*Note – There are more than 300 sign languages used throughout the world. Just like English, French, German, Spanish, etc. each is a separate language and therefore not universally understood. For this article, we will be speaking only about two of them: American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL).*
Picture this: you’re sat or stood in a packed venue, eagerly anticipating the arrival of your favorite musical artist. The lights go down and the crowd erupts. The sound of guitars, drums, and keys pulse through the air and the atmosphere feels electric. Suddenly, the sound ramps up to an unprecedented level and a voice starts to sing your favorite song. You close your eyes and just listen to everything happening around you. It can’t get much better than this, right? Now, think about all of this again, but this time, do it without any sound. About twenty percent of the world’s population is hearing-impaired in some way. Just because they may not be able to hear the same way someone else does, doesn’t mean they don’t like to take part in the concert experience. Enter the unsung heroes who bring magic and accessibility to shows across the world: sign language interpreters.
With synchronized movements and an energy that is matched by only the musical acts themselves, sign language interpreters provide a visual experience that not only conveys song lyrics, but also the emotion, the atmosphere, and the feeling of a show. Tasked with making the experience of the musical event an enjoyable one for those they are assisting, interpreters prepare weeks ahead of time to be sure they have all the information they need to keep up with artists who often do not follow any sort of rulebook. They memorize lyrics, review set lists, and watch footage of previous concerts to get an idea of the vibe. They use every part of their body to convey what is happening on stage. Whether it is a dramatic facial expression, simulating an instrument being played, communicating pitch and tempo changes, or being quick to follow along to ad-libbed sections of a song or chatty bits of a show, sign language interpreters truly create a beautiful and engaging experience. Often, they will have a conversation beforehand with those they’re interpreting for and ask what their expectations are, get an idea of the vibe of the individuals, always trying to create meaningful moments that will last a lifetime.
Becoming a sign language interpreter for shows like these takes a combination of formal education, hands-on work, a passion for music, and a desire to create an accessible experience for anyone who wants it. They learn how to put on a show within a show, trying to convey the feeling the artist wants to bring to the audience. Many interpreters specialize in music genres based on what they enjoy listening to and what they feel they are best at expressing. A rock lover may not feel comfortable interpreting for a rap show or a country music enthusiast may not feel they are at their best interpreting for a Grime artist. But, with such a variety of music available, there is something for everyone.
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in the United States in 1990, concert venues and/or production companies are required to provide accessibility through interpreters upon request. In the United Kingdom, disability rights are upheld by the Equity Act, most recently revamped in 2010. Many other countries in the world require similar, if not the same, accommodations. The system is still not perfect, but big strides are being taken to improve the process. The music industry is learning to embrace the importance of providing an inclusive concert experience for anyone who desires it. Major music festivals, such as Coachella in the United States and Glastonbury Festival in England, have started including dedicated sign language interpretation stages, ensuring that fans with hearing impairments can experience the full spectrum of performances. Just last month, fans at Harry’s shows in London took great pleasure in watching and interacting with the interpreters hired for the Wembley dates. We’re sure they provided an experience of a lifetime for those fans!
Sign language interpreters work hard to bridge the gap between sound and silence. They allow deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to immerse themselves in the experience of live shows by weaving together a unique blend of words and emotion that create unforgettable memories. The next time you go to a show, look around to see if you can find the interpreters. Take a moment to watch them work. You’ll understand very quickly the importance these angels make to the lives of those who need them. In a world where inclusivity is sometimes hard-won, sign language interpreters are making it a little easier for people to be themselves and live their lives to the fullest.
Sign Language and Larry
What kind of No Stunts article would this be if we didn’t at least mention Larry? You’re probably asking what sign language has to do with Louis and Harry. Well, did you know that in the One Direction days our boys learned some British Sign Language to communicate with their deaf and hard-of-hearing fans? It’s also well known they used it to converse with each other on stage, during interviews, and in other situations where they couldn’t verbalize their feelings.
The most prolific example of this is them using the “sweetheart” or “lover” sign.
Both Harry and Louis used this sign a lot back in the day. We’ve seen it in a myriad of situations. More often than not, one of them will make the singular thumbs-up sign and the other will return it (usually with a cheeky smile). It seems to be a way they check in with each other and/or offer a little support or a quick acknowledgement of feelings. They have also done the full fists together, thumbs up sign enough times for it to not be a cOincIdEnce.
And finally, the legendary “H, my boy.” During an interview, Louis makes what looks like three distinct signs while looking at Harry. The first is the sign for the letter H, the second is the sign for “my” and the third is a sign that can mean “boy.” Whether or not Louis is actually saying this or he’s just making a cool hand gesture, this moment lives inside our hearts.
If you want more examples of these two saps masterfully find ways to communicate in a time they were told they couldn’t, there are some really great masterposts on Tumblr and excellent videos on YouTube. Give them a look!