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Music interpreted into sign language can be a beautiful and a meaningful experience for Deaf people. Many times I have seen Deaf people come to tears or be overcome with joy while viewing signed music. Many interpreters fear signing church music, which is filled with poetic wording, figurative language, and hidden references. Take it one step at a time and simplify church music interpreting.

Plan Ahead – Ask the music leader to give you a list of songs several days ahead of time. The choir practices, the pianist practices, and the interpreter must practice.

Understand the Song
– Consider the overall song, each verse, and the contemporary and Bible references. You only really understand what you can simply explain. Write or voice the meaning clearly in simple words.

Picture the Song – Plan where each part of the song should be signed. Use the space around you – up, down, left, right, front, back. Which way must you turn or sign to make the meaning clear? Keep things in the places you put them – Heaven, cross, world, sin, God, people, etc.

Rephrase the Song – Change the sign/word order so the topic comes first and the action is clear. Proper locations and placement need to be established before showing the action. Simplify complex wording and references.
Ask for Help – Another interpreter, the music leader, or the pastor can help clarify difficult parts of songs. If “O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling…” is unclear, be bold. Ask. Have someone to mentor you and suggest ways to improve.

Share the Process – Help the music leader understand the work process you use to consider, rephrase, interpret and practice signing music. Many people think interpreting is easy, because it looks easy. But interpreting takes a lot of practice. The more you interpret, the better you become.

More about interpreting music next time… JB

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