Amber Galloway Gallego, the pink-haired YouTube sensation who brought American Sign Language music interpretation into the mainstream, presented a free workshop April 19 at Niagara University.
More than 200 people attended the public event, which took place in the Dining Commons and was sponsored by the university’s ASL and Deaf studies program and ASL club.
One of the attendees was Rachel Bailey, an NU senior who specializes in ASL.
“Amber did her presentation in American Sign Language and then two interpreters voiced what she was signing for those in the crowd who could not sign,” Bailey said. “She presented about her life, her journey into music interpretation and the process she uses when she interprets songs.”
Bailey added that students learned how to properly interact with others who may not have the same tools for communicating. She believed that everyone took something away from the special workshop, which focused on the need to provide equal communication access in all venues, with special attention to the music scene.
“The crowd was able to learn about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ parts of music interpreting,” Bailey said.
Gallego has interpreted hundreds of concerts, working with artists that include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith and Snoop Dogg. She appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! after a handheld video of her interpreting a performance by Kendrick Lamar at Lollapalooza 2013 became a viral sensation on YouTube.
During the NU event, Gallego explained to the audience the importance of understanding the artist’s intention and message for each song. This means that the interpreter needs to know what the client wants, she said, whether it’s a strict ASL interpretation of the music, a mixture of ASL and English, or a straight English interpretation. There is no “one way” or “right way” to experience music.
“It is important to understand we all have different preferences and needs to make everything as accessible as possible,” Gallego noted.
In addition to the Niagara students at the event, there were also staff members from Deaf Access Services and St. Mary’s School for the Deaf, as well as students and professors from other Buffalo-area institutions. Others came from as far away as Rochester and the Finger Lakes.
Following the workshop, Bailey talked about how grateful she was to Niagara University for holding the event and how it reflected the university’s Catholic and Vincentian ideals.
“Being a Vincentian school, I think her workshop fit right in with the mission,” Bailey said. “The Deaf and hard of hearing are typically people who are marginalized in society, but especially in music. Many people think this population cannot enjoy music but they can – they just do it in a different way.”
“If interpreters do not do their jobs, they are ‘stealing the opportunity’ from the Deaf person,” Gallego added. “They are not providing equal access to the Deaf people.”
Unlike many institutions, Niagara University offers a full complement of courses in American Sign Language and Deaf studies. The program focuses on the development of conversational sign skills, although students may move forward into ASL interpreting programs, Deaf education programs and more.
The appearance by Gallego was the latest in a dynamic series of ASL-related events at NU. In March, NU Theatre hosted members of the local Deaf community, including several students from St. Mary’s School for the Deaf, for its production of Mother Hicks. Mother Hicks featured Deaf actor Sam Hemphill alongside a cast of signing artists.
Deaf Access Services, which was the advertising partner for the event with Gallego, has employed interns from Niagara’s program, as has WNY Independent Living, Mount View Assisted Living and St. Mary’s School for the Deaf.
“At Niagara University, we focus our Vincentian mission on uniquely building the language to connect us with – and help – people,” said Nanette L. Harmon, a faculty fellow at NU and coordinator of its ASL and Deaf studies program.
Article by Shelby Ehrenreich, a senior studying theatre performance, with minors in communication studies and dance.