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Deaf Concertgoers Enjoy Music Through Hearts, Hands

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Thousands packed the Grandstand on the final night of the Minnesota State Fair to see Maroon 5 perform live. Sitting in the audience was a group having an entirely different listening experience.

Interpreters from the American Sign Language Interpreting Service have gone to concerts for years to sign lyrics to the hearing impaired.

Several deaf attendees at these concerts say that live concerts are the one time they really get to experience the music.

While the bass may not be heard by those who are hearing impaired, it’s certainly felt.

“I can feel it vibrating a lot,” concertgoer Paige Garrison said. “It scared me a little bit because I could feel the vibrations so much. So I’m enjoying it!”

Maroon 5′s performance was Garrison’s first live concert.

“I thought, ‘What is this song? Who is this?’ I didn’t know who it was, but I heard the beats on the radio and I had looked it up on the Internet and I found it! I’ve just become obsessed with Maroon 5 ever since,” Garrison said.

Tapping toes and fingers signing along with the songs give the sense that Garrison enjoyed the concert almost as much as those interpreting.

“Sometimes I can’t believe they pay me to do this. It’s wonderful,” said American Sign Language Interpreter Shelley Lehner.

Those who interpret the songs have unique stories to tell themselves.

“I was bartending and there was a deaf guy that came in all the time, and I thought, ‘I want to learn sign language,’” Lenhner said.

Her colleague, Katie Johnson, has a different story of where her passion for interpretation originated.

“In elementary school, I had a deaf friend. So, I began to learn sign language through friends,” Johnson said.

Perhaps the most compelling story comes from those who have no choice but to always have the music turned down.

“Hearing people don’t really pay attention to the words. They hear the music. They hear it over and over and over again. Where I think deaf people appreciate more a song — you know, we never get bored of it,” said concertgoer Jennifer Schaffler.

The interpreters have a choice when it comes to translating the lyrics. They can either interpret by telling their own version of the lyrics using American Sign Language phrases or they can use another technique referred to as “transliteration” where they use English word for word.

Deaf concertgoers say how they prefer to interpret a song depends on the song. Sometimes they want to be able to interpret for themselves what exactly the artist means. Other times, they appreciate the opportunity to gain insight by hearing someone else’s interpretation.

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