Eindhoven woman takes the stage at Eurovision Song Contest

Photo: Sencity Festival

Yesterday evening was not only an exciting evening for Duncan Laurence, this year’s Eurovision entry for the Netherlands. Jessica de Waard from Eindhoven also starred in last night’s broadcast of the second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest. She performed as one of the music interpreters, interpreting song lyrics into sign language for deaf and hard of hearing audience members.

This year was the first year that a music interpreter was used in the Dutch broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest.

‘It’s great that this has been arranged,’ de Waard told reporters. The semi-final was broadcast by NPO 1 Extra, one of the main broadcasting corporations in the Netherlands. Explaining her role, she says, ‘you see the performance with a sign dancer next to it. It can be compared to the deaf interpreter that you also see in the news.’

Those who think that de Waard’s job is about simply portraying a nice song with some interesting gestures are mistaken. ‘It takes a lot of time. An unbelievable amount of time,’ de Waard says. ‘As well as listening to the subtle nuances, you also have to translate the songs into Dutch.’

‘What can I make of this?’

De Waard also appeared during the first semi-final on Tuesday evening via a livestream on YouTube. She interpreted the performance of Icelandic band, Hatari. ‘To prepare for the interpretation, I had to translate the song from Icelandic to Dutch,’ she explains. However, this can be a difficult task. ‘I found eight different translations and thought to myself: ‘what can I make of this?’’.

There is no universal sign language. Instead, each spoken language in the world usually has its own sign language equivalent. NGT (Nederlandse Gebarentaal) is the most commonly used form of sign language in the Netherlands. This means that a song must be translated into Dutch, and then into NGT. De Waard says that each song requires 20 hours of work. She interpreted three songs for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals, totalling more than 60 hours of preparation.

‘It is not a literal translation,’ she points out. ‘The point is that you are creative and know how to convey the essence and the message well.’


Facial expressions and attitude also play a major role in music interpretation. De Waard interpreted the lyrics for Hungary’s performance, which she describes as ‘a very sweet song’. Then, a few songs later, she interpreted Iceland’s performance, which has raised a few eyebrows this year for its heavy metal sound and depiction of dark sexual practices. She describes Iceland’s song as ‘a very angry song’. She says such a transition is ‘difficult’. She compares it to being ‘like an actress who has a certain role to play and has to become completely absorbed in it’.

‘I hope this can be seen much more often’

De Waard was born with full hearing, but lost much of her hearing after she was involved in a major traffic accident. On good days, she can still hear some things, but mainly communicates using sign language and assistance from an interpreter.

This year also marks the first time that the broadcast and the sign language interpretation runs synchronously. Previously, interpreters would be shown via a live stream on a separate channel or online, meaning that deaf viewers would have to watch the performance on one screen, and the interpretation on another.

When asked if she was nervous for her performance, de Waard replied ‘No, I am really looking forward to it and hope that this can be seen much more often.’ Together with the organisation Muziektolk Hoort Erbij (Music Interpretation is Part of it), she campaigns for greater accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing audiences at music events. This year’s Eurovision Song Contest is, for her, a step in the right direction.


Source: Omroep Brabant

Translator: Rachael Vickerman

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