Signed Music in the Deaf Community

Performing The Black Drum at Festival Clin d’Oeil


  • Jody Cripps Clemson University
  • Ely Lyonblum University of Toronto
  • Anita Small small LANGUAGE CONNECTIONS



Signed music, Deaf people, Performance at festival, Signed language performances, Audience responses, Music belonging


In the spring of 2019, the first signed musical stage production was performed at Festival Clin d’Oeil—the world’s largest deaf arts festival that brings thousands to Reims, France, biennially. Surrounded by visual and performing arts, an invited delegation from Canada debuted the musical The Black Drum internationally, incorporating physical theater, signed music, projection, and dance. Signed music is an inter-performance art that demonstrates musical elements by culturally deaf individuals who have explored creating musical performances with their hands and bodies. These performances operate according to a distinct artistic style, incorporating elements of signed languages; rhythmic hand, facial, and/or body motions; and media video arts. This article offers insight into the performers’ process and development of a deaf-created signed musical for an international audience, the ways signed music galvanizes community and identity through self-expression, and the impact of The Black Drum on an international audience at Festival Clin d’Oeil. Through ethnomusicological analysis and reflection with perspectives as insider-outsider-mediator, signed music has been researched by the authors and observed throughout the development of The Black Drum in preparation for its Canadian and European premieres. The festival setting is a place where new types of performances are welcomed and evaluated for their acceptance into the community. Responses from audience members and performers revealed that signed music is an emerging genre of its own.

Author Biographies

Jody Cripps, Clemson University

Jody H. Cripps is a native American Sign Language signer who grew up in a deaf household in Ontario. He is a Canadian deaf researcher who has been researching signed music, particularly in the fields of music enculturation and visual sounds, as an assistant professor of American Sign Language in the Department of Languages at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Ely Lyonblum, University of Toronto

Ely Lyonblum is the Strategic Research Development Officer in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. His projects, largely focusing on cultural equity and music technology, range from the history of sound recording to American Sign Language performance art and storytelling through music. He trained as a documentary filmmaker at Goldsmiths, University of London, and completed a PhD in music at the University of Cambridge. His work has been presented by the MIT Media Lab, CBC Radio 1, the Smithsonian Institution, and the British Library and has been shown at music and arts festivals across six continents.


Anita Small is a hearing sociolinguist, educator, cultural mediator, and researcher. She has worked with the deaf community for thirty-five years and as university educator (York University and University of Toronto) for over twenty years. A specialist in social dynamics, past codirector of the DEAF CULTURE CENTRE, and owner of small LANGUAGE CONNECTIONS, she has engaged diverse communities to cocreate collaborative, empowering award-winning organizations, program innovations, productions, and resources.




How to Cite

Cripps, Jody, Ely Lyonblum, and Anita Small. 2023. “Signed Music in the Deaf Community: Performing The Black Drum at Festival Clin d’Oeil”. Journal of Festive Studies 4 (1):191-215.