TODAY   |  April 13, 2013

Interpreters for the deaf give music a new sound

“Interpreting means you carry the content and the spirit to whoever is watching,” said Barbie Parker, an interpreter for the deaf. From Kanye West to Coldplay and Eminem to Green Day, Parker and her team at Lotusign have translated it all, giving the gift of music to those who can’t hear it performed. TODAY’s Jenna Wolfe reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> trip to austin, texas, i got the chance to see what music looks like to those who cannot hear it. for 26-year-old adam membry, rosie and the ramblers sound like this. one loud noise. what does music mean to you?

>> i feel like we all have things we do, whatever, good or bad, and music has that way of just letting it out.

>> reporter: without hearing aids , adam is deaf. with them, he can hear 70% of the sounds around him. for people that don't understand, what is it that you hear?

>> with the hearing aids , it's not very clear. it's a lot of noise.

>> reporter: lip reading a live concert only gives you a sliver of the experience. until now. while other concertgoers are cheering for the headliners on stage, adam is focused elsewhere. how much of the entire musical experience do you get at a signed concert?

>> it's there, you can experience it.

>> reporter: the rock stars to the deaf and hard of hearing, barbie parker, and her team of interpreters, at lotus sign. if someone said to me sign language interpreter for live music , it sounds like an oxymoron. you would understand where i'm coming from, right?

>> absolutely. everybody asks. everybody asks. and you kind of get the turn of the head, and people are confused for a minute. you go, i know, it doesn't sound like something you'd do. but it's like telling a blind person what a painting looks like.

>> reporter: in the united states , there are roughly 600,000 deaf persons. lotus sign has brought music to close to 2,000 of them. at more than 1,300 shows across the country. what is the difference between signing a song on stage and interpreting it?

>> interpreting means that you carry the content and spirit of the message to whoever's watching. so if someone's up there and they're pouring their heart out, you don't want it to look like a city council meeting.

>> because one song is based off of hearing --

>> reporter: how much prep time goes into a set, a concert, even a song?

>> we spend hours and hours. you're tracking down the lyrics, discussing the meaning, looking up the background to see what kind of pop culture references are in the song.

>> reporter: from kanye west to coldplay, and eminem to green day , barbie has lotus signed everything, translating music in a way that inspires performers to collaborate and sometimes even embrace. how much support do you get from the bands themselves?

>> we have had so many accolades from the artists. we're putting our time and energy into it and they know that.

>> reporter: the result? music fans, regardless of what they can or cannot hear, have access to the emotions and experiences of the concerts.

>> translator: with lotus signs, there's a huge difference. if it wasn't for them, i probably wouldn't have the same passion and enjoy music .

>> translator: everyone has the need to feed they are soul, so i'm definitely on the same playing field . here at the same place, having that equal access and enjoying life.

>> reporter: giving music a new sound for those who may be hearing it for the very first time. interpretation is mandated by americans with disabilities act , but lotus sign performers, they put their hearts, their souls, their body into leveling the playing field for the deaf and hard of hearing so everybody gets an equal chance to enjoy the show.

>> and anyone who is deaf or hearing impaired are placed in the front so they can actually see it.

>> reporter: yes, so they can see the lotus sign interpreter.

>> the next time you're at a show, look for the lotus sign.