Adrian Matthew, She Used to be Mine

At fourteen years of age Adrian sang this song and his mother recorded him on her phone and uploaded her video to Facebook where it went viral immediately. This one. I think. Things exploded and Adrien was invited to do a lot of things, get voice coaching, join other singers, go to New York and visit the cast, meet Sara Bareilles and perform with her. And here, actually sing on the Waitress stage with the cast.

I wish the recording was better but I cannot complain. These cell phones do remarkably well when you consider they have only a tiny plastic lens. But then, our own lenses in our eyes are that small. You can tell the cast really likes this kid. And their microphones are actually better than my own ears.

There are a million covers of this song available on YouTube. They all do very well. The song is written for a woman and most of the covers are by women and all of the ones that I've listened to do very well but the ones I like best are by men. Jeremy Jordan has an excellent cover. He doesn't take a breath before "mine" as all the other performers do. Another very good cover is by Caleb Hyles. Youngster Luke Islam brought down the house with an abbreviated version at America's Got Talent.

We can guess his voice is already changing. 

What does the song look like?

This couple does very nicely. The woman is singing while the man interprets. I like the way he he says, "the girl that I knew" as "girl + know + past" All the other past tenses are handled similarly. Correctly. Clearly. 

"Not simple to say" is shown "not + easy + admit." 

There is a sign for "recognize," an "R" flicked from one eye toward the subject, that is avoided for a more pantomime type action in both videos. The pantomime works very well in both cases. "Your body there, top to bottom, my body here top to bottom."

"this apron" is shown "these clothes." 

"It's not easy to know" is shown "not easy evidence" 

"It's true I was never attention's sweet center" is shown "work me special my essence." 

Both say "perfect" like Chef Boyardee, and not the actual sign, two "P"s touching bottom finger tips. My friends used to goof with this sign by making it perfectly. Like a stapler. The two "P" shapes close on each other then open back to "P" shapes touching at the tips. 

Both do "she lies" twice. Once each with both hands going opposite directions across the lips. One direction is sufficient. They both say, "lie, lie" 

"Help" is show backwards. One hand forms a cup and the other flat hand comes up from the bottom and lifts the cup. They show it as a cup being extended to a flattened hand. Their manner of speaking does not show anything being helped. 

"She is messy but kind." Both say she is "dirty" and "nice." 

They both do "lonely" as a finger touching both sides of the mouth. The sign is actually a 1 index finger standing up and twisted into the chest, like "only me" or "only one." 

"Mine" is shown by the flat of the hand placed on the chest. Ownership. The man does not flatten his hand. Only the fingertips touch his chest. It looks like a spider being placed on his chest. 

"It's not what I ask for" is shown, "all of this" 

"Sometimes life slips in through the back door" is shown "sometimes life happens." 

"And carves out a person" is shown "life makes this body." 

"For a chance to start over and rewrite an ending or two" This phrase could be shown so explicitly, precisely, but he chooses instead to go cloudy. "Can" is used instead of the actual sign for "chance" which is two playing cards being flipped over, or rising up the contents of two flat hands then flipping them over.  "live the end again" is shown instead of "rewrite the ending" while "or two" is dropped. This phrase is garbled.

"Can't love" is shown "I love you" placed on his chest. 

"Fire in her eyes" is shown as the fire in the unborn baby. The phrase is garbled. 

The singer cannot match the vocal fidelity of all of the other singers so the high drama of phrase "used to be mine" is forfeited. The interpreter simply sustains "mine." Neither of the two interpreters go insane on the phrase the way all of the other singers do. The whole pathos of this song is lost in both interpretations, where the sign for "mine" an open hand held to the chest is sustained dramatically across a wailing twisting tormented writhing body wailing the concept of possession that they are denied. This is point where both singer and signer can shine and it is the place where all three abandon their project. So much emphasis on pathos and sadness and torment of earlier phrases that are actually whispered when sung, and absent in the place of the song where it is required to convey the amazing emotion of wailing one's heart out to the maximum strain of sustained and inflected agony. 

It's a pity.

The first part of this song is simply telling a somewhat sad story. But it is not tortured. All the torture is saved for the end where the agony is given full voice. That is what makes people stand on their feet and applaud. That is what these three people are not doing. They are not whispering the first half then build intensity to climax and splooge all over the stage with full voice and full emotional drama. 

The dramatic buildup is missing in both interpretations. 

You don't want your hair to be part of your interpretation. You don't want the weeping willows to distract from your art. You don't want a drooping tree or a drooping clump of hair to be features in your video. Rather, you want your own excellence of expression to match the excellence of the vocalization. It's all about matching the voice. These two interpreters do not do that. They do not keep it in tight and close for the softer opening passages then open it up as the voice strengthens, then writhe tormentedly when the singer wails out key phrases. All of that can be acted out while using standard ASL as the basis and allowing personal expression for the rest.

I look back at the young people who taught me and I must acknowledge they were all natural born actors in love with expression. A few went onto acting. They would take the simplest implements and put on a show that even hearing people could appreciate. Basically, they acted.

The first half of this song is sung softly although the lyrics are facing hard facts. There is an uncomfortable honestly but not yet a full blown sadness. As the song progresses so does the strength of the voice. The drama builds and so the interpreter must leave room for that development. When they come on already totally sad there is no space for them to build and so there is no chance to match the best vocalizations. The essence of the song, the elements that make is so great, is forfeited in both interpretations. The audience is supposed to be so emotionally moved by that final "M-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-n-e" done twice (!) so tortuously, so emotionally painfully, that they jump up onto their feet and applaud riotously and spontaneously for having connected with some kind of similar loss. Listeners actually cry.

The vocal artists are all excellent, generally, while the two interpreters are not. Along with sign choices there is a lot of room for improved expression. Nobody likes a wearisome sad song from beginning to end with no emotional change. The singers express sadness sweetly then expand that tremendously to killer aching suicidal loss. Understanding loss and expressing it is one thing while ripping your heart out and showing your own bleeding heart pulsing blood to the world is another. That's what the singers do. That's what the signers do not do. And that's a shame because ASL is perfect for this sort of expression. All that is vocalized can be acted out using ASL as a base.

Having said all that, both signers do very well. But they are not such good actors as the vocal artists are. They do not have the same control. 

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