Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Deaf and Loud

Photo Credit: Adrean Mangiardi
Last year we met a hip hop artist names Sean Forbes and fell in love with him and his music. He has a great live show that gets your body and your hands moving. These days Sean is touring the world with his band which includes Jake Bass, Mark Levin, and DJ Butteh Fingiz. Since meeting Sean and his band of bad ass musicians I have learned a lot about what it is like to be a musician/music fan and also be Deaf.

The Deaf and Loud Crew also works with D-PAN a non-profit organization that encourages Deaf kids to enter the arts. D-Pan's mission is to, "promote professional development and access to the entertainment, visual and media arts fields for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing." They literally meet with kids and encourage them to follow their hearts and do what they want with their lives, not what others tell them that they can do. There are a lot of people who might discourage a Deaf person from going into music, and D-Pan makes music more accessible than ever.

 Photo Credit: Adrean Mangiardi

Meeting the Deaf and Loud Crew changed my life and opened my eyes, these guys have taught me that it is just as important to feel music as it is to hear it. They have redefined the word Deaf and each time we hang out they find a new way to inspire me. I have been especially inspired by a few conversations that I have had with Sean's guitarist and tour manager, Mark Levin. He is not scared to open up and talk about anything, and he's a really well spoken dude. In fact, he has been writing a lot of thought provoking articles about being Deaf. I asked him to answer a few question to promote an event that D-Pan is hosting this week, but it sold out before we could even get an article up. There is a growing movement around the world to change the way that people see being Deaf and it seems like it is catching on. So, instead of promoting the event, I wanted to share my interview with Mark with all of you to turn you on to D-Pan, Deaf and Loud, and to make you think. He has a unique perspective on music and the world, and we can all learn a lot from what he has to say.
HID- Were you born deaf? If not when did you begin to lose your hearing?
Mark- "My parents noticed issues with my hearing around 2/3 years old. We're not quite sure of the reason, but I'm starting to think that genetics may possibly play a factor. My grandfather had a hearing loss, as well as some of my immediate family members are starting to notice latened hearing losses. I've started noticing a trend that my hearing seems to drop about 10 dB (decibels) every 10 years or so."

HID- Meeting the Deaf and Loud crew made me realize that members of the deaf community tend to view deafness as a difference in human experience rather than a disability, can you explain this to our readers?
Mark- "Think of it like this - many people wear glasses but don't consider themselves blind, although the eye doctors may say they have pretty bad vision. There's various degree's of Deafness and hearing loss... the only thing we can't do is hear. Some folks out there may say that "Deaf people can't talk"...maybe some can't communicate verbally, but there's sign language... there's a large misconception about what we can or cannot do. It's crazy how much people actually rely on their hearing without realizing it's not just their hearing, but a combination of the senses. We have one less sense, so we're more in tune with how things feel, look, smell or even taste.
You may have noticed that every time I've used the word 'Deaf', I have capitalized it, that's because it's not just a degree of hearing loss, it's a culture. There's different languages, social beliefs, art, traditions, generations of family members who have hearing loss, etc..., you can't say the same for many other "disabilities". Simply put - it is other people who put restrictions on us, and many times, its unknowingly and with innocent intent. We just need to keep educating."

HID- What is the biggest misconception about being Deaf?
Mark- "I answered this a bit in the previous question, but I'll expand a bit. A huge misconception... Deafness entails a multitude degrees of hearing loss. Someone who may identify as Deaf may not hear total silence, but can hear some low end noises, or high pitch noises, and then of course theres many who can't hear anything at all. Another misconception is jobs... I've met professionals in nearly every field... even Deaf firefighters. Office jobs that rely on answering the phone - we have Video Relay Services (VRS) with sign language interpreters on the other end that can voice for us as we sign, or respond to a hearing caller. Sean Forbes and I... we're musicians. Our Director of Film, Adrean Mangiardi, he's a wiz at making music videos. As accessibility continues to grow, and we continue to experience life and the situations we experience, we learn to adapt, and how to make things work for us that allow us to succeed in our fields of profession or study."

HID- I find that a lot of people are pleasantly surprised by deaf musicians. What made you decide that you were going to play music? Do you think it was harder for you? If so, how and why?
Mark- "It's funny to be honest, it just kinda happened. My brother and friends were all learning and playing various instruments, and me being eager, excited, and wanting to fit in and keep up with them I just started watching, imitating and playing along, and they would teach me stuff. My mom got me my first guitar when I was 12 and I started taking lessons right away. I had awesome Guitar teachers who were patient with me and didn't let my hearing loss take them aback. My freshman year of high school I took class lessons and had 2 other Deaf friends join me, and we had an interpreter in class. I was lucky to have that. It definitely was harder to learn. I had to learn how to separate sounds, identify noises I wasn't familiar with, levels, tuning, it was a long process that just came from constant practice, playing and getting to know the instrument. Earlier I mention "relying on hearing"... music is vibration, you feel vibrations, vibrations become a part of you, and you soak in these rhythms. Good music not only sounds good, but it feels good too."

HID- What areas of daily life do you still find stressful to deal with being Deaf? Are there any situations in which you wish that people could be a little more patient or understanding?
Mark- "Communicating with hearing peers, especially in noisy environments is always a lot of work. I speak well and with hearing aids I am able to hear conversations in quiet environments. Friends sometimes tend to forget that my hearing isn't so great, so I have to remind them that although I can hear noise, I can't understand whats being said. Hearing and understanding are two different things - I can hear you... but I can't necessarily understand you. Friends are always eager to learn signs too which is quite helpful."

HID- Is there anything that we can do in our own lives to help make this place a little bit more Deaf friendly?
Mark- "Being patient and conscious of communicating clearly is a big help. I think many hearing individuals tend to get flustered because all the sudden they realize verbal communication isn't going to work, now they really have to think about how they're going to get the message across. Whether it be fingerspelling, signing, writing with pen and paper, or using the notepad or text on the phone, theres many ways you can communicate."

HID- Do your hands ever get tired from signing?
Mark- "Haha, not necessarily signing, but a combination of playing guitar, bass, drumming, using the computer, signing, tends to wear on 'em though."

HID- When new worlds pop up in language who gets to decide how they are signed? Is there such thing as sign language slang words?
Mark- "There's a lot of regional signs of American Sign Language (ASL). Some signs for certain words are different in the northern, midwest or southern states. It's not like back in the day we were able to call our Deaf companions in the south and say hey "this is the sign for this". Now with technology boom we're experiencing with cameras on our cell phones and computers, signs spread faster and are picked up, discussed and utilized. Recently there were a lot of videos going around on Facebook discussing the sign for the app 'Glide'.
There are definitely slang words, just like in any language. Slang signs are some of my favorite ones, they're fun signs."

HID- Is closed captioning always on when you're watching TV?
Mark- "Yup. As we've moved long on from silent films, TV and movies just aren't as animated as they once were, so if theres no captions, it's hard to understand whats being said. I don't watch that much TV to be honest. It's frustrating that it's 2014 and theres still a lack of captioning and accessibility when it comes to captioning TV shows and movies, not just online but at movie theaters too. It's slowly getting better but we're still lacking full accessibility."

HID- When did you get involved with D-Pan and why?
Mark- "I went to high school with Sean's wife out in the Chicago burbs, she knew I played guitar and wanted to introduce me to him when they first started dating because he was a drummer. There's not many Deaf musicians out there... Sean and I clicked immediately. At the time, I was going to Columbia College Chicago for music business, production, and management. Sean and I talked about working together, and D-PAN: Deaf Professional Arts Network was just a concept at the time. As soon as he launched D-PAN and started making music videos, he kept hitting me up and asking me to come work with him here in Detroit. I promised him I would move to Detroit after I graduated, and I did. I loved the concept of it - bridging the gap between the Deaf and hearing communities by utilizing music...the universal language. D-PAN had just made its first DVD with ASL music videos for songs by John Mayer, Christina Aguilera, Eminem, and I just graduated, so it was the perfect time to join in. We started touring in promotion of the DVD and many amazing opportunities continued to spring up. To be a Deaf, and obtaining a degree geared towards the music field, I wasn't sure how that was going to really work out for me. Getting involved with D-PAN allowed me to take pride in my identity and work in the industry of my passion simultaneously."

HID- Anything else that you would like our readers to know?
Mark- "We see you staring at us in the bar while we wildly sign, don't be a creep, come say hi, we're usually pretty nice."

For more information about Mark, check out his website at www.findingparadiseroad.com.


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