NORMAL – Remington Collins’ renditions of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ have been acclaimed as much for what has been seen as what has been heard.
While singing the national anthem without accompaniment, Collins simultaneously transmitted the lyrics in American Sign Language on March 4 to open the afternoon and evening sessions of the Illinois High School women’s basketball tournament. Association at Redbird Arena.
It also earned him the appreciation of at least one hearing-impaired audience member – the most positive part of the performance.
“There was a man, his name was Rob, and he was there with his friend,” said Collins, who said they signed for him from across the arena, then approached to express their gratitude. “They were just shocked and it made them really happy. And that made me cry a little. It is an essential memory that I will cherish forever. It made me realize why I did it. It was really great.
Collins, a 15-year-old member of the Rock Falls High School sophomore class, got a chance to perform by sending in an audition video in December. But it wasn’t until she was selected that she decided she might want to take up sign language.
“I’m passionate about making events inclusive,” she said. “I would really like to help others when I can.”
Since third grade, Collins had learned to sign Pidgin Signed English—a conceptually accurate method. But American Sign Language is the standard way and has its own grammar, so she made it her job to learn it.
“I’ve watched many, many performances, I’ve seen professionals do it,” she said.
She is not fluent yet, but within days she has mastered the gestures necessary for the national anthem. Once she learned how to perform the music, she submitted a test version of her rehearsal to a Facebook group for the deaf community, seeking feedback and advice on accuracy.
“I wanted to sing well,” Collins said. “I wanted to respect the deaf and hard of hearing. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful and spoil it.
Susan Knoblauch is IHSA’s deputy executive director who oversees music. Knoblauch was on hand as Collins did his performance preparation. “I knew this one was going to be pretty special when I watched her warm up,” Knoblauch said in a Facebook post.
Collins wants to continue learning ASL. So far, she’s been largely self-taught, learning from a YouTube video channel. She said she would explore if she could take a class on it at Sauk Valley Community College.
It was an afternoon of firsts. Not only was this the first time Collins had sung ASL, it was also his first time performing the national anthem in a public venue as an a cappella singing soloist. (She has used PSE in performance before, when she played Wendy in a performance of “Peter Pan Jr.” at Woodlawn Arts Academy as an eighth grader.) She said she was incredibly nervous before singing at the afternoon session.
But she was not alone. The Rock Falls pep band – of which she is also a member as a clarinetist – were there to perform. She said her friend and trumpeter Dugan Schauff was also supportive.
“It was super awesome having them there,” Collins said. “They are like my family, they support me. … It was a warm and fun day overall.
Collins credits her vocal coach, Mardi Huffstutler of Woodlawn Arts Academy in Sterling, with her growth as a singer.
Patrick Anderson, a music teacher and head of Rock Falls, said a video of Collins singing the national anthem was catching everyone’s eye as early as Saturday afternoon. The one posted on the Rock Falls Music Department Facebook page has been viewed 11,000 times and the video’s IHSA message has been viewed 2,500 times.
“What’s most impressive is that it was something she wanted to do,” Anderson said. “Extremely proud of her performance, but even more impressed with what she shows about her character as a person.”
The cheering group had auditioned separately and were selected on their own merit.
Under Anderson’s leadership, the band played from their list of pop music favorites during breaks in the game action.
It was a busy weekend for the Rock Falls music schedule. On Saturday, the program was off to another IHSA event: the Solo and Group State Finals competition. Rock Falls was assigned to West Carroll High School in Savanna.
Rock Falls competes in Class A. According to preliminary results released Saturday by the IHSA, Rock Falls was in fifth place overall with 354 points. The group was fourth with 270 points, behind Chicago Heights Marian, Ottawa Township and Chicago High School for the Arts. On vocals, Rock Falls was 14th with 84 points.
As a soloist, Collins earned a Division I rating with a 35.0 rating, performing “Le Moulin”.