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AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE IS NOT SIGNED ENGLISH. ASL is a colorful language, it is visual poetry with layers upon layers of meaning.



Deaf & Hard of Hearing people go to shows for many reasons: the energy of the crowd, the visual aspects on stage and on the festival grounds, a band they grew up with before they lost their hearing, inclusion by their friends or loved ones who are going, their parents were musicians (90% of Deaf people have hearing parents) or maybe it’s just their favorite band. A band such as Metallica, for instance, has an energy that is accessible and powerful regardless of one’s level of hearing, therefore they have a huge Deaf following.



Music is about the feeling, not just the sound -- feelings derived from the music, rhythm, and beat, from the lyrics, stage and lights, and the energy of the audience and stage feeding into each other. It is a magical confluence of moments that everyone should be able to have access to.


Visual poetry is already created in each song, by the lyrics of the song with the rhythm of the instruments and the general feeling the music is trying to convey: Imagine the visual analog of angelic, slow humming or slow, shallow sounds designed to instill fear and anxiety as the tremor of the music rises. These things are able to be conveyed visually as well as auditorily.


My method for constructing meaningful signed parallels for musical concepts varies. I begin with the artist's website, not just for the official lyrics, but to familarize myself with the artist(s) and their general vision. I start an extensive online search by googling “song name+artist+meaning+interview”. Certain magazines discuss song meaning in some detail (Rolling Stone for instance),  I spend a great deal of time studying online articles, live shows, and videotaped interviews that are available online or in print.  The fans and Fanzines can be a great resource as well.


When it is clear or available, I sign the artist’s meaning as stated from the artist’s mouth. It is tough to strike a balance between form and structure: to show the meaning of the song in ASL, yet make sure that the song will still be recognizable to the Deaf & Hard of Hearing fans. I would hate for someone to have watched their favorite song be interpreted in a way that seems conceptually accurate, yet the interpretation is so deep that the familiar English is entirely dropped and they’ve just missed their favorite song. As a music lover, that is "sacrilegious" and I avoid such interpretations in my own work.  


One way to approach this is through the chorus. The chorus is repetitive and easily recognizable so the interpretation can be adapted to be more abstract or more literal, depending on the source material.

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