From Singing to Signing – a new journey…

My name is Vicki. I trained as a classical singer and worked as a freelance performer for around ten years. I had some amazing experiences and got to travel the world and meet lots of new people. It was a great time, but not the most stable of lifestyles. After my son was born in February 2011, I slowly began to realise that I couldn’t continue with the same lifestyle and career I’d previously enjoyed. Finding the time and money for singing lessons, coaching, practice, and auditions became increasingly difficult, and there seemed to be fewer job opportunities as opera companies struggled for funding. More to the point, my desire to pursue a musical career was simply waning as I realised my priorities in life were no longer in line with many of my musical colleagues.

In September 2011, after a less than enjoyable opera summer season, working hard for a modest fee and missing my son greatly, I sat down and began to think very seriously about a change of career. It was a scary decision in many ways; my early days in the singing profession had been a blur of travel, friends and fun, even if, latterly, I’d grown weary of it all. I tried to think of what I could do that I would find interesting and varied but which would still give me a chance to ‘perform’ and meet new people. I have always enjoyed learning languages and had been keen to learn BSL for many years, but my nomadic lifestyle meant it had been impossible to commit to regular study in one place. I realised that I could combine BSL with my previous training and career experience and train to be an interpreter specialising in theatre work.

Once I started researching what I would need to do to become a qualified interpreter, I realised that it was going to be a long (and expensive) road. Still, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m very stubborn, and once my mind is made up, very little will dissuade me.

I looked into BSL courses in my local area and was delighted to find that my local college in Windsor ran Introduction, Level 1 and Level 2 classes. I’d missed out on the Introduction class for that term, so I decided to try and learn some basics online and join a class in the Spring term. Self-motivation hasn’t always been my strong point, but I enjoyed what I was learning so much that I completed the online course quickly and was chomping at the bit to join the college course. I finished the 10-week Introduction course in March and didn’t want to wait until September for Level 1 and risk forgetting everything I’d learned, so I approached my tutor for private lessons. With her help and support through workshops, DVDs and books at home, I passed Level 1 at the end of the summer.

I began Level 2 in September 2012. I remember being really worried that I would struggle to keep up, not having done a ‘recognised’ Level 1 course. However, my fears proved unfounded as everyone on my course was really friendly and helpful. Some people worked with Deaf people and used BSL every day. Others, like me, relied on practising at home with DVDs, books and TV.

The thing that started to become apparent as the year went on was that it was much more difficult to come back to study as a slightly ‘mature’ student and one with a young family. I had to plan my classes in advance around childcare and my husband’s performing commitments. Finding time in the week for studying and having an hour or two of peace and quiet to watch a signed programme or DVD is much more tricky when a small child is clamouring for a biscuit or to watch Toy Story for the umpteenth time. I relied a lot on the seemingly endless goodwill of my husband, who rearranged teaching commitments so I could attend evening workshops, did 3-hour drives up to Yorkshire for me to learn signed songs, and took me to see theatre productions in BSL, even though he doesn’t sign himself.

I finished Level 2 the following summer and signed up to start Level 3 the week before I was due to have my second baby (did I mention that I was stubborn?!). I found a class that runs on Saturdays, which makes childcare much simpler, and I can have the whole day to immerse myself in learning.  I’m not sure how difficult things are going to be once the baby arrives, and I’m suffering from sleep-deprivation and baby brain, but I’m trying to be positive and get as much work done before the baby arrives as possible.

I’m looking forward to the challenges that the next year will bring. I’m arranging some volunteering with Deaf charities and many more BSL workshops, as well as trips to see signed performances, so I foresee that I will call on my babysitters regularly….