The Upper Hunter Signing Choir 2000 was established
in 1997, to spread Deafness Awareness throughout the broader community and to teach Sign Language in a fun and interesting
way. It is the only choir of its type in the world. The Choir currently consists of more than 800 children from 13
regional schools (ranging from five to eighteen years of age), who prior to the start of the 2007 school year, all practised
the disciplines of singing, signing, dancing and miming, for around 30-45 minutes at their own schools, during one lunch break
each week. There are also approximately a further 400 members from around Australia. Members have previously learnt an incredible average of eight to 10 songs per school
term. More than 350 of the children have some form of disability and have directly benefited from the most positive principles
of integration and equal opportunity.
The children have been supported by a team of 16 adult performers,
a Deputy Director, 25 Assistants, Singing Tutor, Dance Tutor, professional photographer, videographers, Sound Technician,
Technicians, and a Choir Nanny. All participation in the choir is on a voluntary basis, including membership on the Choir’s
Singleton High School formed
the latest section of the choir, with choir practice incorporated into the school’s curriculum. Within only two practice
sessions, this section prepared a special presentation for Il Divo, which was presented to the renowned international singing
group when they met with the Choir Director on the night of their performance with Barbra Streisand at her Washington D.C
concert in October 2006. Only three of the students had previously heard of Il Divo but none were familiar with their pop/classical
style of music. So within those two practice sessions, the students were challenged to start from scratch
and learn two Il Divo songs, one in Italian and the other in French. They accepted the challenge and by the end of the sessions
were ready to perform and be videoed….mission accomplished with an enormous sense of pride!
As the Choir Director is Deaf, all members are taught from a Deaf
perspective, learning aspects of lip-reading, body language, visual contact, correct pronunciation, and how to engage in more
effective communication with people generally. As the Director is also battling cancer, chronic arthritis and visual
impairment, members are taught of their roll in supporting those less capable than themselves, and of the personal qualities
attributed to being a good community member and citizen.
The inter-state Australian Signing Choir, established
in early 2002 (of which the Upper Hunter Signing Choir 2000 remains
the core), continues to develop new sections in Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, and throughout New South Wales.
In January 2004, through the 2004 World Record 100 Hour Signathon,
the Choir beat its 2002 World Record of 96 hours of continuous signing (four days and four hours without sleep). $80,000 has
been raised via the Signathons and the $40,000 raised in 2002 enabled the regional cancer service, Carelink Inc., to purchase
essential quality electric lift mattresses and wheelchairs etc, for local patients. The Choir continues annually to raise
funds for people with cancer, disabilities, and other community organizations.
During 2006, the Upper Hunter Signing Choir 2000 celebrated
its 10th Anniversary, with many wonderful and innovative plans initiated. The Choir continues with its 16 community programs,
which support leading children’s charities, the elderly and Australia’s
seriously and terminally ill children.
Since 2004, the Choir has been developing its unique singing program
‘Dancing Hands Sing’, which will produce Australia’s first Deaf children, with profound or
total deafness, who will be able to actually ‘sing’ with their hearing peers, despite being unable to hear their
own voices. Science has proven the therapeutic benefit of music for humans, so this program will have significant implications
for all Australian Deaf children, their families, hearing peers and teachers, and Deaf children throughout the world. It is
hoped that sponsorship for the development of the program’s software and printed education kit will be finalized later
in 2007 or early 2008. The Choir is also authoring its first book, the concept of which is ‘thoughts about Heaven’,
aimed at helping terminally ill Australian children to better cope with their illness or that of a loved one. Funds raised
from the sale of the book, will directly support a leading Australian children’s charity.
Throughout 2007, the Choir prepared for its first international
tour, with a small group touring and spreading the Choir’s work and community programs throughout the UK and France
during January/February 2008.