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To open up this post, we’ll start with Amber Galloway Gallego. She’s an San Antonio-based ASL interpreter who has worked with artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Destiny’s Child, Aerosmith, Snoop Dogg, and more. In a recent interview with Pricenomics, she explained how the process works:


How Musical Sign Language works:

  • One of the most important, and oft-overlooked of these, is “non-manual signs,” which includes using things like facial expressions, head tilting, shoulder raising, and mouthing to create meaning, connote a certain tone, and match the intonation of the speaker.
  • One challenge Gallego faces is translating metaphorical concepts from songs without compromising the whimsical nature of the lyrics. To navigate these intricacies, Gallego will often employ what she calls “indicating verbs:” she’ll mix two signs concurrently — one with her hands, and the other through her movement — to get an idea across.
  • Gallego rarely signs the exact words a performer is saying. Instead, she’ll relate the concepts behind the lyrics. This is because literal interpretations more often than not confuse people.
  • For all of her tireless work, Gallego is paid a comparatively small sum, usually, $500 or less for a whole concert. But as an interpreter, she says, “the payoff is emotional, not financial.”
  • “Sometimes, when I look out and see deaf people moving, and signing, and jamming out in the audience, I can’t hold back the tears.” she says. “There’s a raw understanding of language and music that’s happening.”

How Does She Do It?

Typically, she’ll be hired to interpret for every artist requested at a given festival. She is rarely ever given a set list in advance, and must memorize every song by those artists — sometimes up to 150 — to ensure she’ll be prepared to sign anything.

The process starts two months before the show. First, she’ll research the artist and hunt down every set list he played over the past five years. She then scans Spotify and iTunes for his most downloaded songs (this gives her a rough idea of the tracks that will, with certainty, be on the playlist). Once she’s done this, she turns to YouTube to watch videos of the performer in action.

“I’m looking for his body movements, and the way he presents himself on stage,” she says, “because as an interpreter, I need to channel that through me.”

Then, the real work begins: she listens to each song, memorizes the lyrics, and makes a “storyboard,” in which she breaks the track down into themes, each with a specific message to convey.

The second person we’ll talk about is Nile DiMarco. He’s the winner of America’s Next Top Model, a graduate of Gallaudet University in Mathematics, and is proficient at lip-reading and non-verbal communication. He comes from a family of deaf people. His fraternal twin, and his other brother are both deaf. His parents and two generations of DiMarcos before him were all deaf. He was discovered completely by accident, and it wasn’t until ANTM that the producers found out he was deaf. He ended up having to teach the other contestants some basic ASL in order to communicate with them.


On ANTM, This Happened:

There was a contest in which Nile won best photo. He got to choose the prize, where he made all the contestants unable to speak for an hour, so he could teach them some ASL.


Things that occurred:

  1. Shouting at the deaf interpreter like she can’t hear.
  2. Shouting at Nile like he can’t hear.
  3. Taking Nile’s phone away out of his hands, which is a major form of communication for him. Especially because no one else is fluent in ASL.
  4. All the other people at the party talking about him as if he wasn’t there, or he couldn’t hear, even as they were sitting next to and on him.

Other than ANTM, he’s also a reccurring character on Switched at Birth, the only mainstream American TV show that has scenes entirely in ASL. He also highly advocates for Deaf actors to play deaf roles, especially due to a recent spate of films that overlooked deaf actors for hearing ones, and recent films that overlooked numerous disabled actors for those who are able-bodied.

Outside of that sphere he’s also collaborated with Gallaudet University to help create an ASL app. It comes with video tutorials too! So we’ll end this post with these two videos:

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