Your Hat (2018)
solo in American Sign Language

commissioned and performed by Christopher Clarino

watch on YouTube

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“I used to think that I was a guest in the language because I was Asian and learned the language at the age of eight. But I see now that we’re all guests in the language....It’s a feeling of dislocation with the thing that you love.”

—Li-Young Lee, from Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee (2006)

When Christopher Clarino invited me to write a piece incorporating ASL and percussion, I hoped to search for some balanced integration of music and signing. But as a hearing person without understanding of the Deaf experience, I didn't feel it was my place to forge a bridge between music and ASL. What I do understand is being multilingual, the beauties and sadness of living between worlds, the in-translatability of some experiences. The English-language poet Li-Young Lee’s metaphor about being a “guest in the language” had long resonated with me, and with my own history of having been a child immigrant on my mind, I wrote the story “Your Hat,” an allegory about being a “guest.” I then decided this would be a “silent” piece—the signs needed to speak for themselves without musical accompaniment. Even without conventional instruments, there would be plenty of musical elements—patterns, duration, speed, effort, dynamic gesture. Clarino performs original ASL interpretations of my English text. Interspersed are three ASL poems, in which I specify the patterns and subtle transformations of ASL signs. But it is in the nuances of the intrepreter’s gestures and facial expressions that the emotional content of ASL lives, and though the piece has a score, it hardly exists outside of its performance.