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Thread: Another Newbie Question: what makes a piece of music "skate-able"?

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    Another Newbie Question: what makes a piece of music "skate-able"?

    So in reading the "music you never want to hear again" thread, I became curious. When a skater or his choreographer evaluates a piece of music for a new short or long program, what are they listening for? Is it different for long & short programs?

    Some posters in the other thread mentioned that music that is too slow or is all the same tempo is not appropriate, and that you need places for spins & jumps. What makes a certain passage good for footwork or jumps, say, but not for spins? What if I'm considering a piece like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which is longer than either program - how do I decide what cuts make sense?

    I know a fair amount about music but nothing at all about how a choreographer creates a program, so would love to hear your thoughts.

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    My thoughts:

    Someone who is an expert at skating technique and also an expert at interpreting music can probably make almost anything skateable, at least for artistic purposes. Torvill & Dean and Kurt Browning come to mind, especially in their pro careers -- I'm sure we could come up with a handful of other such masters of music interpretation.

    But for competition purposes, as you point out, the length of the program will be an important factor, along with having appropriate passages for the right number of each kind of element.

    The average elite skater (or lower-level skater) may not be especially trained, talented, or interested in interpreting music. So music that has clear phrasing, rhythm, and melody that are easy to latch onto will work better for most skaters than anything too subtle or complex.

    But music that is too simplistic will soon get boring and doesn't give the skater much to work with. As you note, there should be some variety, some highs and lows.

    Skating movement is naturally flowing, so legato melodies help skaters show off their skills in those areas. (Although if they're really bad at skating fluidly, they don't want music that will call attention to that deficiency.) Staccato movements and music are good for introducing some contrast and variety, especially in passages with quick steps.

    If the music is syncopated or otherwise calls for precise timing of the movement to the irregular accents, it's probably not appropriate for a less skilled skater who may not have that level of control of the timing of each step to each beat of music.

    The recording also needs to sound good in large arenas over powerful sound systems, and in small local rinks over less-than-idea sound systems. Local rinks wouldn't be designed with musical acoustics in mind at all. Arenas that also host big concerts would, but the sound quality might be different with ice in the arena, and with a few thousand vs. many thousand spectators absorbing sound.

    What sounds good in a concert hall, or heavily mixed for radio or TV, may be too subtle, too shrill, etc., for a rink or arena.

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    To me, it always seemed that music composed for dancing, like ballet, ought to be easier to skate to than music composed for listening.

    GKelly's point about acoustics is crucial, IMHO. The concerto form for wind instrument is an unexplored possibility, with the skater interpreting the solo line against the orchestral background -- but I think the sound quality would kill it.

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    I can see that this is going to be a great thread.

    GKelly, you've brought out a lot of details that I haven't really codified in my mind; thanks. Music is very important to me, and the more I can learn about its role in skating, the happier I am. The idea of acoustics hadn't really crossed my mind, for example.

    What GKelly said about the level of the skater affecting the range of music (in terms of complexity) that is possible to use is shown in many specific examples. One of my favorites is the unusual baroque music that Denkova and Staviski used for their OD in 2003, which I think was by Lully:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doyxpzJDK5g

    Yes, it was a march, but how many ice dance teams could have brought out both the quality of the dance and the tricky cadences of that musical style? To this day it remains one of the most compelling programs ever, in some people's opinions. And it wasn't even a free dance!

    In general terms, it seems that a piece needs at least some variation in tempo, so that there is a place for jumps, quick and intricate footwork, and more flowing moves, to show the skater's range. That's one reason that a movie score is a good choice, because the music can be edited to include a more lyrical passage (a love theme, maybe) along with a bolder theme. I have often been frustrated watching a skater come to a dead stop and launch into a rapid footwork sequence that has nothing at all to do with the music that's playing. I'm sorry to say it, but Rachael Flatt's footwork to "East of Eden" (Lori Nichol choreography notwithstanding) struck me that way. It was the demands of CoP, so I can't see any way around it short of using other music, but I found it jarring.

    One of the more impressive uses of music in terms of edits from this season was Davis and White's rendition of Scheherazade, which I gather Charlie himself edited. There were extracts from all four movements, so that the lyrical third movement (the story of the prince and the princess) alternated with the sea scenes.

    The great thing is that there is music from all kinds of idioms and styles that would work for a skating program, from modern pop music and Broadway tunes to rock to classical. So there are plenty of possibilities.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gkelly View Post
    Someone who is an expert at skating technique and also an expert at interpreting music can probably make almost anything skateable, at least for artistic purposes. Torvill & Dean and Kurt Browning come to mind, especially in their pro careers -- I'm sure we could come up with a handful of other such masters of music interpretation.
    This is a great point. Whitney Houston at her peak could sing anything and make it sound like.. Whitney Houston.

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