The Norman Transcript


February 28, 2014

Interpreters make music for the deaf with their hands


AKRON, Ohio —

“You try to emulate what they’re playing,” said interpreter Linda Cottman, who explained capturing the flow of the instrumentalist’s arm movement also is important.

Each year, Jackson brings new interpreters who share her passion into the Gospel Meets Symphony fold. Brenda Wallace, who has signed for the concert for about 15 years, remembers being struck by the interpreters’ work at a Gospel Meets Symphony performance two decades ago.

“I noticed the interpreters and they were so dynamic, so beautiful and so inspiring,” she said. “We’re sharing with people who have unfortunately lost their hearing but they can still take part and enjoy the concert.”

Heather Perry, a professional interpreter with interpreting studies degrees from Tri-C and Sienna Heights in Michigan, began interpreting for her church but now works five days a week in the Medina, Ohio, school district. She and Natausha Kight, who also has an interpreting degree from Tri-C, talked about how different signs can have different shades of meaning with it comes to words in lyrics such as “honor” and “praise.”

“It gives you the ability to be creative because it’s not so structured, and there are many ways to express it,” Perry said.

“You try to draw it out just like it’s being sung,” Wallace said. “We do take dramatic liberty to make the signs pretty.”

ASL is more conceptual signing than the more literal English Sign Language, said Wallace. Several of the Gospel Meets Symphony interpreters are able to convert from one language to the other, depending on the song.

Signing etiquette is important too: Hands are at rest by putting the right fist in the open left palm. And those who are not signing must watch the person who is.

The group’s well-oiled interpreting machine all began with leader Jackson’s ASL ministry, which stems from her days working as a secretary at Goodwill Akron. Father John Wilson, chaplain for the Cleveland and Akron deaf community, visited Goodwill in the 1950s and signed to some of the 35 deaf people who worked there in the contract department.

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