Sunday, November 7, 2010

Spirited Interpreting

I already shared this on Facebook, but I wanted to post it here, too. This is an American Sign Language interpreter--I assume a professional; she's definitely experienced--performing Michael Franti's "The Sound of Sunshine."

I used verb "performing" on purpose. Most of the time, interpreters don't perform; their role is to communicate what the speaker is saying. (At least that's what I learned many moons ago.) However, in this case, I think "perform" is accurate. It's what Michael Franti does when he plays this song. It's also what she does--very well--because she has prepared this interpretation and likely performs it much in this same way every time she does it.



Even if you don't know ASL, you can probably guess that a large part of her interpretation has to do with the heartbeat. That's what she's communicating with her hands pulsing open and closed on her chest.

She uses this metaphor because, of course, Deaf people experience the "sound" of sunshine differently. The "sound" communicates itself in their heartbeat, in the vibrations they feel from music, in whatever they do hear with any residual hearing they may have. Deaf people, like hearing people, also appreciate the feel of the sun on their faces, which this interpreter also uses.

Michael Franti says nothing about heartbeats. But that's what he means: the vitality that sunshine brings after a storm, whether that storm is rain or poverty or a life without love and fun. By using the heartbeat metaphor, the interpreter captures the spirit of the song--not the literal meaning of each word, but the larger meaning of the message.

It's good stuff for a creative life. For one thing, I have learned more about the song by seeing the interpretation--the interpretation enriched my understanding of the original. I don't know enough of another written language to experience a written work in two languages, but I imagine the experience would be similar.

And of course, communicating an experience or feeling is often what drives writers to their keyboards in the first place. This interpretation reminded me to not be too wedded to "what really happened" but instead to look for the best way to communicate the larger meaning.

And to celebrate the sunshine, whether it's in rays on my face, in the sounds that reach my ears, or in the beating of my heart.