In a world ringing with sleigh bells, jingle bells and traditional songs, it's easy to take those melodious sounds for granted. For the deaf, experiencing Christmas carols is an entirely different and unique experience. And so this holiday, Singapore Association for the Deaf is working with Coca-Cola to introduce The Silent Carolers to the world.
The program includes more than 50 volunteers made up of Association staffers and school sign language groups. They are gathering at the Cathay Cineleisure Orchard to perform the evenings of Dec. 21 through Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, caroling each night using sign language to introduce passersby to a more visual Christmas caroling experience.
“Coca-Cola has always been a catalyst for bringing people together," says Gill McLaren, general manager at Coca-Cola Singapore. "We are glad to have the opportunity to bring some of our friends together to raise awareness for the deaf community during the season of love and joy.”
According to the Singapore Association for the Deaf, the collaboration with Coke is a way to give a gift to the city — to open people's eyes and minds to the way the deaf community perceives Christmas.
“Helping society reach out to the deaf is a priceless Christmas gift,” says Judy Lim, executive director of the Association. “We are heartened to be remembered this festive season and would like to thank Coca-Cola Singapore for their efforts to teach sign language to a wide audience.”
Learning to Carol, Teaching to SignLeon Woo Fook Leong is a 51-year-old engineer who is one of the signing carolers.
"I hope this will create more awareness for the deaf, as well as inspire more people to take up voluntary work," he says. "The live silent-caroling performances, where Christmas carols will be performed in sign language, provide the deaf a special way to spend Christmas this year, as opposed to the usual celebrations, which they cannot hear."
And it's not just ordinary Singaporeans that are signing on to join The Silent Carolers. Several celebrities are working with Coke and the Singapore Association for the Deaf as well.
Steven Chia, a producer and presenter on Channel NewsAsia, is one of them. For him, the impulse to be a part of The Silent Carolers began at home.
"My uncle is deaf, and I’ve often thought it would be nice if I could communicate with him more effectively," Chia says. "And as I’ve learned from this experience, it’s not hard to learn to sign. I’ve been inspired to learn a bit more so that hopefully when we next meet, I can have a chat with him!"
While Chia has prior experience signing, The Silent Carolers' approach to signing music, well, it struck a chord with him.
"Music isn’t just something we hear; it’s something we feel," he says. "I hope that as we take part in the signing of these carols, it will be a reminder that there are many around us who are less fortunate. But more important, it will remind us that no matter what our circumstances, we all want to lead fulfilling lives. So this Christmas season, we should make an effort to reach out — especially to those we normally would not reach out to."
Celebrity artist Selena Tan, popular blogger Mr. Brown and food celebrity KF Seetoh will be silent caroling with Chia. These celebrities and other well-known faces can be found caroling on this Facebook page and on YouTube. An additional video shows curious viewers how to sign basic phrases, like "hello," "how are you?" and "thank you."
But there were no video demonstrations for Woo Fook Leong, Chia and their colleagues. They learned how to sign firsthand. Forty-seven-year-old James Ong — who was born deaf — worked with them one-on-one to teach them gestures they'll need to enact for the carols.
"It was heartwarming to see all the celebrities genuinely keen to learn how to sign the songs," says Ong. "I remember when I was teaching the Coca-Cola Singapore associates, they displayed such enthusiasm!"
Songs and OutreachWhen the carolers arrive at the Cathay Cineleisure Orchard shopping center on Dec. 21, they will have with them a fairly familiar repertoire, including "Jingle Bells," "Winter Wonderland" and "Silent Night." Volunteers will hand out basic sign language instruction manuals to visitors in addition to informative literature on Singapore's deaf community.
According to Tiffany Goh, senior executive of Public Affairs and Communication for Coca-Cola Singapore, the on-the-ground effort was somewhat uncharted territory.
"It is hard to say how many people we are expected to reach with Silent Carolers," Goh says. But on the planning side, we've been running high with anticipation, she explains, "as the Silent Carolers will be performing in the busy streets of the shopping district in the week leading up to Christmas."
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