Category Archives: Deaf musicians

The SNL Sign Language Mime and More ASL in Music

SIA-SNL-sia-chandelier-ASL-sign-language-1Last weekend, singer/songwriter Sia was accompanied by a noteworthy performer as she sang her hit “Chandelier” on Saturday Night Live. With his face painted white like a mime, the visual performer used a mix of expressive American Sign Language and interpretive gestures to bring Sia’s words to life. On one hand, it is refreshing to see musical interpreting on a show that has such a wide audience. But on the other hand, perhaps there are more inclusionary and culturally competent ways to incorporate elements of Deaf culture into pop music.

asl-in-music-depp-portman-2There is a fine line between showcasing the beauty of ASL, and utilizing sign language as a gimmick. Hearing artists often toe this line without even considering the opportunities that exist for better collaboration. To give an example, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the use of ASL in Paul McCartney’s “My Valentine” video. The simplistic black and white video features Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman, neither of whom are native ASL users, each facing the camera and signing lyrics. Deaf individuals were quick to notice a number of errors in the actors’ signing– including both Portman and Depp appearing to interpret “tampon” instead of “appear.” (Whoops!)

asl-in-music-paul-mccartney-3How did the music video for a world renowned artist, starring famous actors, get released with these fairly simple mistakes? In the end, accuracy took a back seat to aesthetics because McCartney’s video was not really intended to provide deaf people with access to his music. The use of ASL was merely an “artistic” choice; it was used to entertain hearing audiences.

asl-in-music-signmarkIf musicians want to truly connect with the Deaf community, there are plenty of ways to incorporate in Deaf voices into their work. Instead of hiring actors who are not fluent in the language to do ASL interpretation, creative directors could seek out some of the many talented deaf performers who are working hard to make a name for themselves.

asl-in-music-5First off, there are some truly incredible Deaf music artists out there. If a hearing performer wants to challenge themselves to be more inclusive, working with a deaf musician could be an enlightening experience. SignMark is a deaf Finnish rapper who signs his lyrics and tours with a vocal interpreter. In 2009, he became the first deaf person to sign a recording contract with an international record company. Sean Forbes is a deaf hip hop artist from Detroit, and the co-founder of the Deaf Professional Artists Network (D-PAN) which was created to “make asl-in-music-robbie-wilde-6music more accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.” D-PAN produces ASL music videos for popular songs, and works to connect deaf artists from all walks of life. Hearing musicians could learn a thing or two from people like percussionist Evelyn Glennie, That Deaf DJ Robbie Wilde, and deaf Jazz singer Mandy Harvey– people who never let deafness hold them back from pursuing their passions.

asl-in-music-7Music artists can work with deaf dancers, as Jamie xx did for his music video “Sleep Sound”. This approach underscores the fact that music can be unifying, yet everyone enjoys it their own unique way. British singer Ed Sheeran asked CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) actor Matthew Morgan to sign the lyrics for his music video “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” in British Sign Language. For lyrical artists, making your music videos or live performances deaf friendly is a great way to expand your audience.

asl-in-music-siaSign language is a cornerstone of Deaf culture, and deaf individuals are very proud of their silent communication. It’s likely Sia was well-intentioned when she had her interpreter dress as a mime, but any message of deaf empowerment becomes a bit muddied when presented with this deaf/mute stereotype. Her performance on SNL was not the first time Sia incorporated sign language into her music. In 2008, her video for “Soon We’ll Be Found” featured Sia, as well as a group of performers, using ASL, shadow puppets, and interpretive dance. According to the artist, “I’ve always been obsessed with the beauty of sign language… The real beauty is the communication hidden within these perfect shapes.”

SIA-SNL-sia-chandelier-ASL-mime-9ASL is visually captivating, so it’s no wonder hearing artists are fascinated by this deeply expressive language. It is important, however, for these performers to remember that ASL is a legitimate language, complete with a distinct vocabulary and set of grammar rules. American Sign Language is not arbitrary hand waving– each gesture, facial expression, and classifier impacts the overall meaning. The best way to ensure a performance is culturally competent, respectful, and tactful is to consult with deaf parties directly about their language and expectations.

Musical interpreting is a nuanced process that requires an intimate knowledge of the language. Deaf people who use ASL rely on a full interpretation; this means if you are truly creating for deaf audiences, ASL is not optional based on the whim of the artistic director, and it can’t be “close enough.” Consulting deaf people on set, behind the scenes, and throughout the creative process helps amplify deaf voices in mainstream media. Collaborating with deaf performers and artists opens the door for education and cultural understanding.

2014: Deaf Culture Totally Had a Moment

This past year was a very visible one for Deaf Culture and American Sign Language. From viral videos to late night TV appearances, mainstream audiences just couldn’t get enough of Deaf superstars or their fascinating visual language. As we leave 2014, let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable Deaf pop culture moments of this year, and hope that 2015 brings even more awareness!

claire-koch-youtube20. KODA Signs Holiday Concert for Deaf Parents:

Okay, technically this happened in December 2013, but it’s so cute I couldn’t leave it out! Kindergartener Claire Koch decided to use ASL at her school holiday concert to make sure her Deaf family members could enjoy the performance, and it was adorable. So adorable, that the video her mother posted went viral with over 8 million views to date!

studiofeed-music-backpack-0219. New Technologies Present New Possibilities:

Each year, new technologies emerge which attempt to simplify and improve the lives of deaf individuals. A number of companies are working on different sign-to-speech translation solutions; while others are taking creative approaches to speech-to-text. One of my favorite ideas of 2014 is the StudioFeed music backpack, which turns music into a full body experience.

atlanta_pride_david_cowan18. Deaf Interpreter demonstrates what equal access really looks like at Atlanta PRIDE:

Deaf interpreter David Cowan is a known favorite among Deaf LBGT individuals for his expressive and appropriately flamboyant work each year at Atlanta PRIDE. Across the country, PRIDE festivals tout themselves as all-inclusive events. Hiring a Deaf Interpreter that deaf/HoH audiences adore is a beautiful example of equality.

santa-claus-speaking-in-asl17. People in Costumes Using ASL with Kids:

From mall Santas to baseball mascots— the people behind the characters have been doing their diversity homework! This year, there were a number of heartwarming stories and videos featuring deaf children who are overjoyed to discover that their favorite characters can communicate with them using ASL. Learning even a few simple phrases can help deaf kids feel included!

 

nick_news_with_linda_ellerbee-now-hear-this-0516. “Now Hear This” Premiers on Nickelodeon

It was pretty inspiring to see a children’s television network take a genuine interest in Deaf Culture. This Nick News special focused on the lives of several deaf young people across the country, and showcased how there are many different ways to be a deaf person in a hearing world.

jonathan-lamberton-asl-nyc-ebloa-press-conference-0615. Deaf Interpreter goes Viral After NYC Ebola Press Conference

As Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered critical information to the citizens of New York regarding the Ebola virus, Deaf Interpreter Jonathan Lamberton addressed the deaf population. Many hearing individuals were fascinated by Lamberton’s dramatic signing style, as it was the first time they had ever seen a Deaf Interpreter in action.

fargo-deaf-character-asl14. Popular TV Show “Fargo” Casts a Deaf Character who Uses ASL:

When creating characters for the FX series Fargo (based on the Coen brother’s film), the show’s creators decided to stray from the usual formula by writing a deaf character into the story. The character, played by actor Russell Harvard, is not included in the show to address deaf issues or explore Deaf culture; he is simply a normal character who happens to be deaf. Hopefully other programs will follow suit, as there are many talented deaf actors out there and all audiences deserve to see more diversity on screen!

derrick-coleman-deaf-athlete-pro-sports-0813. Deaf Athletes in Professional Sports:

Seattle Seahawks player Derrick Coleman gained superstar status not only for his impressive athleticism, but because he proved that deafness does not have to be a barrier in professional sports. Coaches and scouts have taken note, and are now offering more deaf athletes the opportunities they deserve.

robert-panara-deaf-pioneer12. Deaf Pioneers Leave Their Legacy:

Legendary Phyllis Frelich was the inspiration for, and the original star of, “Children of a Lesser God,” a revolutionary piece which introduced audiences to a complex, nuanced deaf character in a lead role. It won a Tony award for best play, and was later adapted into a film which won Marlee Matlin an Oscar. Frelich passed away this year, but her groundbreaking work has inspired and paved the way for generations of deaf performers to come.
In 2014, we also lost professor, writer, and poet Robert Panara. Panara helped translate classic works of literature into ASL, and was instrumental in the establishment of deaf studies higher education curriculum.

violations-of-deaf-citizens-rights11. Violations of Deaf Citizens Rights Gain Mainstream Attention:

The tragic and deplorable treatment of deaf/HoH individuals by the criminal justice system is finally being exposed, thanks to the information age. Stories about deaf people being beaten by cops, wrongfully convicted, and abused in jail were widely read and shared across the internet; leading to an increase in awareness and outrage. While this is not exactly a victory, and certainly not cause for celebration, it has provided visibility to a very real problem and strengthened advocacy efforts.

aclu-heard-know-your-rights-videos10. Marlee Matlin partners with ACLU and HEARD for #KnowYourRights videos:

To help deaf citizens better understand and protect their legal rights, award-winning Deaf actress Marlee Matlin teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union and Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf to create a series of videos. The videos represent a larger movement within the Deaf community for self-empowerment through education. The internet amplifies the power of minority voices, exposes injustice, and provides resources for assertive self advocacy!

MARK-VILLAVER-MOM-DANCE-BATTLE-deaf-129. Professional Dancer and His Deaf Mother Prove Music is for EVERYONE!

Mark Villaver, a hearing dancer, and his Deaf mother share their love of music and dancing in one of the most FUN videos of 2014! Some people mistakenly think deaf people can’t enjoy music. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

fcc-new-captioning-rules8. FCC Cracks Down on Captioning:

The internet has come to the forefront of the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, closed captioning was often neglected when providers made the technology leap; leaving deaf individuals without online access to programming. In 2014 deadlines were set which require providers to caption all shows and video clips, and guidelines were established to guarantee the quality of captions. Over the next few years, we will see all major video content providers moving toward accessibility. Additionally, airlines and other places of public accommodation are feeling increased pressure to provide equal access for deaf patrons.

deaf-med-student-wins-legal-battle-147. Deaf Med Student Wins Legal Battle

After a lengthy court battle, it was determined that devoted deaf med students have the same right to attend medical school as hearing students. We call this a 2014 victory. Hopefully this will lead to more hardworking deaf young people pursuing careers in the medical field.

the-tribe-deaf-movie-in-asl

6. “The Tribe” Indie Film About Deaf Students Wins Over Critics:

The film, which is all sign language without subtitles, was critically acclaimed at Cannes and has won a number of prestigious awards. The lack of captions serves to alienate hearing viewers– who are accustomed to the privilege of communication access– yet the film is engaging enough to keep all audiences along for the ride.

signs-deaf-restaurant-concept-toronto5. Signs Restaurant Opens in Toronto:

This fun concept for a restaurant creates a comfortable place for deaf diners; provides jobs for deaf food industry workers; and helps hearing people get a “taste” of what it’s like to be on the other side of the language barrier. The success of this endeavor may open the door for future deaf-focused businesses.

text-to-911-equal-access-deaf-hoh4. Text to 911 Rolls Out:

On August 8, 2014 the FCC adopted an order requiring wireless carriers and other text messaging providers to deliver emergency texts to 911 call centers. Equal access to emergency services was long overdue!

asl-rap-battle-jimmy-kimmel-live-173. ASL Rap Battle On Jimmy Kimmel Live:

This video instantly went viral because both deaf and hearing audiences love watching expressive ASL paired with hip hop beats. Sign language lends itself so well to the poetry and rhythm of raps. The two incredible interpreters skillfully turned spoken word into visual language, and Deaf performer Jo Rose Benfield wowed people with her enthusiastic interpretations.

deaf-super-heroes-a2. Deaf Superheroes Demonstrate the Power of Diversity:

Throughout pop culture history, superheroes have struggled against the odds to save the day. Until recently, however, superheroes have been notoriously privileged individuals— white and able-bodied— deaf-super-heroes-bwith very few deviations from the norm. In 2014, we saw diversity creeping into the fantasy world of good and evil when audiences were introduced to Deaf superheroes like Blue Ear and Superdeafy. These fictional heroes provide real life role models for Deaf children, demonstrating that deafness is only a minor obstacle to overcome on the way to greatness.

 

camp-mark-seven-happy1. Camp Mark Seven Goes Viral with “Happy” video:

If you haven’t seen this amazing upbeat video online, you must be living under a rock! Camp Mark Seven Deaf Film Camp  nearly broke the internet with their cheerful ASL rendition of Pharrell Williams smash hit “Happy.” Camp Mark Seven teaches young deaf filmmakers how to write, direct, and produce their own films; which helps integrate more deaf voices in pop culture and Hollywood. The video has millions of views online and made people all across America stop and smile. Haven’t seen it?Well what are you waiting for… Get Happy !

2014 was an impressive year for deafness in the media, and these are only a few of the many pop culture moments! Of course we still have a long way to go, but when Deaf Culture becomes more visible, Deaf issues start getting the attention they deserve. By amplifying the voices of the community, and highlighting the accomplishments of deaf individuals, we can help the world see that deafness is not a barrier– merely a small obstacle on the way to greatness!

Have a safe and happy New Year!

If you are interested in learning about Deaf culture and American Sign Language, I have extended a special deal on ASL training. From now until JANUARY 7, schedule 3 personal ASL lessons for only $150. Learn on your own time, at your own convenience. We can meet in person in NYC or via video chat. No matter what level your skills are, from beginner to fluency, we can work together to discover the beautiful silent world of ASL!

Inclusion For All

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-1New York City has so many incredible Summer street festivals, art exhibits, and cultural events to enjoy. Now, imagine how many shows you would go to if you had to contact the event organizers weeks in advance, explain that you need special accommodations, and possibly even explain how to secure those resources. This is the burden placed on deaf people every time they want to attend and event, and it is a far cry from equal access.

Deaf Access

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-2Organizer’s work long and hard to ensure their events are successful, but somewhere along the way they come to the conclusion that providing deaf access is a choice. We live in one of the most diverse countries on the planet, with laws that specifically protect the deaf and hard of hearing, but still excuses are made to exclude interpreters from event budgets. Without considering how challenging this makes it for deaf people to ever show up on a whim, event planners make the assumption that deaf attendees will always go through the steps to identify themselves and their needs.

The message being sent to deaf people is that they are not really invited.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-3Yes, deaf people still get out, they still attend events, and they still know how to have a good time. But, as an event planner, why make that difficult? It’s long past time we stop making excuses and remove the barriers to equal access. Providing an interpreter is so easy and it is an act that deaf people definitely notice.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-4The Americans with Disabilities Act requires auxiliary aids be available at any event that is open to the public, whether it is free or paid. Instead of assuming their event will draw a diverse audience, some event organizers still choose to make deaf attendees go through the steps of requesting accommodation. This is a subtle form of audism, the belief that those who can not hear are inferior, and it is in fact discrimination.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-6Why put months of effort into an event if you don’t want people to feel welcomed? Be proactive– plan for deaf people, and people of all abilities, so that everyone can participate equally. Not only because it’s the law, but because it’s the right thing to do. Hiring interpreters for all your events is not difficult, it is not an outrageous financial burden, and it is a responsible step in ensuring equal accessibility. There are even tax write offs and other forms of financial assistance available to assist organizations with ADA compliance.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-5Having interpreters at music venues, fairs, or outdoor events may seem like a small detail, but for those who rely on ASL, it can make a huge difference. The deaf community truly appreciates organizations which consistently provide access, and regularly patronize establishments which are known to be deaf friendly. Deafness knows no racial, gender, or religious boundaries; it is a beautiful mix of all cultures. I would love to live in a society that truly embraces diversity, instead of one that marginalizes it’s own citizens.

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If you are seeking an event interpreter in New York City, LC Interpreting Services is available. My goal is to make equal access as seamless as possible for both venues and deaf consumers. I am passionate about providing high quality services, and experienced in a wide variety of settings. Let’s work together this summer to remove communication obstacles and ensure the deaf community feels welcome in all spaces.

 

ASL Goes Viral

asl-interpreting-services-nyc-1Last week, Jimmy Kimmel hosted a “sign language rap battle” where two interpreters and deaf entertainer named Jo Rose Benfield each delivered their live interpretation of a Wiz Khalifa song. The video has nearly a million views on YouTube and was featured on many prominent sites across the web– further proving that pop culture is ready to embrace deaf performers.

How do deaf people enjoy music?

Vibrations, beats, lights, interpreted lyrics, and awesome dance moves! It is inspiring to see mainstream media outlets exploring all-access entertainment, even if it’s happening slowly. I was thrilled to see a deaf musical interpreter share her talents with a wider audience, and the “battle” format allowed people to see a diversity in signing style.

asl-interpreting-services-nyc-2Although Jimmy Kimmel did not inform audiences that one of the performers was deaf (he referred to her as a certified interpreter), I think it is still important to view this experience in a positive light. Everyone in the video was energetic and having fun. The interpreters were completely professional and Jo Rose is an instant superstar. Both deaf and hearing audiences were captivated by the beautiful, rhythmic ASL interpretations, and the popularity of the clip has fueled the ongoing national conversation about deaf issues.

asl-interpreting-services-nyc-3In similar music news, artist Jamie xx just released a video for his song “Sleep Sound” that stars all deaf dancers. Although it did not feature any sign language, the video beautifully captures the appreciation deaf people can have for music. The diverse cast of dancers are smiling, twirling, and moving their bodies to the vibrations of the song, which has no lyrics.

One thing I hope artists take away from this is that they have deaf fans. If more musicians made their performances fully accessible, I believe they’d be surprised how many deaf/ HoH individuals relate to their music, come out to shows, and purchase band merchandise.

asl-interpreting-services-nyc-4Yes, venues are responsible for providing event interpreters upon request, but imagine how many deaf fans consider this a barrier. There is no deciding to see a concert last minute, interpreters need to be booked in advance. Additionally, not all interpreters are of the same caliber as those shown on Jimmy Kimmel Live, so there’s no promise that the deaf audience will receive a high quality performance. If musicians specifically incorporated interpreters into their act they would demonstrate a true appreciation for deaf fans by guaranteeing a performance up to the artists’ standard. This is what equality looks like.

asl-interpreting-services-nyc-5Media exposure can be a powerful catalyst for change. As pop culture explores the deaf experience, I hope to see deaf fans welcomed into the musical space. It breaks my heart when I think about deaf children being sent the message that music and dancing are not for them. Nobody should feel excluded. Music is for everyone!

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires arenas to provide deaf patrons with an interpreter so that they may fully experience the event. LCIS is thrilled to offer musical and performance interpreting services. If you have an upcoming event and would like to request an interpreter, please do not hesitate to contact me!

Music Without Sound

deaf-people-in-music

On December 28, Madison Square Garden was a sea of colorful tie-dye, flashing LED lights, and smiling faces. The crowd energy in the sold out venue reached a frenzy when the house lights went down, and rock band Phish took the stage. As Phish pulsated the building with their signature jams, their renowned lighting director illuminated the arena perfectly in sync with the music. The audience swayed, spun, and reacted to the antics on stage– including a profoundly Deaf fan who I had the privilege of interpreting for.

Music is for everyone!

deaf-people-in-music-2

One of the most common misconceptions about deafness is that Deaf people can’t enjoy music. This is absolutely not true. Music is for everyone! Music embodies joy, pain, love, or heartbreak. Music comes from within the heart of the artist, and resonates with the souls of the audience. Each of us may have a different connection to a song, yet we can still enjoy it together. Deaf people are able to appreciate music because it’s not really about hearing; it is about sharing an experience.

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At a concert, Deaf fans use their other heightened senses to enjoy the crowd, the lights, the energy, the visual performance, and bass vibrations. When provided an interpreter, Deaf audience members can also be involved in the lyrical aspects of the concert. Interpreting at Phish was one of the most fun moments of my career; sharing the excitement of the performance with another fan felt so natural. Over the past few years, musical interpreting has gained quite a bit of attention. Barbie Parker has become well known for her emotionally-charged work at Lollapalooza, and other interpreters have been praised for their interesting interpretations of rap performances. Finally, music festivals like Bonnaroo, venues like Madison Square Garden, and performers like Bruce Springsteen have come to recognize that quality interpreters make or break a Deaf concert goers’ experience.

deaf-people-in-music-4Deaf people can also be incredible musicians! Sean Forbes, co-founder of the Deaf Professional Arts Network (D-PAN), is a well-known deaf hip-hop artist who both raps and signs his lyrics. Forbes brings a vibrating dance floor to each show so fans can actually feel the music, colorful lights to set the mood, and his lyrics are projected onto screens for a truly all-inclusive performance. Another performer paving the way is DJ Robbie Wilde, AKA “That Deaf DJ.” With the help of a computer software which differentiates waveforms, Wilde produces music using his vision and the vibrations of the bass. Someone at Hewlett-Packard even took note of Wilde’s impressive skills, and they featured him in a commercial for one of their products! Deaf rap artist Signmark takes a slightly different approach to music by expressively signing his entire performance while a vocal interpreter raps the lyrics. The vocalist is actually part of the “band,” but it is Signmark who commands the show, signing the words to each song in his own emotional style. And these are only a few of the many amazing Deaf musicians who have adapted music to fit their lives.

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It is believed in Eastern religion that Om– the simple yet deeply primal chant you may be familiar with from yoga– allows the body to come into connection with the vibration of life on this planet. The widespread use of this mantra makes a powerful statement about the belief that physical vibrations connect us. Music is a part of social bonding; allowing us to share something familiar, yet deeply personal. I find it tragic that deaf people should ever feel excluded from such an integral part of the human experience. No deaf individual should think that music is not for them just because they can’t hear. I’ll say it again: Music is for EVERYONE!

If you are deaf or HoH and would like attend a concert, simply notify the venue in advance to receive accommodation. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires arenas to provide deaf patrons with an interpreter so that they may fully experience the event.

If you are in the greater NYC area and would like to request my services for an event, please do not hesitate to contact me for more information!