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Thread: Musical Selection

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    Musical Selection

    hi folks, first time poster, long time figure skater, though my competitive career has been over for a decade.

    these days im a freelance music critic, writing a piece right now about musical selection in figure skating. i guess im trying to find a way to connect two spheres of my life that mean a lot to me.

    i did a search and really couldnt find much on this topic in the forums, so let me ask: how crucial is music to figure skating? is it background music to which skaters perform their techincial elements? or is it something much more? is there such a thing as "good" or "right" music (aside from guidelines in the rulebook)? are there consequences otherwise? does music reinforce certain ideas/ideals/stereotypes about skating?

    id love to hear your thoughts on this!

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    Fascinating question, and welcome to the board.

    Here is my take on this:

    Basically, I am one of these skating fans whose #1 criteria for whether or not a program is a good one depends on the level of choreography and music interpretation. It is essential to me skaters skate TO the music that they choose. U.S. skating judge Joe Inman gives high marks to programs wherein the movement makes sense to the music chosen, and I would be grading much the same way if I were a judge. A skater can go out and skate well and put on quite a technical display, but, to me, if it doesn't go with the music or there seems to be no sense that the music is even on, or another or any piece of music could have been just as well used with the program with about the same effect -- I'm not going to like it.

    Some skaters do use music as merely "background" and as I indicated, this really gets on my nerves. 2 standouts in this category is the long program of Australia's Joanne Carter at the 98 Worlds, wherein I got the impression that the only reason the music was on was because they told her she had to bring a tape, and Zhang/Zhang in the last Olympics. Can't remember the piece off the top of my head, it's a well-known classical piece, but they were so NOT skating to it having the music was on was just a distraction. One skater who, IMO, is consisternly using music as background with no regard for what the music is "doing or saying" would be Elena Sokolova. She could pretty much skate to anything and the program would like exactly the same as it did skated to something else. Music should ENHANCE the program and inspire the choreography and artistry, and not merely just be on, like I said about Carter (who may have gotten better in this regard as I haven't seen her since), because you gotta bring a tape.

    "Good" or "right" music is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, anything done to disorganized jazz (which IMO is redundant, since I am not a jazz fan) or to piano concertos, 99% of the time, does not work for me. The flow of the music does not fit the flow that one can acheive on the ice. (Like I said, there are exceptions, Kwan's Rachmaninoff programs being on the top of the list). Overly repititious music can do one in, since after a while it tends to put the viewer to sleep (at least this viewer), and same with overly mellow compositions (of which there were entirely too many in a row at the National Ladies final this year). There should be some variance of pace, especially in the long program. Any consequences from "bad" music would be reflected, to an extent, in the artistic marks, maybe. At least under the old system. I've seen programs that would have been much better if they had just simply done it to different music.

    As to music reinforcing stereotypes, etc, about skating, I'm not sure I understand the question. (It might be a little over my head ). In a side note that may or may not be related -- I think one of the reasons that the Chinese had such problem early on with their artistry (Chen Lu of course being the very notable exception) was due to the differences between the Western World Music Structure and Eastern World music structure. The Chinese were used to an entirely different type of rhythm structure in their music, and when they had to skate to Western music (say, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, et al), their interpretation seemed downright bizarre because the Western music followed rhythms and tone patterns that were simply, so to speak, foreign to them. I think this was one of the reasons they had such bad results in Dance as well.

    I will probably have more to add to this as other do, and as I hear your response. Again, thank you for introducing this topic. I'm looking forward to some very interesting input.

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    Custom Title Joesitz's Avatar
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    Welcome Theoreticalgirl to Golden Skate. We hope you keep active on the Board for your expertise in music. The questions you raise about the use of music in figure skating are definitely at the heart of the matter of using music at all.

    Whomever invented the Sport of Figure Skating and put the elements to music should be praised or condemned. There are Sports that are judged on elements which do not have music tagged on. Diving comes to mind immediately. Their purpose is to find which contestant has the best of the tricks. Figure Skating's demand that their tricks be executed to music in a choreographic mode makes for quite controversial judgements.

    Since that is an important feature of figure skating, I believe that there should be more judges like Joe Inman who are also professors of Music. If the music is used as background music for the elements then the Sport is basically reduced to Diving - nothing wrong with that but then what is the point of the music? If the music has any value it should be considered as a strict integral part of the scoring.

    JonnyCoop's discussion on skaters using the music as background is right on. One only has to watch Johnny Weir skate to music which I believe he intuitively has an ear for tempo, timing, variety, all in place. To keep to the character of the music and do those elements is a Herculean task and imo, is limited to those skaters who have such ability. How much value one puts to that ability is something to judge the judges.

    Given the importance of skating to music as the music dictates and still be able to execute those skating elements is for me, paramount in the judging of the Sport. It is risky to do so as well.

    Asian skaters are used to 12 tone music themes and, imo, are at a disadvantage innately with European 8 tone music themes. I'm not so sure Western judges would be able to understand a skater using 12 tone music.

    The choice of good or bad music lies with the skater, and that should be a consideration by the judges as to whether the skater is using that music appropriately.

    I think we could fill a tome with this topic, so I will end here, and hopefully getting other views on this very pertinent topic.

    Joe

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    Quote Originally Posted by theoreticalgirl
    these days im a freelance music critic, writing a piece right now about musical selection in figure skating.
    I recommend looking up Canadian skating journalist Beverley Smith's "Talking Figure Skating" book -- Smith has a chapter on Lenore Kay from Toronto and the importance of music selection/editing that I thought was very interesting and enlightening. Here's the book info:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/077...lance&n=283155

    Edited to add this article link about choreographer Lori Nichol's music selection of Azerbaijani symphonic music for Michelle Kwan's 1996-97 long program:
    http://www.azer.com/aiweb/categories...hellekwan.html
    Last edited by Sylvia; 02-23-2006 at 10:18 AM.

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    Welcome to the Board, theoreticalgirl.

    I started out writing a reply to your inquiries and it quickly turned into a diatribe on the subject of the connection/importance of music and skating. Whew! I knew I had strong opinions on the subject, I just didn't realize how pent up they had become. So to play it safe, I'll keep this as succinct as I can.

    You mentioned you were a retired competitive skater, therefore you already know music is a requirment to the skating programs. IMHO, that is precisely where it both begins and ends for the vast majority of the skaters, coaches and judges.

    You asked: how crucial is music to figure skating? After being involved in skating for, lets just say much more than a decade it strictly depends who you are talking about, and who you ask. As I have already stated, the vast majority don't know, don't care, and don't hear what music they are skating to. I have to conclude, to those specific individuals, music is a requirement but otherwise an unimportant factor in their performance. Is it background music to which skaters perform their techincial elements? If we are to answer this question based on the skating performances on record, the answer regarding the vast majority of skaters, is YES, music is merely background noise. Or, is it something much more? For a minority of skaters, coaches, and judges, music IS something much more than white noise. But IMO, the number of Toller Cranstons, John Currys, Janet Lynns, Kurt Brownings, and Jeff Buttles are few and far between. The number of Joe Inmans (judges) who truthfully know or understand the musical selections made by the competitors must be, if we are to examine their judging/marking/scoring history as the evidence, even fewer in number than the number of skaters who appreciate the musical element. Is there such a thing as "good" or "right" music? To me, NO. If a skater can interpret the music in an artful and athletic way, any piece of music could be appropriate. To the judging community however, I think they prefer the traditional selections, mostly classical. Are there consequences otherwise? Skating poorly to any music should result in a low score. Skating well to heavy mental is unlikely to go over well with a panel of ISU judges. Is this right? Not to me. Does music reinforce certain ideas/ideals/stereotypes about skating? Johnny Weir skating to Swan Lake reinforces stereotypes, Johnny Weir skating to the William Tell Overture or Metallica piece does not. Actually, I think costuming plays a big role in how males and females are perceived in skating. But, that is another discussion.

  6. #6
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    Sorry to respond so late to your fantastic responses. I am so thankful I've found a forum like this! Thank you for the links and book recommendations!

    Your replies give me confidence that this is a real issue in the sport (as opposed to just making stuff up in my head!) and worth exploring. Apologies in advance for the length of this post but I think it's necessary, considering how generous all your responses were.



    JohnnyCoop: Music should ENHANCE the program and inspire the choreography and artistry, and not merely just be on, like I said about Carter (who may have gotten better in this regard as I haven't seen her since), because you gotta bring a tape.

    I am in total agreement here. When I think back to programs deemed "memorable", it's not because they picked great music but because they elevated the program from a mere display of rote technique into something else -- Oksana Baiul's short program from the 94 Olympics where she transformed herself into the swan of "Swan Lake" and so on.

    I think this also speaks to why I wasn't so bowled over by Arakawa's LP, as I felt the music was treated like wallpaper -- mere background filler. I joked to a friend that if you swapped her tape mid-performance with static, it would have been the same program. I wasn't the only one who shared the sentiment, Lynn Zinser at the New York Times made a similar comment in an article.



    JohnnyCoop: "Good" or "right" music is in the eye of the beholder.

    JohnnyCoop: As to music reinforcing stereotypes, etc, about skating, I'm not sure I understand the question. (It might be a little over my head ).

    In terms of personal taste & aesthetics, of course. But in skating, I'm a bit skeptical. IIRC, there was a bit of controversy regarding Tonya Harding's decision to perform a program to ZZ Top's "Sleeping Bag". (Of course, with Tonya, what *isnt* controversy?) And furthermore, what to make of "overly reptitious" music? (I am assuming you're referring to anything electronic-based, such as club or urban music. Or perhaps popular music, in general? I'd love some clarification on this.) Clearly there are boundaries of what's acceptable and to me, those boundaries speak loudly about the kinds of cultural codes figure skating may or may not reinforce.

    I've been doing tons of research with instructional texts on skating (Since this is a paper, I need to supplant my opinions with evidence. Thank heavens I'm employed at a major research university, because the libraries here are phenomenal!) and stumbled upon this interesting little nugget in "The Complete Book of Figure Skating" by Carole Shulman (ISBN: 0736035486)

    “Consider the age, size(body build), level of skating, strength, personality, and natural style of your skater. If you have a tiny six-year-old, you don’t want to give her heavy music. You might want to look for something with flutes or violins. If you have a girl who looks boyish or who skates like a football player charging down the field, you might want to soften her with a selection of graceful music to challenge her. As you listen to music, you will find that some types seem to definitely fit a male skater. Something that is bouncy and cute is perfect for a little girl. Something that is sophisticated might be for a teenager. All the while you must be thinking of the level of skating and the need to challenge yet not over power your skater.”
    I have to wonder, if a girl skates like a boy, why must the music selection seek to change her, and furthermore, what are we expecting her transform to? Something more "feminine"?

    Regarding the usage of classical music in skating, I'm also intensely curious about this. Why does everyone think it gets used so much?


    lotusland: Johnny Weir skating to Swan Lake reinforces stereotypes, Johnny Weir skating to the William Tell Overture or Metallica piece does not. Actually, I think costuming plays a big role in how males and females are perceived in skating. But, that is another discussion.

    Are you sure? A lot of people, including myself, tend to discover their identity through music. The saying goes, "It's not who you are, it's what you listen to." Johnny Weir is quite vocal about his appreciation of Christina Aguilera's music and seems to have strong feelings about his musical selections. I'm not going to turn this into a "Is he straight or not?" discussion [frankly, I don't care!] but music is clearly part of the aesthetic decisions which separate him from the rest of the pack. And even if he did skate to Wm. Tell or Metallica, those could be considered telling choices of what they're trying to cover up. If we hypothesized that Weir was gay, skating to Metallica can be seen as a way to align him with a more acceptably "straight" image. Keep in mind, Metallica (the genre of heavy metal for that matter) is perceived as guy's music. Christina Aguilera, generally, is not.

    [BTW, when I was a competitor, I knew a girl who skated to Metallica! And Candlebox! Food for thought, indeed.]



    JohnnyCoop: Personally, anything done to disorganized jazz (which IMO is redundant, since I am not a jazz fan) or to piano concertos, 99% of the time, does not work for me. The flow of the music does not fit the flow that one can acheive on the ice. (Like I said, there are exceptions, Kwan's Rachmaninoff programs being on the top of the list).

    Being a fan of jazz and its various permutations, I'll ignore your description of jazz as "disorganized". But I find this interesting because when I think about the acoustical limitations of arenas, something such as a solo piano piece would sound best in these spaces. When there's less soundwaves bouncing off the concrete and metal surfaces used in rink construction, its less noisy; therefore, it would be easier to interpret the music.

    But forget about the scientific/technical apsects of sound, for a moment. As skating becomes a display of stringing a bunch of technical elements together for the sake racking up points in the NJS and less about artistry, perhaps a shift in music that is more freeform/challenging, such as a majority of jazz compositions, might befit what's happening on the ice?




    OK, my brain is hurting, which means I think I need to take a break! But before I go, here are a couple more questions!

    - On a technical note, does anyone know if skaters are using applications like Garageband to construct their music? Curious if there was any sort of editing takes place in contemporary skating -- back in the day, we used vinyl and rudimentary record equipment! I assume skaters submit their music on CD these days?

    - Since this piece is for an academic conference centered around music, I'm a little concerned with using the language of the sport in my paper. While I can throw terms like salchows and choctaws around here and y'all understand what I'm talking about, I'm worried no one will have a clue. In fact, when I talk about the sport on more general forums, I wind up having to give a Figure Skating 101 lesson every time I open up my mouth. I've thought about giving a handout prior to my presentation but I'm worried the audience might zone out and read the paper, not listen to what I have to say. Ditto for a slide presentation. Any ideas besides dumbing it down would be greatly appreciated.
    Last edited by theoreticalgirl; 03-05-2006 at 04:20 PM.

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    Keep in mind, Metallica (the genre of heavy metal for that matter) is perceived as guy's music. Christina Aguilera, generally, is not.
    Sadly, this is another stereotype. A lot of girls listen to Metallica and other hard rock, heavy metal groups. Is the same thing when people are saying that some sports are "female sports" (skating, gymnastics, volleyball) and other "male sports" (soccer, hockey, baseball). This is just plain stupid.

    To return on topic, I think that music is really important. I can't watch a program when the skaters has just a background music. It becomes boring. The choice of music is important too. The music has to reflect the style of a skater. I couldn't imagine Tonya Harding skating on Swan Lake
    I have to say that sometimes if I hate the music I hate also the program a priori. But some great skaters can perform a great program also on music that I dislike.

    Then another stereotype is that great skaters have to perform on a classical music piece. Definitely not true. Just watch the 1990 great Jill Trenary LP.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gio

    Then another stereotype is that great skaters have to perform on a classical music piece. Definitely not true. Just watch the 1990 great Jill Trenary LP.
    In the current environment with everyone skating to Carmen, Swan Lake, Turandot etc. over and over again, it's hard to believe Jill's LP music was "Sandstorm/The Mermaid" by Yanni and "Chicos y Chicas!" Not only that but at both 1990 U.S. Nats and Worlds she got a whole raft of 5.9s for presentation.
    Last edited by Ogre Mage; 03-06-2006 at 10:31 PM.

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    Ogre Mage: it's hard to believe Jill's LP music was "Sandstorm/The Mermaid" by Yanni and "Chicos y Chicas!"

    It's really late and my brain is kinda fried from a long day at work, so I'm having trouble detecting the sarcasm in this statement. I mean, if there's any. Are you implying that Yanni is an irreverent choice of music?

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    I always liked Lori Nichol's approach to music selection, especially in the work she did with Michelle Kwan, 1996--2001. Nichol has a huge music library, and is able to pull in advice from many sources. Her husband is a musician (classical guitar), and she herself learned choreography from her years of skating with John Curry's professional company.

    To me, Nichol's approach was not to find a piece of music and then ask the skater to "interpret" it. Rather, the music and the choreography were equal partners. Lori would not hesitate to spoon in a few bars of some other piece into the main work if it suited her choreographic vision.

    Lyra Angelica is a good example. Instead of just taking the harp concerto and designing a program around it ("OK, now be an angel floating on a cloud"), she used very active music cuts and material from other sources to support and enhance the program ("be Michelle Kwan skating her Olympic long program.")

    It was not so much, "what can I do with this music," as "what can this music do for me?"

    This was especially evident in the short programs which Nichol created for Michelle during this period, which, IMHO comprised one towering choreographic masterpiece after another.

    In the Red Violin, and even more so in the Song of the Black Swan, I thought that it took Michelle the whole season to grow into Lori's vision for how to conquer the music and tame it to the program. I have often wondered if this was part of the reason that Michelle parted company with Lori in 2002 and skated thereafter to less unique music of her own choosing -- Lori's music was too hard for her.

    Interestingly, Nichol's approach for Fumie is totally different. Fumie is a graceful skater who, like Michelle, is also able to put an artistic gloss over strong athleticism. But she is less talented than Michelle in working with the music to cast a spell of enchantment over the audience. For Fumie, it seems to me, Nichol is more content just to take a fine piece of work (including Beethoven, Mozart and Bach!), and then develop a program which "interprets" the character of the music.

    Mathman

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    Quote Originally Posted by theoreticalgirl
    Ogre Mage: it's hard to believe Jill's LP music was "Sandstorm/The Mermaid" by Yanni and "Chicos y Chicas!"

    It's really late and my brain is kinda fried from a long day at work, so I'm having trouble detecting the sarcasm in this statement. I mean, if there's any. Are you implying that Yanni is an irreverent choice of music?
    There is no sarcasm. It is commendable that she was willing to buck convention and pick something outside of the box and it is even more credit to her that the program worked. Skaters pick certain classical pieces over and over again (such as the ones that I mentioned earlier) because they are safe, reliable choices which are generally easy to skate to. When you make an unusual choice you stand out, but there is the risk conservative judges may find it too avant-guard, or it may just be too hard to skate to and you fall flat on your face choreographically. Two unusual music choices which IMO succeeded are Jeff Buttle's 2004 LP, Naqoyqatsi and Michelle Kwan's 1997 LP, Taj Mahal (Gulistan Bayati Shiraz). Another strong example at 2006 U.S. Nationals was Stephanie Rosenthal's SP to "Rockit" by Herbie Hancock -- perhaps the only time I've seen hip-hop used successfully in a competitive skating routine.
    Last edited by Ogre Mage; 03-06-2006 at 11:31 PM.

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    Skaters pick certain classical pieces over and over again (such as the ones that I mentioned earlier).
    This season there were too much Romeo and Juliet, Turandot, Tosca and Swan Lake. And in nearly every season we have heard Carmen, The Nutcracker ...
    Skaters, be more original! I liked the original choises of Elene G. LP (Armenian music) and Gheorghe Chiper LP (Balcan Gypsy Music), though I didn't like the choreography of these two programs.

    Two unusual music choices which IMO succeeded are Jeff Buttle's 2004 LP, Naqoyqatsi and Michelle Kwan's 1997 LP, Taj Mahal (Gulistan Bayati Shiraz).
    I agree. +3.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gio
    Skaters, be more original! I liked the original choises of Elene G. LP (Armenian music)
    Well, Elene G. music is for me an oberused ..... since Sasha Abt used it i've seen a lot of obscure European skaters using it .
    I like the music but is like, there is no other armenian music.......

    Well I'm from Spain and in 2002 suffered nigthmares every time I saw an OD... (spanish medley). The only good was Anisina-Peizerat, it was really good.
    Every pair choose Habanera from Carmen, there are a lot of habaneras (or spanish tangos) and a lot of pasodobles..... on ice we only see España Cañi and Carmen.....
    Last edited by kaskel; 03-07-2006 at 02:05 PM.

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    Thanks for joining us, kaskel. We always have a special welcome for new members from Europe and Asia.

    Mathman

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    I do believe the audience greeted Stephanie Rosenthal's SP to "Rockit" with an open-armed willingness to love just because it was so different. It was something real. Her skills weren't really on par with the top ladies, but she won that audience. She went from being almost unknown to being very well regarded by skating fans in less than 3 minutes of a flawed performance.

    It wasn't just that she went so far "out of the box" in choosing the music. It was that she asolutely committed to the music. She was fearless and sassy. She had a great time skating to it. The viewers, no doubt ready for a war-horse break, had a great time watching her. The single axel and other errors paled into insignificance. Stephanie was giving the audience something genuine instead of another fake Carmen or Juliet. She didn't win the competition, but I think she won the day. People have been talking about her fondly ever since.
    Last edited by SusanBeth; 03-07-2006 at 02:31 PM.

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