committed to the six-week practice schedule prior to the show.

According to Irby, the Sign Choir started back in the 1990s. “I was teaching students with hearing and visual disabilities at Willis Peters Exceptional Center,” said Irby. “Most of our youth at church were very interested in learning sign language.”

At the school, the music department would do puppet shows using black lights. “Our school secretary, who was fluent in American Sign Language, was active in her church,” said Irby. “She and I got excited about using this form of worship—that is, signing with white gloves which were illuminated with the black lights.”

Irby explained that the skill of ASL has been a springboard for many of the choir members. In fact, one young lady went on to teach at the school for the deaf in St. Augustine.

The youth participants, along with Irby, normally determine which contemporary praise songs are used.

“Our youth like to suggest favorites and they are considered, once we examine lyrics, tempo, etc.,” said Irby. “My favorite part about the Sign Choir is seeing the excitement on their faces when they have got it.”

The first practice begins on January 9 at 4 p.m., with the first performance taking place on February 27 at the 9:30 a.m. church service. There is no cost, and additional performances will continue throughout the year. First Presbyterian Church of Brandon is located at 121 Carver Ave. in Brandon. For more information, visit, email or call the church at 689-4597.

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Kelly Wise Valdes has been writing for the Osprey Observer since 2008. She graduated in 1989 from Florida Southern College with a B.S. in Communications and enjoys writing and traveling. She currently resides in northern Hillsborough County with her husband, David. When not traveling and writing, Kelly and her husband enjoy spending time with their five grown children (as well as their grandchildren) that still keep them very busy.