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December 4, 2006

Interpreter helps deaf connect with music

From: Patriot-News - Harrisburg,PA,USA - Dec 4, 2006

Of The Patriot-News

Elsa Baker doesn't hear like the bluegrass fans surrounding her last night at the Whitaker Center, but she does hear.

She hears with her eyes, watching every strum of the fiddle, and through the vibrations of the floor.

And to allow the Harrisburg resident to get the most from the music last night, there was also the graceful movements of an interpreter hired by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society for its concert.

"This is an opportunity for us to include members of the deaf community and also to help teach them something that they may not have been previously exposed to," said Jess Hayden, the society's executive director.

"I think this is an opportunity to make the deaf community feel welcome at our concerts," Hayden said. "I hope this is just the beginning of this kind of partnership."

Having an interpreter is critical for making deaf people feel welcome at a concert or any other performance, Hayden said. She said the society received an $1,800 grant from the Verizon Foundation to hire sign language interpreter Susan Leviton for the concert.

Leviton said it takes several months to prepare for a concert in order to get down the nuances and meanings of songs. Without that basic understanding, she wouldn't be able to properly convey the feelings behind the songs, she said.

"I use my body to allow a deaf person to look through me to the performer," she said. "An interpreter is not a separate show. It's just a conduit so that the deaf person has a connection to the performers."

While many hearing people wouldn't think so, Leviton and Hayden said music events offer enriching experiences for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Performance interpretation weaves together lyric imagery, emotion, and rhythm in a way that uniquely touches the minds and hearts of the audience, even those who can hear, Hayden said.

Baker said the concert, featuring Grammy winner Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum, was the first concert she's been to. She might not have gone if Leviton wasn't there to make her feel included at the event.

Baker, who has been deaf since birth, said she was discouraged to see few deaf and hard-of-hearing people at the concert. She said she hopes news of coming concerts with interpreters will spread among deaf people.

"I guess they just don't realize what it means to have an interpreter at a concert," she said.

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WHAT: The Susquehanna Folk Music Society will hold concerts with a sign-language translator.
WHEN: Pete and Lou Berryman on Feb. 17; multi- instrumentalist Jack Williams on May 20.
WHERE: Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front St., Susquehanna Twp.

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