After her father lost his hearing, this N.L. singer added ASL interpreters to her shows


A woman stands on a music stage interpreting American Sign Language.
Philpott says interpreting music is much different from interpreting speech, but making ASL interpretation available can make all the difference for concert goers. (Christopher Deacon/Submitted by Carolina East)

Inspired by her father, who is hard of hearing, St. John’s singer Carolina East is making sure as many people as possible are able to experience her music.

East’s father had been losing his hearing for some time, she says, but the family didn’t know until earlier this year, by which point he had lost 70 per cent of hearing in one ear and 80 per cent in the other. 

“There were frequencies in my music he couldn’t hear, he couldn’t hear the lyrics, he never got the feel of music. Basically he could just hear the bass and some jumbled up form of lyrics,” East said Wednesday, adding he explained it was like listening to music with a pillow over his ears.

A hearing-care specialist introduced her father to hearing aids. Once they were set up, East said, she’ll never forget what happened.

“The first thing that he ever fully heard once his hearing aids were in was one of my songs. And the moment that I pressed play in the clinic there.… My father was just overwhelmed with emotion. He became very emotional, and so did everyone in the room,” she said.

“It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.”

With her father’s hearing loss in mind, East says she wants to make sure everyone can connect with her music by including American Sign Language interpretation in her performances.

Denika Philpott, an ASL interpreter who works with Triangular Communications in St. John’s, says interpreting music is much different from interpreting speech. It’s a taxing, full body experience that is often done with two interpreters.

“It’s on my face. It’s on my body. It’s in the way you sway. It’s everything,” Philpott said.

“We don’t do it verbatim. It’s not simultaneous, we extract meaning from it.… They don’t need to hear the music, because they can see it. The accessibility there, it’s huge.”

A singer preforms on stage with an American Sign Language interpreter. A drummer sits behind the singet.
Singer Carolina East, right, performs on stage with American Sign Language interpreter Denika Philpott. East says she plans to make the arrangement a permanent fixture in her future shows. (Christopher Deacon/Submitted by Carolina East)

Philpott says having that accessible option available is key as it provides a conduit for communication and entertainment.

People can also often feel embarrassed about admitting they are dealing with hearing loss, she said, so having options widely available may help people embrace being deaf or hard of hearing.

East has seen the magic of ASL connections herself on stage, highlighting a recent festival performance with Philpott. She also featured an interpreter in a show on George Street earlier this week, and is challenging other musicians in Newfoundland and Labrador to do the same in their shows.

“There was a gentleman that I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget his face as long as I live.… He was smiling from ear to ear, and you could tell he was fully involved in that show,” East said.

“He laughed when everybody else laughed, cried when everybody else cried. And at the moment I knew along with Dad and this gentlemen, I knew that if I can … that it’s going to be my goal to always have ASL interpreters.”

Hear the full interview from The St. John’s Morning Show below.

St John’s Morning Show12:49Carolina East concert interpreter

A father’s hearing loss has prompted one local musician to make her concerts more accessible. The Carolina East show tonight on George Street will have an ASL interpreter, and that could be a first on the local music scene.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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