Why These San Angeloans Could Not Enjoy the Concho Christmas Celebration Until Now
By Joe Hyde
December 7, 2015
San Angelo’s Concho Christmas Celebration kicked off Saturday evening with joyous music from the San Angelo Community Band accompanying the Twin Mountain Tonesmen all-men’s chorus in a packed parking lot on the northwest corner of S. Chadbourne St. and W. Concho Ave. Holiday song after song was played, and over on the right side of the Tonesmen’s stand was a woman delivering the entire program in sign language.
Until you looked more closely, however, you couldn’t determine why Concho Christmas Celebration hired a sign language interpreter for Christmas music, much of it instrumental. Your next thought was how many in San Angelo needed one? One or two people, maybe? This isn’t New York City!
Upon closer examination, it appeared that the sign language interpreter was having a conversation in sign language with several members of the audience during breaks in the music.
They were engaged and asking questions. In all, approximately 20 deaf citizens were seen enjoying the Christmas music and cheer.
Who goes to a Christmas music concert that you cannot can’t hear? Apparently, until last night, not many. This year, Dana Felps, a certified sign language interpreter, volunteered to help and this is the first time that deaf citizens had the opportunity to enjoy the ringing in of the Christmas season in San Angelo.
“This is my first time here, and I really enjoyed it,” said Larry Gillett through Dana’s interpretation. Larry is deaf and having someone actively interpret our conversation brought Larry’s thoughts into the open clearly. “Without an interpreter, I wouldn’t be able understand what was going on, so I never came. But this is a wonderful presentation and I really enjoyed it tonight,” he said.
Larry is a longtime resident of San Angelo. He’s lived here since his military father moved his family to Goodfellow AFB when he was just a child in 1963, but he’s never enjoyed the annual Christmas celebration until Saturday night.
“I was born this way, so I’ve been deaf all my life,” he said. Larry is an expeditor at the U.S. Post Office. He works on the dock, bringing in San Angelo’s mail daily. He looks forward to retirement. “In about five years,” he said.
Standing next to Larry were John and Sheryl Meador. Sheryl said she’s been deaf since suffering spinal meningitis as a small child. “This is our first time here,” she said. Though in past years, they had driven through the Tour of Lights along the Concho River. Neither ever showed up to enjoy the celebration and the lighting of the downtown Christmas lights and tree, however. John was born in San Angelo and has lived here his entire life. Sheryl is from Waco.
John said he has some hearing capability, but not much. “I’m hard of hearing,” he said. He was not just saying that as a hyperbole of being a grouchy husband either. His hearing was damaged from a premature birth. “I could not enjoy it without sign language,” he said.
Sign language doesn’t translate the entire experience, though. It’s the melody and the tonal music that many who are deaf will still miss. Sheryl said that she couldn’t feel the vibrations of the music, either. “If it were indoors with a wooden floor, then maybe I could feel the vibrations,” she said. Yet, for Sheryl and John, having a conduit to understand what was happening in the social realm made the event an engaging experience. “We’ve had a wonderful time. We’ve really enjoyed it!” Sheryl said.
Of the 20 people in the group, two drove down from Big Spring and two more drove up from Eldorado. The deaf community in San Angelo is becoming more social, Dana explained.
Dana moved here with her husband from El Paso three years ago. Her husband works the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Dana provides sign language interpretation services to the deaf throughout the region with her home business, the West Texas Interpreting Network. She is state and nationally certified, the rewards of a four-year bachelor’s degree that included two years of intense study of sign language. She earned an associates in signing at San Antonio College and finished with a bachelor’s at Sul Ross University in Alpine.
Dana said when she found out about Saturday’s Concho Christmas Celebration, she thought it would be a fun event for the deaf community to enjoy. Usually, Dana’s services are used for medical appointments or job searches with her clients, so this was a fun departure, she said. Social media, particularly Facebook, has empowered San Angelo’s deaf community to organize, Dana said. A group meets monthly at Stango’s Coffee Shop. The meetings are organized on Facebook. If you’d like to join, their Facebook group is called San Angelo Deaf Coffee Social (click here).