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!
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.
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 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.
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.