The Norman Transcript

Religion

February 28, 2014

Interpreters make music for the deaf with their hands

AKRON, Ohio — American Sign Language interpreter Dorothy Jackson has known for nearly 60 years that God hears the voice of the deaf.

“God hears them. He hears their hands,” she said of the deaf community’s language.

“There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard,” she quoted from one of her favorite Bible verses, Psalm 19:3.

Jackson, 80, who has made sign language interpreting a ministry for nearly all of her adult life, was the sole ASL interpreter for the deaf at the first Gospel Meets Symphony concert, a performance of the Akron Symphony Orchestra, 20 years ago.

This year, the Akron, Ohio, native rehearsed 12 other volunteer interpreters to sign alongside the 200-voice Gospel Meets Symphony Choir and the Akron Symphony Orchestra for the 21st annual concert held Saturday Feb. 22 at E.J. Thomas Hall.

Jackson has been with Akron Meets Symphony from its beginning, when choir master Cleo Myricks and the late Maestro Alan Balter asked her to lend her interpreting skills to the event. In recent years, she’s been able sit back a bit and enjoy the fruits of her labor after training two decades of ASL volunteers for this uniquely Akron, thoroughly joyous event.

Jackson lets the interpreters decide which of the 13 songs they want to sign. The interpreters, who happen to be all women, most often work in pairs, especially when one interpreter needs to sign a choral part while the other signs a soloist’s vocals.

For these interpreters, it’s not about just the words. They work on facial expressions to go with the mood of each song.

“You have to put it in your face and your hands so they (the deaf) can feel what you’re saying,” Jackson explained.

The interpreters also sign purely instrumental songs for this concert, simulating the motions of playing a piano, violin, harp, drums or other instruments.

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