We had the pleasure of discussing live music and what the experience is like for Molly McDonald and her sister Monica Dalpes who are both Hard of Hearing.  One thing became immediately relevant – interpreters should be provided at every single musical event.  It would be like someone going to buy a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, but when it comes time to eat the food, there is no taste.  The color, the texture, and the feeling are all the same, but without the taste, how would one know what the food is all about?  Similarly, performance interpreters are the heartbeats at live shows for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community.  They so greatly impact the experience for one who is Deaf to the point that going to a show without an interpreter may not even be worth the price of admission.

We also got to try out the Subpac  – a vest originally designed for music producers to be able to more accurately estimate the output of bass in their music.  It doubles a great device for enhancing music, not only for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, but for everyone.  It was very noticeable at first just like subtitles in a movie, but after a few minutes, it seamlessly became a part of the song.  The Subpac adds great depth and more dimension to the music.  Additionally, the Musixmatch App enhanced the experience as well by showing all of the lyrics.

Note – Also be sure to check out our interview with local sign language interpreters FLOW. 

303 Magazine:  What factors go into your overall satisfaction at a live concert?

Molly McDonald:  Factors that go into overall satisfaction at a live concert are having a good interpreter and a good sight line to the interpreter and stage.  Being able to show up at a venue with friends and family and enjoy the experience without having to advocate for accessibility needs is a bonus (i.e., not having seats or interpreters moved at the last minute or interpreters not having sound and lighting access due to staff at the venue not being adequately informed of the interpreter request).

303:  What is your experience at a live show with a skilled performance ASL interpreter like?

MM:  Fortunately, we have had some great experiences with good performance interpreters for concerts.  These interpreters often know the music as they have prepared or studied the music prior to the show.  Many times the interpreters will obtain the set-list to help with preparation, but are able to respond well to unexpected changes and interactions between the artist and the audience.  Good performance interpreters will make the music and lyrics accessible and continue to perform the music even without lyrics present.  Additionally, good interpreters will work with the venue prior to the show to make sure they have the lighting and sound access available when they arrive.  However, much of the challenges occur as the venue is not adequately prepared to have interpreters (i.e., no placement, sound or lighting for interpreters considered prior to the show’s beginning).  A great experience is having an interpreter who is well prepared, but who is also truly enjoying the show and performance.  If they are having fun, it makes our experience that much better!

303:  What makes a good interpreter?

MM:  A good interpreter doesn’t just interpret the songs word for word, but often researches the meaning of the songs and lyrics.  They interpret with the same emotion and intent as the artist does.

Monica Dalpes:  It’s conveyed in their expression and knowledge of the music – they strive to share the lyrics and songs with those who can’t hear or have difficulty doing so.  Even if a set-list changes or the band introduces a new song, a good interpreter adapts and tries their best to express the message and feeling of the song.  They translate the lyrics and are ready to take the stage alongside the band.

303:  How does not having an interpreter at all affect your experience?

MM:  I started getting interpreters a few years ago when my husband wanted to go to a concert, but knew I wouldn’t enjoy it without having access to the lyrics.  My first concert with an interpreter was to see The Lumineers at Red Rocks.  This experience blew my mind, and I became hooked to live performances – I finally understood the draw to live performances!  The music, atmosphere and accessibility was great!  Now, not having an interpreter at a concert makes it a frustrating experience for me, as the lyrics are not accessible and I feel isolated, not being able to enjoy the experience similarly to the hearing fans.  I miss out on the interactions between the artists and the audience.  For example, in between songs at Adele, she would talk a lot with the audience and even brought audience members up on stage and interacted with them.  Without an interpreter, it’s difficult to understand exactly what’s happening.

303:  Are different genres of music better or worse for your enjoyment at a live show with an interpreter?

MM:  We love many genres of music.  Some shows that have a lot of visual effects are fun to see, especially as it adds to the experience.  However, some of the best shows have been the simple shows without lots of lights and visual effects such as the Colorado Symphony and Elephant Revival show.  The interpreters are able to integrate their presence to the ambience of the show and still make the lyrics accessible.  Some music is fun to enjoy as it has a good beat or rhythm to the music which I can feel, and others I am drawn to because of the lyrics and the creativity of the artist.  I look forward to watching how the interpreters interpret the lyrics in a performance.

MD:  Some genres of music such as jam bands have a much smaller amount of lyrics.  Other genres such as bluegrass and folk music have more – a huge draw to the music is the beauty of the message and the meaning behind the words.

303:  Do they accurately advertise if there will or will not be an interpreter when you purchase tickets?

MM:  I have not seen many venues advertise if there is an interpreter available.  Denver Center for Performing Arts advertise captioning or ASL interpreters for performances, including plays.  However, it is not common for concert venues to advertise that performances are accessible.  This would be a great thing if venues and promoters worked with interpreter agencies to secure interpreters for Open Access.  This is something that FLOW Performance Interpreting is working with venues to help make more performances accessible for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.  Without this, it requires that one buy tickets and request ASL interpretation early to be able to attend a show that is accessible for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing population.

MD:  Advertising for the interpreters is rarely, if ever done.  Every venue is different and it depends on if the promoter and band have awareness and encourage accessibility for those in the disabled community.  When my husband and I were at the Pearl Jam show at Wrigley Field, the interpreters explained that oftentimes they and their colleagues will be working every show, regardless of genre.  There is an acknowledgment that the ADA section is imperative and having interpreters at every concert is something truly valued and appreciated by the community.

303:  What is the process like for requesting an interpreter for a concert?

MM:  The process starts the same as a hearing patron in that we typically buy tickets as soon as they go on sale. Some venues such as Red Rocks have ADA seats reserved for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Others do not. It is best to contact the venue prior to tickets going on sale to ask which seats in the price category desired are best to buy for Deaf and Hard of Hearing patrons who will be requesting an ASL interpreter. We email the venue and request that a sign language interpreter be provided for the show and often times provide references of good performance interpreters we have worked with in the past. After emailing, we always request confirmation from the venue that an interpreter will be provided for the show.

303:  How does the Subpac work?

MM:  The SupPac connects to musical devices similarly to headphones. It is a wearable technology that pulses sound through out your body. If you use hearing assistive technology such as a hearing aid or cochlear implant, you can also connect the SubPac to the personal hearing device.

Photo by Kevin Glenn

303:  How does the Subpac help enhance your experience while listening to music?

MM:  The SubPac wearable device makes the music much more accessible as one can hear and feel the music at the same time, without having to significantly increase the volume of the music.

303:  What has been your favorite show you’ve seen thus far?

MM:  This is a hard question, as I have had many phenomenal experiences.  The Lumineers performance at Red Rocks is a good favorite, as it was my first experience and is what led me to seek more concert experiences.  Adele’s performance was incredible.  The interpreters did a great job of making her music accessible as well as her interactions with the audience.  

MD:  Elephant Revival with the Colorado Symphony is near the top of the list!  Natalie and Amber’s FLOW performance [greatly enhanced the experience.]  One of my favorite bands with amazing support from well-rehearsed and skilled interpreters made it one of my favorite concerts!