ASL interpreter Rebecca Rick enhances concerts for deaf fans

Rick, the figure in black on the right, interprets as Chastity Brown performs.

Rick, the figure in black on the right, interprets as Chastity Brown performs.

At Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges's inauguration party on Saturday night, local acts ranging from Chastity Brown and her band to Desdamona and Carnage performed for a packed house, including Senator Al Franken and hundreds of Hodges's supporters.

But a lone, black-clad figure in the right corner of the stage silently stole the show.

See Also: Slideshow: Mayor Betsy Hodges's Inauguration Party

You may have seen someone like her before. Standing in front of Chris Martin at a Coldplay show in Austin, say, or next to Kendrick Lamar at Lollapalooza: An American Sign Language interpreter, not only signing, but gesturing and dancing along with the music.

Rebecca Rick, an ASL interpreter in private practice, got the call to interpret at the party just four days before the event. Rick has interpreted at the Grand Ole Opry, and for musicians like Ozzy Osbourne at the Target Center. Usually, she likes to review their setlists and start prepping well in advance.

For the inauguration party though, Rick was unable to get her hands on early setlists. Instead, she started listening to the evening's musicians on repeat, paying careful attention to things like how Chastity Brown says her vowels, and which themes pop up in Desdamona's lyrics.

"It's training your ear to hear that artist," Rick explains. "In the moment, if there's something I can't hear 100 percent, because I've trained my ears to hear and understand them I'll have a better chance."

The night of the party, Rick and a second interpreter decided to divide their work between the speeches and the music. Rick took the music.

ASL interpretation for a concert may seem counter-intuitive. After all, a song isn't just lyrics. But Rick prides herself on incorporating musical elements into her work. She might dance according to the tempo, or gesture to indicate a higher or lower range of notes.

"I try to keep the rhythm on my body, whether it's through signs or through my own body movements," Rick explains. "The goal is just to match the performer as well as possible."

Before the performances started, Rick chatted with the artists about their on-stage plans, and the tech crew set her up with an ear feed of just the vocals. Then, for five sets, she interpreted the music.

When one of Desdamona's guests, PaviElle French, used her hands to indicate her note range, Rick copied the movement. When Carnage started using his body to punctuate his beat-boxing, Rick echoed him.
Here's a video of Rick at work:

"It's just trusting yourself that you know what you're doing," Rick explains of keeping up with the rapid-fire pace of some songs.

Before the end of the night, Rick spotted a deaf woman engaged with the performances.

"I saw her enjoying the concert," Rick says. "That really touched me, that the entertainment and the music can cross those communication barriers. Had we not been there, that access would have been lost."

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