INTERESTING BITS: At Concerts, American Sign Language Interpreters Translate More Than Lyrics
By Avery Lill and Ryan Warner, CPR | ASL interpretation at concerts is about more than words
“So to go to a concert with an interpreter provided, they give me the words, the accessibility,” Rachel Berman said. “That means that deaf and hard of hearing people can enjoy the music. It’s very visual. We can see it. Plus we’re provided the words through the interpreter. So overall, it’s just a different way of viewing and experiencing the music. But we still can enjoy it.” (CPR)
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.
“So to go to a concert with an interpreter provided, they give me the words, the accessibility,” said Berman. “That means that deaf and hard of hearing people can enjoy the music. It’s very visual. We can see it. Plus we’re provided the words through the interpreter. So overall, it’s just a different way of viewing and experiencing the music. But we still can enjoy it.”
Her favorite concert? Metallica, which came with a hair-raising performance, bright lights and intense drums.
Natalie Austin interpreted that show as she has many others, at Red Rocks and venues around the state. Two years ago, she co-founded FLOW, a sign language interpreting agency that specializes exclusively in performing arts.
“It’s a personal passion project is for me because I know how important the music and the arts is in my life that I want to do everything in my power to make it accessible to people who are deaf and hard of hearing,” said Austin.
Hearing loss is something Austin has grappled with herself. She was born with a condition that causes progressive hearing loss. When she was 13 years old, doctors recommended she learn ASL because she could lose the rest of her hearing rapidly. She studied Deaf Education, and spent years working in schools. That experience and her passion for the arts grew into FLOW, which interprets art events from jam bands to musical theater.
Performance ASL interpreting requires requires a high level of preparation and creativity.
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