ASL at the Seattle Men’s Chorus Christmas show

Last night Chris and I attended Cool Yule, the Seattle Men’s Chorus Christmas production. Before the show started Chris and I were talking about our favorite and least favorite Christmas songs. Turns out his least-favorite Christmas song is Silent Night. I don’t have any particular dislike of the song, but from an ASL perspective it’s pretty darn boring.

All shows are ASL interpreted and what I think is a first, the interpreter even gets billing and a blurb in the program (which actually is a bit unfortunate as he may be a great interpreter, but a terrible writer). Overall I was really impressed with the interpreting, expressive and fun to watch. As always, I would have done a few things differently but that’s pretty much par for the course with any interpreter watching another.

During the second half of Cool Yule, the Chorus performed Silent Night with an oboe. Beautiful but slow. Moreover slow, repetitive songs are really quite boring in ASL and this one is no different. Even worse, the interpreter had really simplified a lot of the signs making it even more boring to watch. And then it all became clear. For after the oboe accompaniment, the Chorus stopped singing and started signing with the interpreter! It was probably the most beautiful rendition with the only sounds in the entire auditorium was the quiet whisper of coat sleeves rubbing together as the Chorus signed. The interpretation wasn’t simplified by lack of imagination, but rather by necessity: the need to teach all the Chorus members the signs and that mass interpreting looks better with simpler signs.

The show was great, at times a smidge too campy for my tastes, but overall very fun.

Update: My good friend had asked why hearing-impaired people would go to a concert beyond supporting a friend or loved one. That’s a good question. IMHO, there are a couple of good reasons: 1) hard-of-hearing people may still have limited hearing and be able to make out the music, but not the words, and hence would be watching an interpreter 2) even completely deaf people enjoy the visual production and can feel the music in the lower range.

Barenaked Ladies – an impossible interpreting challenge

During my cardio workouts I listen to a custom playlist of fast(ish) songs to keep me going. The list has songs from Pink, Maroon 5, Lifehouse, Matchbox 20, Jimmy Eat World, 3 Doors Down, and Barenaked Ladies along with a few others. I’ve heard all the songs enough times that I’ve pretty much figured out how I’d go about interpreting them into ASL should the need ever arise.

[scene location: SxSW]
Panicked Cop: Oh my God, is there an ASL interpreter in the house?
Me: I’m an ASL interpreter.
Panicked Cop: You have to help us, we have an emergency!
Me: What’s wrong, is a Deaf person hurt?
Panicked Cop: No, much worse! Maroon 5 is about to perform and we don’t have anyone to interpret for them!
Me: Never fear – I’ve been training for this moment for months!

The one major exception is several songs by Barenaked Ladies. Do you have any idea what the lyrics to One Week actually means? Eg: “Hot like wasabe when I bust rhymes / Big like LeAnn Rimes / Because I’m all about value” Yeah, me neither.

Maybe that one is a little unfair. But it isn’t as if Some Fantastic is any better although I have a really great interpretation of “I can’t stand to wait in line long / So I built a new machine / It just measures up the distance / and then eliminates the folks between” that I’m just dying to share with someone who will appreciate it.

Alcohol is a better but still a bit challenging due to the personification and direct address of alcohol in addition to another person (“O Alcohol, I still drink to your health” is said to alcohol but “A Malibu and Coke for you” is obviously not). By no means is that unsurmountable but does take a careful reading of the lyrics to parse through it.

The take-away is that you shouldn’t come looking for me if BNL need an interpreter for their shows. Instead I’ll show up to sit directly in front of the interpreter to see what he/she does with some of that crazyness!

ASL music videos

Disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of Britney Spears — that job falls to my lovely husband. That in no way negates the awesomeness of the interpretation of the songs.

I came across these two videos today on YouTube of an ASL interpreter doing an amazing “music video” of two of Britney Spears’ songs Womanizer and Kill the Lights. I thought he did a really great job on both songs. I like some of his conceptual signs on Womanizer, signs that made me go “ohh, that’s a great way to interpret that”. He used a couple of signs that I’m not familiar with that I’ll be asking Tracy about on Saturday. I kept nodding when he interprets the chrous to Kill the Lights as I saw myself interpreting that very similarly.

Interpreting at Flatirons

This weekend I interpreted for Flatirons Community Church for the first time. Overall it went very well. A Flatirons’ service strongly resembles a service at Gateway: there are a handful of contemporary worship songs, announcements, the band plays a cover song, the sermon, and a final worship song or two. The order can change but the basic components are generally there.

The worship songs are fairly straightforward and you usually interpret them ‘frozen’ meaning almost word-for-word instead of conceptual. This is because the words are up on the screen and the Deaf are signing along with you. Everything else you can generally sign ASL which uses more conceptual signs.

The cover song can be literally anything. In Gateway I recall interpreting a Nirvana song for example. This past Sunday at Flatirons it was Dig by Incubus. Interpreting it was an interesting endeavor since it uses the word ‘dig’ in many different contexts: to pick on, to like someone, to move dirt. I try to honor the writer’s intent of such play on words with similar signs, hand shapes when doing signs, or movement between signs but in this case I had to toss it out altogether and go with just the concepts. I thought it turned out OK.

The announcements are usually a very straightforward interpreting exercise. This Sunday, however, they played a video of someone standing outside in the snow doing the announcements. He starts out “It’s really cold out here so this is going to be quick.” and then he starts speed-reading the announcements. Interpreting someone reading something can be challenging as people speak faster when they are reading something than if they are speaking normally. Interpreting someone speed reading something is oh-my-gosh impossible. I did manage to convey all of the announcements but for two of them I bailed and signed “see your program for more information”.

There are some distinct differences on how the Gateway production team interacted with their Deaf ministry folks (ie: me) compared to Flatirons, and I have to say that Flatirons has the upper hand. One important aspect is that I’m an interpreting peon and no longer a ministry leader — I like it better this way! Someone else (Tracy) told me when to show up and where to download the music and lyrics ahead of time. Another difference is that the Flatirons production crew sets up and breaks down our interpreting station (stool, music stand with music, light, and TV monitor!) whereas at Gateway we fended for ourselves. At Gateway I did have them trained to provide us with copies of the music there at the end, but everything else we had to set up ourselves — and often that involved finding a stand to use from the back. Flatirons does a full dress rehearsal prior to their first service. And I do mean full dress rehearsal — it includes all of the music, the announcements, even the sermon — everything but the prayers if I recall correctly. This was wonderful as you had a chance to sign the music and sermon and struggle through some of the hard concepts to convey before doing it live.

The downside is that you show up 1.5 hours before the first service starts. Add to that the 30 minutes it takes me to get to the church and the same amount of time back and you have a lot of time involved — about 3.5 to 4 hours. This is in sharp contrast to the 1.5 hours needed for interpreting at Gateway (during which I lived 5 minutes from the church). Another downside is that Benjamin is without a car during the time I’m away from the house on a Saturday evening (service is from 5-6pm Saturday). These aren’t going to dissuade me from volunteering but they will severely limit how much I’m able to volunteer my time. Luckily they have several volunteers and we should be able to space folks out accordingly.

The Deaf ministry folks are amazing. I really liked working with them and look forward to doing so again. They are warm, friendly people who I took a liking too immediately. They reminded me of my old Gateway interpreting posse (Terri, Cara, & Jan – I miss you!) although they could never replace them.

I’m looking forward to my next interpreting gig, whenever that time comes. All the interpreters are meeting Jan 11th to go over the plans for the year and I expect I’ll be able to volunteer for dates at that time.