I’m sure some of you have gone to a concert and seen a sign language interpreter transliterating the songs and probably thought to yourself, “Why are deaf people here? They can’t hear anything.”
And I’m sure even more of you didn’t know that there was such a thing at concerts, let alone important functions such as presidential debates or conferences. It is not only possible for the deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) to enjoy music, but it’s pretty much a given!
ASL interpreters are gaining in use at concerts and it’s more than just signing the words. To be effective, one has to learn the lyrics, follow the beat and not omit any words. It’s considered unethical to omit words, even the obscene ones, from a speech or song. If hearing people are getting the full song, why can’t we?
Like a song, no two interpreters sign the same song the same way. It’s all about transliteration.
As you’ll see in this video, an accomplished ASL concert interpreter details what the process is like.
We feel the vibrations, the percussion, the bass. We can follow along with the written lyrics. We can dance to the beat. In many ways, we aren’t so different in our love of music and song as any hearing person.
A few years ago, my late friend, Michelle, invited me to Ebenezer Baptist Church to see Sweet Honey in the ROCK perform. One of their members is a licensed sign language interpreter. Seeing and hearing the songs was enough to make goosebumps rise on my arms. It was electric, eclectic and awe inspiring! It is a memory I will always cherish, and my first introduction to ASL concert interpreting.
In the same vein, deaf people love to sing! We sign with our entire bodies, not just our hands. We move with the beat and percussion. We let our emotions flow through us. You can see the emotions in our movements. We make the songs our own. Like the concert sign language interpreters.
You’ll find a small selection of songs in ASL below, most of which should be familiar to you.
Enjoy! And remember, “In life, risk is part of the equation… ”
This last one, the English lyrics are at the top and the ASL Transliterated Lyrics (what she’s actually signing) are at the bottom