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April 30, 2004

Rock the silence

From: Sebastian Sun - Sebastian,FL,USA - Apr 30, 2004

Women touch lives through sign language, music

By Terry Galvin staff writer
April 30, 2004

PALM BAY — Rock The Silence certainly isn't a misnomer, although the primary audience never hears a word of the program that is billed as a Christian musical.

Donna Hall and Lisa Ottalagano, two Palm Bay women, came together less than four years ago because of their mutual love of sign language and devotion to God to form Rock The Silence, a Christian musical for the deaf. Their motto is quite simple: Touching lives through sign language and music.

And they do touch lives, as they did one recent Saturday afternoon before an audience of more than 100 women at the Fellowship Hall at St. Joseph Catholic Church here. The audience, to say the least, was spellbound by the 90-minute performance, a beautifully artistic rendition of Christian recordings of songs mimed and presented through sign language.

Ottalagano, who opened the program as the mistress of ceremonies while Hall signed what she was saying, joked, "We always say we have beautiful voices...for sign language."

But the program was anything but a joke. On the contrary, it was a truly enlightening and artistic performance, whether you were hearing impaired or could hear a pin drop 20 feet away.

Explained Hall, 52, who gave up her job of six years as an interpreter for the deaf in the Palm Bay school system to form Rock The Silence, "Sign language is a beautiful language and because it is so different it has a means of getting people places where they've never been. Most people see it as very meaningful and pretty, but through it we get credibility for our programs and our message we deliver in these programs."

Their message is equally simple: Short testimonies to God and Jesus Christ between such religious songs as "I Will Follow Him," "Amazing Grace," "How Great Thou Art," "The Old Rugged Cross" and many, many more.

Perhaps the highlight of this particular program was a solid rendition of "I Will Follow Him," which midway through the song turned into a rock version, very upbeat and extremely uplifting that wowed the audience, sort of a takeoff on the movie starring Whoopi Goldberg entitled "Sister Act."

"There are so many metaphors for what a song means," said Ottalagano. "We actually break it down and put it into sign language so the audience is getting an accurate picture of what the song is saying. We are signing conceptually accurate, although it might not be word for word.

"Take 'You'll Never Walk Alone,' for example. The audience is seeing a picture of what's happening. God is coming down and bringing you along with him. Donna portrays the song through sign language and you can actually see this happening. He's walking right beside you. They're actually seeing the action of someone walking right beside them and they can get the concept."

Their concept, actually, came about when Ottalagano was walking through the Melbourne Square Mall at Christmastime more than three years ago. The two had met at various sign language workshops in the Palm Bay area during the past 10 years. Ottalagano, 41 and recently engaged to Mike Empoliti, an X-ray technician at Sebastian River Medical Center, began to think while strolling through the mall listening to Christmas carols about what the deaf and hearing impaired were missing, all the beautiful sounds of the Christmas season.

"That's where it all started," Hall said, "right there in the Melbourne Square Mall. We knew some people in our society weren't able to hear the music and we wanted to do something about it. We started doing it in the mall and the deaf actually came and they were so excited, it just took off from there. Now, every Christmas season, we do a program there for the homeless people and that has grown to 75 to 100 people the past year."

Thus, the two formed Rock The Silence after interpreting for other Christian groups and deciding to form their own ministry.

Hall, who is married to Tom Hall, owner-operator of a landscaping and lawn service in Palm Bay, gave up her job as an interpreter for the deaf, gave up all of her benefits, and Ottalagano gave up her very profitable cleaning service to, as they both say, serve the Lord. They have an office at Peace Lutheran Church on Port Malabar Boulevard here.

"We really and truly enjoy what we do," Hall said. "We eat, live and breathe it with whatever we do. It never gets stale to us. We have different interests, but we both have Christ in our hearts and that is what pulled us together. We're not asking for anything. The Lord provides."

And they do not ask for anything for their performances, either. But they do accept love offerings to help offset their operating expenses, which will include their third trip up the East Coast to perform in South Carolina and on into Ohio in May.

"We try to bring deaf awareness to everyone through this ministry as well," Hall said. "We do teach sign language classes, too, and we do charge for that, $60 for six weeks which includes the book. Teachers who take these classes get recertification points as well if they take our classes. We teach songs as well in these classes. Everyone who takes these classes certainly seems to enjoy them and they do learn a lot from them."

And everyone and anyone can learn, and appreciate, much more from Rock The Silence's performance.


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