Accessibility for

Interpreting Music & Lyrics

Image: Blurry person dancing on a stage.


Music is so much more than lyrics - to interpret beat, rhythm, and mood with sign language is not only a skill but also an art. In this section, we will learn about how a special branch of American Sign Language (ASL), specifically made for performance, helps audiences connect to music as a full body experience. ASL is used to interpret live music, performance, theatre, dance, and poetry on stage. We will also revisit artist Christine Sun Kim and learn about her recent artwork, Elevator Pitch, at Music Box Village in New Orleans.

Performance etiquette can be restrictive for people with a variety of access needs - especially people with sensory processing conditions. Relaxed performance is a way to challenge, address, and change these norms. It includes adjustments in the intensity of light and sound, flexible movement (audience members are welcome to move around during the performance), as well as the ability for audiences to make noise during the performance.

Relaxed performance and accessible music performance make theatre, comedy, symphony, and music events more inclusive to a variety of audiences. You will be introduced to these practices in the U.K., Europe, and in Canada.

Developing an Understanding

Amber Galloway Gallego on stage

There are a number of American Sign Language interpreters who specialize in the performing arts including Amber Galloway Gallego, who has been interpreting music and lyrics for d/Deaf people at live music festivals and concerts for over 20 years. Gallego came to international attention in 2013 when a video of her interpreting for rapper Kendrick Lamar opens in new window at Lollapalooza went viral. She has interpreted performances for more than 400 musicians to date, including Lady Gaga, Billy Joel, Arcade Fire, and Cindy Lauper and launched her own company, Amber G Productions opens in new window, which employs interpreters trained in her technique to provide ASL interpretation services, as well as conduct workshops and motivational speaking events for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences worldwide (Jarema, 2019).

In a CBC Facebook event opens in new window, Gaitrie Persaud, d/Deaf Jay-Z music fan, describes what it's like to see a concert with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, and answers questions with Jim Hardman, the Director of Information Technology at the Canadian Hearing Society about making music more accessible for people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. With the help of the CBC, ASL interpretation was arranged for 10 d/Deaf Jay-Z concertgoers and this article opens in new window details the challenges to removing the barriers for d/Deaf music fans.