At Concerts, American Sign Language Interpreters Translate More Than Lyrics

By Avery Lill and Ryan Warner: For More Info, Go Here…

The lights come up. The first beats of the drum and the vibration of the bass reverberate through Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where great sandstone slabs jut into the sky, surrounding the audience, and the energy is electric. As the lead singer steps up to the microphone, at the corner of the stage an interpreter translates the lyrics into American Sign Language and uses her whole body to communicate the emotion and feel of the song.

“There are a lot of hearing people who seem to think that deaf and hard of hearing people can’t enjoy music,” said Rachel Berman, a concertgoer who is deaf. She has residual hearing and uses a hearing aid that allows her to hear some lower tones, but she said she struggles with the high notes and cannot make out words. She pointed out that other concert-goers may not hear a single note, but they can still feel the pounding rhythms.

Performance ASL interpreting requires requires a high level of preparation and creativity.

Ahead of a concert, Austin will research an artist’s top songs, and set lists from previous performances. She looks up the lyrics, and translates them into ASL. That’s a challenge because ASL is a distinct language with its own idioms, and its word order is different from English.

“Rap definitely is one of the most difficult genres, I would say, to interpret,” said Austin. “Because a lot of times, when they do improvise, it’s nonsensical improvisation. And so they’re just doing it because the words maybe rhyme with each other. Which in sign language, doesn’t always translate to something that makes sense to a deaf audience member.”

At the concert, interpreters are performing more than the lyrics. They’re communicating the musicality of the song with their bodies. Austin said that FLOW is often hired to interpret jam bands.

“So you can imagine, a lot of that is showing the guitar and showing the drums… hearing audience members can sit back to the jam and feel the different levels — if it’s just a soft jam, when it gets more intensified. So we have to show that through our bodies, through replicating the instruments with our hands. Also our facial expressions are a big part of it.”

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