Just as a musician controls harmony on one hand, and melody on the other hand, while reading a grid of notes to the voice of a poem full of emotions, translators seem to do something very similar.
A translator becomes an expert in a topic, while reading it. He understands the context, the meaning and the intention of the document. He digests and ruminates on each and every one of the words chosen by the author. Once he masters the content he has been awarded, he assumes the position of co-producer of this content to a completely new audience.
I always wondered why so many musicians send me resumes for translation jobs. After watching them work endless hours in silence, I have come to realize that translation produces in them the same sensation of wellbeing as music does.
To a translator, producing a well written document, that is easily understandable by people who don’t speak the language of its original version is an art. Arranging words to fall in the order of a language structure that is different than the one initially intended by the author, results in a rhythmical succession of words that reproduces the author’s idea in a new arrangement. This is the melody of a well written translation.
The careful selection of words, blended into phrases, connected by ideas, when read, results pleasing to the mind. If a reader can smoothly intake the content of a translation and not become aware that his lecture has not been originally written in a different language, he will be in consonance with the translation.
Like the musician, the translator’s objective is to produce a harmonic combination of sentences through a careful choice of words, while maintaining the rhythm of the original meaning or sense of what has been written.
The ability to dissociate languages, whether written or musical, is directly associated to the almost complete lack of comprehension of time. Neither Musicians or translators have functional biological clocks. If an idea about a piece comes to a composer in his sleep, he will immediately undertake the activity of writing it down with the upmost discipline. Likewise, when a translator sits at his computer, he will completely immerse in the world of his work, not noticing tiredness, hunger, changes in daylight or any other biological function related to the passage of time. When it becomes evident that the translator has been sitting there for too long, he might realize that he’s been sitting there for 18 hours straight and that the only reason why he is not still translating is because his bladder mandates him to relieve himself.
Addictions are also a common place between translators and musicians. While musicians have a hard time dealing with the adrenaline depletion after a concert and seek comfort in alternatives such as drugs or alcohol, translators have a hard time dealing with the down of not being in this state of absolute concentration which is kind of like a small bliss that takes them away from reality while translating. Translating produces a high that can be a complete mystery to anyone who doesn’t have the ability to process two languages at the same time. The state of awareness and comprehension is so fulfilling and addictive that being out of it may lead you to overcompensate with other not so productive activities, such as drinking or smoking. Burnout is a common symptom for both translators and musicians. When this rollercoaster between paradise and exhaustion becomes too much, it is time for rest. Just as musicians retrieve after a world tour, translators, in a much smaller scale of course, must go to bed and quiet their minds after a long translating experience.
While most musicians just practice for fun, given that the music industry is highly competed and rarely proves successful to those who pursue it, translation is an extremely stable source of income which provides musicians with a very similar satisfaction to that of playing music for someone else.
Perfection is crucial to musicians, and there is no place for error. Translation may also be very stressful, since one single error can cause the entire document to fall out of key. When a musician hits the wrong note, he cannot stop, replay, go back and re do it. He must move one, even though he realizes his mistake and regrets is. This situation applies partially to translators, since documents may be fixed, changed, edited and resolved. However, delivering a document with a mistake, no matter how small, will have a negative impact on the client’s perception of the translator’s performance. Sometimes, a mistake is not identified until the document has been released to another party, reproduced, printed or presented. Then, mistakes become irreparable, and the translator becomes liable for any correction.
After having carefully watched the performance of both translators who are also musicians and those who are not, and after cautiously observing them for years on, I can say that I truly believe there is more in common between these two professions that meets the eye. The ability they both have, which allows them to produce something in a new language out of another language and make it understandable and agreeable, turns them into a small sub-species of super humans who have great mental skill. Music is obviously appreciated by everyone, while translation is rarely recognized. However, I salute the art of translation.
Congratulations to all translators who passionately fill their hours with knowledge, continuously learning and understanding the written world. You are the musicians of written languages and should be honored and recognized as one of the smartest people in the professional world.