Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Print this Article


Staff writer

A choir performed at Morningside House in Waldorf recently and didn’t sing a single note.

The Hands of Harmony Sign Language Choir from Anne Arundel Community College was born in 2004 out of an American Sign Language club at the school. The choir, made up of about 20 performers, signs along to prerecorded songs.

“Everything from patriotic songs to contemporary Christian, Rascal Flatts to Broadway hits,” said Bill Snitcher, the husband of the choir’s director, Ann. “We want to show the beauty of sign language to those who can hear.”

The choir also educates audiences, Ann Snitcher said.

“We want people to be aware of the language,” she said.

Ann Snitcher was introduced to the language through her daughter, Melanie, who took classes at the community college.

The joke is that Snitcher didn’t want her daughter talking about her behind her back in sign, but soon Snitcher was taking noncredit classes and liking it.

The choir is “one way to explore the language through music,” Snitcher said.

Most members of the choir came to it out of an interest in sign language. Assistant Director Karen Behringer, who is a teacher in Anne Arundel, worked in special education for a while and taught students who couldn’t talk and used sign language to communicate.

“Sign language supplemented their language growth,” Behringer said.

To make sure the choir is hitting the same notes, it practices nearly all the time — every Thursday night, before shows, in carpools on the way to concerts.

Hannah Stang, 14, started taking sign language classes with her mother at church about three years ago.

She said her brother had a little trouble talking and sign language helped him communicate.

She kept up learning the language.

“It’s fascinating,” she said. “It’s beautiful and really cool.”

“Is it not like dancing with your hands?” asked master of ceremonies Bob Price, who performed a solo to a Sammy Davis Jr. song.

According to Bill Snitcher, there are almost 30 million Americans who are deaf or hearing impaired.

Sign language interpreters are often at major speeches and concerts.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sign language interpreter, Lydia Callis, has gained a fan base for translating his press conferences in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated areas of the East Coast.

Washington, D.C., is the home of Gallaudet University, which was named in honor of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.

“Gallaudet brought sign language to America in the 1800s,” said Bill Snitcher.

According to the university’s website, Gallaudet was visiting his family in Connecticut in 1814 when he noticed his siblings were not playing with another child. The little girl was deaf, and not knowing sign language, Gallaudet tried to communicate with her.

He pointed to his hat and spelled out the word in the dirt. The girl understood, and it sparked something in Gallaudet to learn more. He had to travel to Europe because there were no schools for the deaf in the States at the time.

Eventually landing in Paris after meeting Abbe Sicard, the director of the Institut Royal des Sourds-Muets in England, Gallaudet was introduced to the school’s graduates Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu.

On their travels, Gallaudet learned sign language from Clerc and Clerc learned English; they founded the American School for the Deaf in 1817.

Clerc became the first deaf teacher of deaf students in the United States, according to the website.

Gallaudet’s youngest son, Edward Miner Gallaudet, came to the District when he was 20 to run a school for deaf children.

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the charter to start a college for deaf students. Gallaudet University is named in honor of Edward's father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, according to the website.