Signing away the blues
Deafnet helps to ensure that everyone can experience Blues Fest
Bonerama performs at the Western Maryland Blues Fest in 2011. The person on the right with headphones on is a member of Deafnet whose job it is to interpret the songs using American Sign Language. (File photo / May 23, 2012)
She’ll capture the emotions, the wrenching soulfulness, the rollicking rhythm and liquid notes that seem to melt into each other.
There will be songs echoing joy and pain, triumph and sorrow, with a message that is worn but deep.
Because that’s the blues.
But instead of her voice, the music will flow through Mease’s hands.
Since the Western Maryland Blues Fest first took up residence in Hagerstown 16 years ago, Mease has been a part of what she calls “the Blues Fest family.”
While performers energize the crowd with vocals and guitar riffs, Mease also is on stage, but playing a unique role. She is one of several individuals interpreting the music for those who cannot hear — using sign language to connect them to the blues experience.
“We are capturing the essence of the performer and the performance without being the show itself,” she noted. “It’s something we take very seriously.”
Mease will once again offer a bridge between music and the hearing impaired when Blues Fest opens Thursday, May 31. It continues through Sunday, June 3. She will be joined by other interpreters as part of a relationship between the City of Hagerstown, which hosts the event, and Deafnet, a local nonprofit agency that serves the deaf and hard of hearing in the Quad-State area.
The use of interpreters is being underwritten this year by Volvo, said Karen Giffin, the city’s manager of community affairs and a Blues Fest executive Committee member.
According to Deafnet staffer Miranda Ganley, there will be two interpreters on the main stage for the duration of the Blues Fest — five hours on Friday, nine hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday.
“We also will have interpreters in the children’s area,” she said.
Ganley said Deafnet has received a lot of positive feedback from both deaf and hearing individuals, who are pleased to see interpreters present at the event. As an active participant, Mease said she, too, has received feedback.
“People often tell us that the Western Maryland Blues Fest is the only festival that they have attended where interpreters are provided,” she said. “They also tell us that they enjoy watching us and regular attendees look forward to seeing us every year.”
A nationally certified, freelance interpreter and a founding member of Deafnet, Mease said she is a Hagerstown native who currently lives in Richmond Hill, Ga. But the idea of not returning to her hometown to work the Blues Fest never occurred to her.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” she said. Mease has been joined at almost every Blues Fest by fellow interpreter and friend Nancy Verdier of Hagerstown, who specializes in onstage musical interpreting. During planning sessions for the early Blues Fests,
Verdier said organizers “had a desire to make all of the event activities and shows accessible to all members of the community. It was and is a wonderful example of how festival planners and city government employees care about and respond to their fellow citizens.”
Verdier said she works at The Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick, Md., and does onstage interpreting for various musical artists.
“I’ve been a professional musician since 1966 and a church musician for most of my life,” she said.