Interpreted shows coming to Saskatchewan thanks to renowned ASL artist

Interpreters from across Western Canada attended a workshop run by Amber Galloway Gallego, one of the most recognizable interpreters in the world. She's worked with the likes of Jay Z and now helped prepare local signers to enhance the musical experiences of the deaf and hard of hearing.

Amber Galloway Gallego shares her techniques with local signers

Amber Galloway Gallego, one of the most recognizable ASL interpreters in the world, taught a workshop in Regina for interpreters from across Western Canada. (Houston Chronicle/Marie D. De Jesus/The Associated Press)

The Saskatchewan Cultural Exchange is preparing to launch a new service for people who can often feel left out of concert performances.

A new crop of American Sign Language interpreters trained by the best in the business will be signing during performances after training with a pioneer in the field.

Amber Galloway Gallego is known for her unique interpretations at concerts, performances in and of themselves. She was in Regina this week to share research and her experience interpreting concerts for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

"We memorize the lyrics as much as possible and paint it into a visual story using sign language," Galloway Gallego said.

Galloway Gallego says that when a deaf person is telling a story or explaining something, they often act out the language.

For example, when they describe a loud bang, they might puff out their cheeks for emphasis.

"I took parts of what naturally occurred in deaf storytellers as well as other parts of ASL and I applied it to instruments."

Preparing future interpreters

Galloway Gallego's students came to Regina from all across Western Canada to learn from her. She's based in Houston, Texas, but is recognized in Canada and across the world.

She grew up with deaf people in her life and reconnected with some of her childhood friends in college. She learned American Sign Language while spending time with them after class. They urged her to become an interpreter.

"I'm a high visual learner so it just came natural to me," she said.

She tells her students that research is crucial. She tunes in to the musician's message and intent. She says she tries to "attack" a set list and prepare herself for each song.

Then comes the translation into ASL. She memorizes the lyrics and begins to paint a visual story through signs.

Galloway Gallego is unique in that she signs for instruments as well, a tool Western Canadian interpreters can adopt to enhance their concert performances.

An important part of the interpreter's performance is to be in tune with the vibrations deaf people are feeling.

Galloway Gallego taught the local interpreters the importance of that feeling, and how to enhance it by interpreting the instruments, rather than just the lyrics.

She says rap is the most challenging genre to sign: "You have to have a faster pace as well as understand the cultural and linguistic parts of the language."

Her interpretation of rap songs has taken her all the way to the top of the industry. She has signed for Jay Z — a "bucket list" performance.

More accessibility in Saskatchewan

When Galloway Gallego started interpreting, her childhood friends didn't feel part of the musical experience.

She says music is the only thing that doesn't discriminate.

The Saskatchewan interpreters are starting slowly and building their expertise, but soon many more people could be part of the concert experience.

with files from The Morning Edition