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Clearwater kindergartener's sign language concert goes viral

Published Dec. 13, 2013

Lori Koch and her husband, Tom, took their seats in the front row for their kindergartener's Christmas concert. The Kochs, both deaf, positioned themselves near an interpreter.

They were expecting their daughter to sing her heart out, along with the other 5-year-olds.

They weren't expecting a YouTube sensation.

Claire isn't deaf, but the Kochs' blond daughter looked straight at her parents and signed every word of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer so they could understand.

"I didn't ask her, it wasn't expected, it was just a surprise," said Lori Koch, 38.

After the concert, the Kochs couldn't stop cheering.

And they had plenty of company. By Thursday, a video Koch posted to YouTube was bouncing across the Internet, from Buzzfeed to London's Daily Mail. Late Thursday it appeared likely to pass 1 million views on YouTube.

"I just was amazed," Lori said. "I couldn't believe the attention that it got."

In a week where many in the deaf community were horrified by a bogus interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, the Kochs hope their daughter's viral video performance will present a more uplifting image.

A kindergartener at Plumb Elementary in Clearwater, Claire has been using American Sign Language since she was about 6 months old. Her first signed word was "milk."

English came later. But as a child of a deaf adult, Claire and her younger sister, 2-year-old Charlotte, have been steeped in the culture of American Sign Language.

Tom, 41, owns Aqua Hands, a company that teaches the hearing-impaired how to scuba dive. Lori works for Clearwater-based company that helps deaf people communicate by phone.

This Christmas, Claire wanted her parents to know what she was singing.

"It made me happy,'' she said, "because Mom and Dad can understand the music now.''

Claire Wiseman can be reached at cwiseman@tampabay.com or (727)-893-8804. Follow her on Twitter @clairelwiseman.

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