Tom Robertson was a little nervous the first time he interpreted hymns for a general conference session about three years ago. Having a hearing impairment himself and having served a deaf mission, he knew sign language well, but he had never interpreted the hymns of Zion for a Church service, let alone general conference.
However, as he practiced in a studio in the Church Office Building, he grew in confidence. "Just studying the words, the Spirit came over me to calm me. I then knew I could sign in a way so deaf people could be touched by a song and know about Jesus Christ," said Brother Robertson of the Utah Valley Ward for the Deaf, Provo Utah South Stake, his eyes misting with emotion.Interpretation for the hearing-impaired comes under the auspices of the Church's Curriculum Department. Brother Robertson's wife, Alli, also is involved in interpreting for general conference sessions. She interprets conference addresses and helps coordinate interpreters for sessions.
Through the years, one hymn in particular has touched Brother Robertson's heart - "I Know That My Redeemer Lives." As he interpreted this well-known hymn during the conference session that first time three years ago, he remembers feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost. " `I Know That My Redeemer Lives' is a special one for me. I know what that hymn means. It's what Jesus Christ has done for us," he related.
He spoke warmly of the times a hymn just seems to flow from the movement of his hands. And the movement of hands through sign language, he explained, adds a whole new dimension to the hymns of Zion.
"Choirs have soloists, and when you're signing, it's like a solo. Not everybody has the same kind of talent with voice. But all those who know sign language have the skill to make the words flow and touch others."
Continuing, Brother Robertson said that just as spoken languages don't always interpret directly, neither does English into sign language. He added that finding the right way to interpret spoken words allows for some individual expression without changing the meaning.
When a group of individuals signs music, he explained, it is like everyone in a choir performing a solo.