In­ter­preters make it all res­onate

Los Angeles Times - - POP & HISS - By Randy Lewis randy.lewis@la­times.com Twit­ter: @RandyLewis2

Should all the fun of experiencing live con­certs and mu­sic fes­ti­vals such as Stage­coach and Coachella be re­served only for fans who can hear?

Tracy Halmgean says no, and that’s when she goes to work. For the last seven years she’s been co­or­di­nat­ing sign lan­guage in­ter­preters for both fes­ti­vals un­der con­tract with fes­ti­val pro­moter Gold­en­voice.

“The mu­sic is just one part of all that goes on at a fes­ti­val or a con­cert,” said Halmgean on Sun­day dur­ing a lull be­fore a cou­ple of the in­ter­preters she lined up for the Stage­coach fes­ti­val this past week­end — Sara Groves and Jimmy Granger — were go­ing to get busy sign­ing at the Mane stage for three of the big­gest shows of the day: Sara Evans, the Band Perry and head­liner Blake Shel­ton.

Peo­ple who are deaf or hard of hear­ing, she noted, also en­joy trav­el­ing, min­gling with oth­ers in the desert, avail­ing them­selves of food and mer­chan­dise booths and the so­cial net­work­ing as­pects of the live mu­sic ex­pe­ri­ence. The only el­e­ment they can’t ac­cess as eas­ily as any­one else is what’s be­ing played and sung from the var­i­ous stages.

It takes a sign lan­guage in­ter­preter with a spe­cial set of skills to put mu­sic across to those who can’t hear it. Un­like in­ter­pret­ing for stu­dents in a class­room, for pa­tients in their doc­tor’s of­fice or clients in a busi­ness meet­ing, work­ing at a mu­sic per­for­mance be­comes equal parts the tech­ni­cal job of get­ting words and phrases across and phys­i­cal per­for­mance.

Halmgean said in­ter­preters who are pas­sion­ate about mu­sic — as she is — bring that pas­sion to bear in their un­usual line of work.

“In­ter­preters who spe­cial­ize in the per­form­ing arts are rare,” she said. “But I’ve got a group of six or seven peo­ple I’ve used over the last three week­ends.”

Given that coun­try mu­sic brings chal­lenges with col­lo­quial and re­gional ref­er­ences to four-wheel­ing, swim­ming holes and other terms that don’t fall into Sign Lan­guage 101, Halmgean said, “Coachella and the hip-hop acts are the hard­est,” with their rapid-fire bursts of words and idio­syn­cratic word­play.

Con­se­quently, Halmgean said, “I’ve spent 20 hours work­ing on one song,” she said.

In­ter­preters typ­i­cally learn three to four times as many songs from each act they work with than the artist will per­form, so they won’t founder in case the mu­si­cian de­cides at the spur of the mo­ment to play some­thing that’s not on the set list the in­ter­preters are given — usu­ally only a day or some­times even a few hours be­fore the shows they work.

The Amer­i­cans With Dis­abil­i­ties Act re­quires that venues or pro­mot­ers pro­vide in­ter­preters for deaf con­cert-go­ers who re­quest them, but she said, “Gold­en­voice has been re­ally proac­tive about hav­ing in­ter­preters at th­ese fes­ti­vals” whether any deaf pa­trons have re­quested them.

On the up­side, of­ten a skilled in­ter­preter can de­liver a crowd-fa­vorite per­for­mance of his or her own. On Satur­day, Dierks Bent­ley spent a chunk of time per­form­ing along­side Granger on one num­ber, and on Fri­day “Tim McGraw went shoul­der to shoul­der with Sara,” Halmgean said.

Even so, she said, “We al­ways keep in mind who we’re here for. The per­form­ers don’t need us. The hear­ing fans don’t need us. Our job is to make the ex­pe­ri­ence ac­ces­si­ble to the deaf com­mu­nity so they can en­joy the show.”

Pho­to­graphs by Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

SIGN LAN­GUAGE in­ter­preter Sara Groves backs up Sara Evans’ set Sun­day at Stage­coach.

BLAKE SHEL­TON was among the fes­ti­val’s mu­si­cians whose songs got the sign lan­guage treat­ment.

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