Amber Galloway is turning the way we think about music upside down, using her voice to speak volumes for others, who may otherwise never be heard.
Through a unique and deeply expressive form of sign language, Galloway provides the deaf community with an opportunity to experience the power of music.
Galloway recalls being thrown in the deaf world as an interpreter not by choice, but by fate. Originally studying physical therapy and athletic training, it was a horrific car accident at age 16 that left her sharing a room with a deaf patient in rehabilitation.
“I fell into it. It’s always been part of my life, just by situation,” she says.
“My Dad used to date a girl that had a deaf son, and he taught me my first sign at five-years-old. I also had a neighbour who had given birth to two deaf kids, and they gave me my first sign name. When I was a freshman in high school, there was a deaf football player who tore his ACL. I was doing physical therapy in the off season, so I helped him. I’ve had this whole string of experiences in the deaf world.”
The group of people Galloway met in the early years of her life, who she describes as her ‘deaf family’, pushed her to do more with the gift she had. It was much later, however, when she first saw an instance of interpreting music with sign.
“I was at a rodeo with my children, and we were sitting in the deaf section,” she says.
“I saw the interpreter interpreting the music and I thought, ‘That’s silly, that’s not music.’ I mean, it was supposed to be music, but they were not showing music.”
Wanting to investigate further, Galloway was inspired by the San Antonio Deaf Dance Company and the Wild Zappers, which then sparked the beginning of a very special journey.
“I saw what they did with music and that truly inspired me to incorporate the true meaning of what music should be,” she says.
“That’s how I started on this path. With the go ahead from my deaf friends, I started testing the waters and really pushing limits, pushing ideas that other interpreters were not used to. Things started to change. I noticed deaf people behaving differently at music venues. They started to tell me that for the first time in their lives, they were connecting to music.”
It’s a combination of facial expressions and hand shapes that allow Galloway to deconstruct the elements of music to her deaf clients; communicating the tonality and fermata of sound, the densities of pitch, the elongation or shortening of beats and even the pronunciation of syllables in lyrics.
“It’s bringing music to life in a different way, because we need to think about all the layers of music rather than focusing on the mere English,” she says.
“Music is music because of all the instruments and the way the artist has orchestrated everything. If we ignore that part, then we are ignoring the entirety of what music is truly trying to represent.”
Music and its role in the deaf community is not a commonly explored topic. That’s why Galloway is heading to Australia for Face The Music, a contemporary music conference that facilitates conversations about the music world with industry professionals.
“Unfortunately, access for the deaf community in Australia is quite lacking, just like it is pretty much everywhere in the world,” she says.
“Deaf people and hard of hearing people as a cultural and linguistic minority want to attend concerts, but often the venues are not providing. They’re human beings like you and I, but they were born with a different journey.”
In addition to helping deaf people experience live music, Galloway speaks often about providing access at music venues. She believes no member of society should be excluded from an opportunity to enjoy and actively engage in something they love.
“[Hearing people] will often deny these services because they think deaf people don’t want to,” she says.
“They think it’s a bother, but really there are laws out there that are supposed to be protecting people that have challenges. I wish somehow, people in the industry would pay attention to that and make a change.”
By Julia Sansone
Amber Galloway will speak at Face The Music, taking place at the State Library and RMIT on Thursday November 17 and Friday November 18 as part of Melbourne Music Week.
Originally published in Beat Magazine: http://www.beat.com.au/music/amber-galloway-s-bringing-music-life-whole-different-way