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Thread: Music - Over/Under Used

  1. #1
    Custom Title LRK's Avatar
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    Music - Over/Under Used

    This is a thread inspired by something in the thread about what music we would wish to see skated to, and by whom.

    Some music gets used and overused - while other pieces, equally skateable, barely are used, or even not at all.

    Why is this? Thoughts?

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    As to why, I think that often music that has proven successful for one top skater/team then becomes something that other skaters get inspired by and want to emulate.

    Both because it's been proven that this piece is "skatable" and also in some cases because lower-ranked skaters may like to feel a connection to their idols by skating to the same music. Including often younger kids using music that they'd be better off waiting to use until they develop their technical and interpretive skills to a higher level.

    So then pieces that were good the first time they were used and have since been used successfully by many other skaters become part of the skating repertory and subsequent skaters want to give their own take on the classic as well. And then it becomes overused.

    (For something like Swan Lake or Saint Saens' The Swan, I think it's because they're ballet classics, skating is often inspired by ballet, and skating can do a better job than ballet at imitating swans gliding through water. )

    Classical pieces that were well known to classical music audiences often already went through that process in the skating community before the television era. If it's overplayed in the concert hall/opera or ballet stage and it's highly suitable for skating (most true of ballet scores, which were designed to be moved to), it's probably been well used in skating.

    Pieces that are not well known already are less likely to be chosen. But once one prominent skater has a big success with such a piece, if it's easy to interpret, we'll probably see lots more programs to the same piece.

    If it's not so easy to skate to, even if an exceptional skater does a great job with it, we probably won't see too many followers.

    So then we have to ask, what makes a piece of music good to skate to?

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    Good point: success breeds success. Also, remember that new upcoming skaters are also very young. I suspect that to them, a piece like Carmen hasn't been done to death. Many of them feel that such a piece speaks only to them, and they want to share that with the world. I've seen this in fan fiction writing. If I had a dollar for every fan fiction piece I've ever seen that exactly retells the movie it's based on....But that's often how young writers learn. It's the same with Carmen and Swan Lake for skaters.

    As for what makes a piece of music good to skate to. I imagine that there needs to be some emotional dimension to it. Should there perhaps also be more than one part to the music, with some variation in rhythm and even in tone?

    In the old days, skating music was literally chopped up, odd bits of different classical pieces with no buildup in the music, presumably so the skater could display a variety of movements. I was astonished to find that Janet Lynn's famous 1970 "Afternoon of a Faun" actually was a series of pieces of music, from Faun to I think Lizst's Les Preludes, to something from French ballet that I recognize but can't place (maybe Giselle by Adam) to the end of a Beethoven symphony (I think the Fifth). To me, this was rather jarring, though Lynn's gorgeous skating is channeled from beyond the clouds.

    Today, I like to hope that the works will at least be by the same composer so the tone is compatible throughout. But it needs that variety of rhythm and emotional quality. This is where a movie score can be ideal, because there's often an action theme, a love theme, and maybe something funny.

    Something struck me: Richard Rodgers wrote a terrific orchestral score for a TV program about World War II called Victory at Sea. Here are some selections from it:

    a suite
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbmniU3Ptxc

    Beneath the Southern Cross (originally a love song from another musical, No Other Love Have I)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDuQp_AfVJk

    Hard Work and Horseplay
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsUrByLhH58

    I've never seen this used by anyone. I suppose the obvious choice would be a male skater, but that doesn't have to be the only possibility.

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    One thing that just came to mind after reading this is how a piece can speak to two people differently. For example, I'm a novelist (aspiring to publication) and I like writing to soundtracks. But I usually have never actually seen the movies, because many of them are too violent or gory. And I rarely make the connection to the story at all - but go with what the song makes me think of.

    One example is actually not from a soundtrack, but the "Wedding Song" also called "There Is Love". Almost everyone associates that with marriage and now I'm beginning to. But when I was a child I heard a gospel song about a martyr that had a similar tune. (I can't recall the artist or title, sorry). And so I always associated the tune, even from the Wedding Song, with the image of someone facing their death. I had to serve as a flower girl at one point and I remember feeling queasy when I had to hear it. Now it doesn't bother me, but I still have a bit of that association, so I used the song while writing a scene where a character is facing what he believes will be an execution. (He actually lives). And it made the experience of writing it very powerful for me.

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    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SoundtracksOnIce View Post
    One thing that just came to mind after reading this is how a piece can speak to two people differently. For example, I'm a novelist (aspiring to publication) and I like writing to soundtracks. But I usually have never actually seen the movies, because many of them are too violent or gory. And I rarely make the connection to the story at all - but go with what the song makes me think of.

    One example is actually not from a soundtrack, but the "Wedding Song" also called "There Is Love". Almost everyone associates that with marriage and now I'm beginning to. But when I was a child I heard a gospel song about a martyr that had a similar tune. (I can't recall the artist or title, sorry). And so I always associated the tune, even from the Wedding Song, with the image of someone facing their death. I had to serve as a flower girl at one point and I remember feeling queasy when I had to hear it. Now it doesn't bother me, but I still have a bit of that association, so I used the song while writing a scene where a character is facing what he believes will be an execution. (He actually lives). And it made the experience of writing it very powerful for me.
    I wonder if it is possible that as a child you heard the actual words and associated it with someone who sacrificed his life.

    He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts,
    Rest assured this troubadour is acting on His part.
    The union of your spirits, here, has caused Him to remain,
    For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
    There is love,
    There is love.

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    It's wonderful the many ways music can affect us. I once realized that Carmen, an opera with gorgeous romantic (in both senses of the word) music, doesn't have a single sympathetic character among its leads. Sometimes it's better just to let the music tell you its own story, not the story of the narrative work it was written for. Another example is Delilah's meltingly tender aria "Mon coeur s'oeuvre a ta voix" ("My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice"), which I think she sings to Samson before handing him over to his doom. Another song that conjures up a far kinder vision in me than it's designed to do in its proper storyline is "The Greatest Star of All," which Norma Desmond's manservant sings about her in Sunset Boulevard. To me it can be made into a hymn to the vanished world of silent movie queens; it doesn't have to be about an unhinged, delusional monster. Anyway, this line of thought gives a lot of music an entirely new set of possibilities.

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    Like subtlety in ice dancing Serious Business's Avatar
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    The system, the institutions and its traditions selects and in turn shapes the people who participate in them. So let's apply that to figure skating: From its earliest days, what does figure skating value? Conformity. The very act of skating figures in competition was the attempt to be as conformist as possible. They were called compulsory/school figures for a reason. Though figures are no longer used, they were for most of the sport's history, and people advanced as skaters, champions, coaches and whatever other positions of influence because of them. To a lesser, but not lesser enough extent, the COP also enforces conformity: competitive skaters must worry constantly whether their edges and positions fulfill this and that requirement. So is it any wonder this is a sport full of unoriginal thinkers?

    But it gets worse. There are other exacerbating factors. Obedience is ingrained in competitive skaters. From a very young and impressionable age, they train with coaches who command a huge portion of their lives. And then they go to competition after competition where success or failure is dependent on the exacting measures of a group of much older people. So skaters must obey, obey some more and never question (not that it'd do any good with the judges).

    Then there's the fact that competitive skaters are beholden to their national skating federations. Each federation is prone to politics, cronyism, bias and idiocy. And yet they ultimately control a skater's competitive chances: they choose who to send and who to invite for all the major competitions. Compare this to other sports where competitors live or die by their own merit and have much more control of their own fates.

    If you want to do your own thing, be your own person, be original, skating is not the sport for you. Is it any wonder this sport creates and favors pliant creatures who ape and copy, but rarely innovate? Figure skating's culture is staid, decadent even.

    Now some of those causes are intrinsic to the very idea of having competitive skating. Some of them, however, can be fixed or at least ameliorated. Judges can be encouraged, or better yet, forced to reward originality. They can be encouraged, or better yet, forced to keep their knowledge of music current and comprehensive. The musical part of skating deserves more emphasis, so skaters aren't just primarily trying to hit levels and jumps.

    You know, for all of music's universality, it is amazing, staggering even, how much music changes and mutates. It's no wonder that older folks of every generation complain that the music younger people listen to shouldn't be called music at all. The idea of polyphony shocked and scandalized when it was first spread in Europe. Imagine playing noise rock to baroque composers. Sure, there are common strains running through most music. But so much of it is ever-shifting. Figure skating is a sport based on music. It should at least reflect a bit of music's endlessly renewing ingenuity.

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    ^Age could be a factor, too. Musical expression, artistry and originality tend to go hand in hand with maturity, but with a sports that is now heavily skewed towards teenagers or very young adults, who at their age are more inclined to copy/imitate their heroes than develop original and creative programs, it's no surprise most programs use the same music over and over again. It's a rare talent who is able to develop their own original style at a very young age.

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    Like subtlety in ice dancing Serious Business's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Krislite View Post
    ^Age could be a factor, too. Musical expression, artistry and originality tend to go hand in hand with maturity, but with a sports that is now heavily skewed towards teenagers or very young adults, who at their age are more inclined to copy/imitate their heroes than develop original and creative programs, it's no surprise most programs use the same music over and over again. It's a rare talent who is able to develop their own original style at a very young age.
    Age is a factor, but in my estimate, not quite the way you think. Kids like very different music from the older generation. In fact, sometimes, they're outright revolted by the music of the older generation. Musical preference is one area in which kids from pretty much all over the world now stake their claim in independence and rebellion. Past a certain age, kids don't want to listen to what their parents listen to. Mind you, this doesn't lead to originality within the group, kids follow trends from each other (and from marketers aiming at them). But it does lead to originality in a generational way. If younger skaters had the freedom to pick whatever music they preferred to skate to, we'd have a lot less repeated warhorses, and a different set of music with every generation of skater.

    But the thing is, younger skaters are not given that freedom. They have coaches and choreographers advising them. They are playing to a crowd of old and fusty judges, most of whom would no doubt be appalled by the music the kids pick. In a really awkward, maybe even sickening way, the ideals of figure skating, shaped by the culture of judges/coaches/choreographers, is a youthful skater exhibiting ancient artistry with newer tricks.

    And I'm not sure as skaters age, they get any more original. Among the older skaters we have now, I don't really hear them picking anything new. Daisuke Takahashi has occasionally shown some wild flair in his exhibition music (like skating to Bjork's Bachelorette, or Snoop Dogg). But his competitive pieces are still all mostly tried and true. He's still operating within the strictures of figure skating. He still has to play to the same old judges. He's still under the thumb of his federation and their selection of coaches.

    And I think the capacity or tolerance for originality dwindles as people age. The very young, the tabula rasa, are of course, entirely open to everything new. Thus kids picking up new languages just like that. As people age, their brain gets more settled in, and such learning becomes harder. And while for the youths on the stopover to becoming adults, the need to strike out, to forsake the familiar, is a huge impetus, once they stake their own ground, they fall into routine and then they don't want to change. Innovation and creativity bloom when people are in their 20s. After that, most people, even geniuses and groundbreaking artists, tend to just coast on their prior success. And figure skating is run and dominated by the olds.

    So to recap: when skaters are young enough for innovation to run delightfully amok, such impulses are squelched. And when they're too old to change, that's when they become the ones in charge. It's the squished and depressed circle of life.

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    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    I do not believe that children's taste in music runs delightfully amok. Quite the contrary, children like exactly those tunes that their peers and the record producers tell them to like.

    To me, it is a good thing for children to skate to classical music. It is their only chance to learn that such a thing exists. They can listen to JayZee while they are doing their homework, but where will they get to hear Carmen except at the ice rink? .

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    Yeah. They used to have music appreciation classes in schools, but those have been cut back, and unless children play an instrument or are in a chorus, they have almost no way of knowing that classical music exists. At least skaters can have some other possibilities for hearing a wider variety of music than just what the latest pop icon is generating.

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    Let's say there are four age groups in question:

    *children up to age 12, still developing as competitors
    *teenagers, some of whom are competing at an international level
    *20-something senior competitors (and a tiny handful over 30), and young coaches/choreographers
    *middle-aged and older officials and coaches/choreographers (if this includes people in their 30s through 70s, that's several generations worth of musical taste)

    For most children who are also busy training seriously as skaters, we can assume that most of their knowledge of music comes from mass media and from what they're exposed to in ice rinks, unless their parents put a lot of emphasis on in-depth exposure to classical music or on other but less commercial genres.
    Even if the kids take lessons in playing an instrument or take music appreciation classes, they're still mostly going to be exposed to well-known pieces within the relevant genres, not to enough depth to go beyond the overused.

    Teenagers and young adults would be more likely to branch out into less mainstream genres or to follow a favorite genre in enough depth to know more than the most popular examples. It's not always a priority for competitors of this age, since they're busy training at their sport, but some also love music and could bring lesser known pieces that they love and that are suitable for skating into the rink.

    I think young coaches and choreographers would be the people to have the most influence on bringing new music into the sport, introducing a wider range of options to the younger competitors -- some of whom will then go on to explore music choices for their own programs, or to become coaches/choreographers themselves in a few years. Especially for choreographers, an unofficial part of the job is probably finding appropriate music for each skater to showcase their skills and help them stand out. I would hope that even as the choreographers reach middle and older ages they would continue to pursue new sources of music.

    Then it's up to the judges to evaluate how well each skater interprets the music chosen, even if it's something they've never heard before and wouldn't choose to listen to for their own pleasure.

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    Like subtlety in ice dancing Serious Business's Avatar
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    Classical music is overrated. And when people say classical music, they really mean traditional European orchestral music. Rigidly constructed and rigidly performed. Most of it catered to aristocratic patrons, and then the bourgeoisie that aped them. It's a tiny part of the vast variety of music we have in the world, and an increasingly outdated one.

    And the classical we get in figure skating is only a tiny, stunted portion of it. Most glaringly, singles and pair skating, by its rules, deliberately omits the richest, most complex, most dramatic and most historied part of classical music: the opera. Opera singers were the stars of classical music. The best ones had composers who wrote specifically for them. They brought the drama, and thus the attention. Where else would the central performer run the risk of fainting or worse, permanent disability from performing? And when you say that skaters listen to Carmen, they don't really. Carmen is an opera. And that is its most vibrant form. The symphonic approximations skaters use don't come close to the sexuality of the original. And skating's ban on vocals with lyrics is directly aimed at opera: it was instituted because a few skaters had the temerity to skate to opera. It's just yet another example of how competitive skating's powers that be stifle originality.

    P.S. Mathman, kids don't listen to Jay-Z. Hova's for the middle aged. The kids are all about 2 Chainz and A$AP Rocky.

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    I have never understood the concept of date when it comes to music. Music isn't like milk, with a freshness date, or like medicine, where some skills and theories are no longer the best we have. So to me classical music is no more outdated than Motown, which is fifty years old and still gives people a thrill. Pierre Boulez and his buddies famously pronounced that the old music was dead, and they had better music to replace it. We still listen to Brahms, and Boulez isn't played very much.

    As for its being rigidly performed, let me play devil's advocate for a moment and ask you whether you have ever seen a photo of a rap musician smiling. They never smile in official photos. They glower. It's like it's a law. Every art form has its conventions.

    In terms of whether it's elitist, well, I guess you could make that argument for almost any cultural achievement, such as cathedrals or gamelan music. Until recently, it was people who had the opportunity to do more than subsist and scrabble for food are the ones who generally build an edifice of culture. Now anyone with an act can get on TV or YouTube. Let's hear it for Justin Bieber.

    None of these arguments make classical music any less meaningful to me, so I love watching skaters use it imaginatively and well. You may believe as you wish. I do agree with you that opera would be a great addition to the skating repertoire.

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    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    Here's the thing about classical music: it sounds good.

    The problem with skating to opera is that the music might so delight the ear that the audience wishes the skater would get off the ice and stop distracting them from enjoying the music.

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