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Featured In Huck Magazine: The Sign Language Interpreter Changing the Way We Listen to Music

Amber has her open hand raised as she smiles towards the audience. Behind her are large columns of speakers and a festival stage.

Amber Galloway doesn’t just do sign language to music – she uses American Sign Language (ASL) and her body, face and vibes to channel the live experience and energy to deaf and hard-of-hearing fans.


The ‘drama studio’ – a classroom whose breeze blocks had been painted navy rather than cream – at my school didn’t have desks. Classes were normally spent sitting on chairs in a circle. When it came to watching things, we’d crowd our seats around the TV, much like people did in the ’50s when the first person on the street got a set. On this auspicious Thursday morning, our drama teacher, Mr. Drake, wheeled out the TV trolley and told us to watch. In the darkness, the opening credits to The Shining lit up our faces. The sweeping shots of mountains and valleys, of winding roads and rivers were captivating. We sat there in total silence, with the sound of the television right down, in awe of the beauty of Kubrick’s shots. The stunning vastness of it all was unlike anything most of us had ever experienced. As the Overlook Hotel shuddered into view, Mr. Drake stopped the video, rewound it and turned up the volume. “Now watch again,” he told us, “and see what’s different.”



This time, the opening shot of the lake and the small island in the centre of it flickered onto screen accompanied by an eerie, overbearing organ melody. As the credits rolled, I felt a sharp intake of breath. This couldn’t be the same piece of footage we’d just watched. Where there was beauty, there was now menace. Where there was awe, now sat fear. An uneasiness rested upon us as we took it in, staring blankly at the screen long after the clip had finished and been replaced by digital snow. A simple, but masterful soundtrack changed everything. In so many ways, music can make or break art. It elevates it. It changes the meaning of a moment or a phrase. Softens or hardens it. Wraps it in joy or lays it bare in the bleakest possible terms. What happens then, when you cannot hear the music? When the peaks and falls that shape the images or the words are inaccessible to you? It’s this question that sign language pioneer Amber Galloway has set out to answer.


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