How important is faithfulness to the source of the music? | Golden Skate

How important is faithfulness to the source of the music?

gkelly

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Even for abstract instrumental music, is it important for skaters and their choreographers, judges, and/or fans to be familiar with when and where the music was composed, and what the composer's intentions were, if known?

For a song with lyrics, is it important for the choreography to reflect the story told by the singer(s)? What about instrumental arrangements of songs originally were written to be sung with lyrics?

If the original performers created an official video for the song, should awareness of the imagery in the video be referenced in any skating choreography to that song?

For music that was written for an opera or ballet or musical, or as incidental music for a stage play or movie or TV show, should the program show awareness of the plot and/or characters of that story?

What if the music already existed but was made more famous by use in a specific movie etc.?

What if a skater chooses music that already has strong associations with a particular story or theme but chooses to use the music to tell a completely different story?
 

Mathematician

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This is a great question and something that I have a lot of experience with as a pianist.

The question arises oftentimes in Piano, debating about how exact your interpretation has to be to the sheet music itself. For instance, how free can you be with pedaling? Rhythm? Rubato? Volume? Things like this.

I used to be of the school that you need to respect the composer's sheet music absolutely; he poored his soul into this piece, while im just reciting some notes - who am I to say I am the greater judge?

However, the thing is, the greatest composers themselves when playing their own music rarely even recite their scores very exactly anyways, we know this from their recordings. With the subjectivity of music, some harmonies can express many different emotions some of which you may feel more or less at different times and hence if you are truly expressing yourself every performance will sound different.

The general consensus to me at this point is, you are doing a greater diservice to the composer if you are trying too hard to be a replicator rather than an intetpreter. If you dont actually feel what the composer was feeling, whatever that may be, then trying to replicate it like a robot insincerely will only bastardize their message - hence why today a lot of people have been lead to think classical music is "boring". With emulation over interpretations you are killing the emotion and profundity of that piece.

But, I'll say it does give an aura of greater sophistication if you allude to some knowledge or overt influence of the composer himself. But this isnt some moral rule of respect for the music or artist, it just seems to be a positive choice for the reception of your performance from an intellectual perspective.

This changes though with certain nuances. For instance, you mentioned lyrics - this is different. When it comes to lyrics, I think most likely its wise to respect them. If a song is pooring out musings of doom and sadness while you're prancing around with elation the image is a bit strange and seems like rather than "interpreting" you're rebelling for the sake of it or you dont understand what you're skating to. This isnt necessarily a "rule" but
seems to be the strong consensus from both a judge's and viewer's perspective.

As for instrumentals of lyric songs: melody and lyric are of completely different essense philosophically speaking - there is no real argument as to being bound by the original lyrics.

As for opera/ballet, my understanding isn't as sophisticated on that as is is with pure music. However, my immediate thought is that a ballet or opera is, as a whole, a performance defined by not just music but actors, props, visuals, stage technicians, directors, arenas, etc... therefore, its probably safe to say that the music in and of itself doesnt have to be boxed in as only defined by that specific piece of theatre. If theres a beautiful piece of music from a ballet, and you dance to it beautifully without much reference to the original ballet, then I dont think theres necessarily a "moral" problem.

I will add though that, like the aforementioned allusions to composers with their pure music, allusions to the original purpose of the work in this case of theatre often times also gives an atmosphere of greater sophistication and knowledge which rightfully will usually give a better impression. And in this case, its even more advisable/beneficial to the performance, since the correlation and purpose is a lot more objective than the more abstract idea of a composer's musical inspiration alone in the case of pure music. Ultimately everyone already has the image of a ballerina when they listen to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, so its wise probably to dance like a ballerina even if without allusion to the actual plot. But again, not a rule based on any moral argument.

About if a piece of music was "made famous" by a movie, then I think theres zero reason to have to be loyal to that movie. The movie used the piece for its own interpretation - you can do the same.

There is then the problem with cultural pieces of music though, and specifically the idea of "cultural appropriation". I dont want to get into this too much because it can get political. I'll say though, that if someone of European descent wants to dance to for example Asian or Latin music, and spread that culture, I don't see why its a problem. I imagine people from those cultures would be glad their music is appreciated in other areas of the world. This is the one situation though where its pretty important to actually understand the essense from a "moral" perspective. You dont have to be a slave to their culture at all, you can interpret and feel, but just keep the essense of that culture clear in the performance.
 

4everchan

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This is a very interesting question for a thread.

I can only speak from my personal experience however. For a musician, it is indeed expected to do extensive research.. it goes further than just the notes and markings on the page, the context or the origins, there is study of style, performance practice, musical analysis - formal and harmonic,etc. Composers rarely divulge directly and /or fully their intentions, and if one could ask a living composer about their work and they deigned to answer, well the ones that are dead, we will never know. Of course, for an opera, the libretto is revealing but for what we call "pure" music (by opposition to programmatic music) a lot of work needs to be done and the interpretation can vary immensely from one performer to another. A lot of the titles given to pieces did not come from the composers themselves but from editors/ publishers or from performers/the public. A good example, many of the Chopin Etudes have nicknames, none of which were given by Chopin himself. However, for figure skaters, I do not think that it should be expected that they have such extensive musical knowledge. In other words, the work to be done by a performer (musician) goes quite deeply...Some analysis I have written are over 100 pages and cover many areas of research. So I cannot imagine that an athlete would have the time, nor the knowledge, nor the formal training, nor the interest to go that deeply into a piece of music. I also don't believe it's necessary for figure skaters.

So for figure skaters, my answers are all very open... no absolute answer either way, and if sometimes, I have strong reactions, even objections to some choices, music is NOT the main part figure skating program but a vehicle to allow for displaying skills and compete... So, I have learned how to detach myself a bit more... and after a strong initial reaction, I will let things go :)

I tend to be much more critical about bad music cuts than skaters not characterizing properly their chosen music.

Here are some reasons on top of my head.

1) Not all skaters have a loud voice in choosing their programs, especially younger ones. Coaches and choreos will suggest things and that's it... For instance, how many young girls would really like to skate to Méditation de Thaïs or Big Spender if they really knew what is going on in there??? But, if given by their choreo or coach, and if they like the music or even if they made an uninformed choice just based on how things sound like, can we really blame them?

2)I think that with many skaters, there is a general idea about what is happening in a piece when doing programmatic music... Inspiration is drawn from the music and plot of the opera for instance...but the skaters will not portray line for line what happens... which is very fine with me. Let's be thankful that all these Carmens or Mimis or Toscas or Juliettes do not all die on the ice ;) So, I don't fault them again for not going with the storyline. So that would answer the last question in the OP... Skaters do it all the time, not depicting what truly happens... and that's very alright especially considering that a lot of the music used is a testimony of cultural concepts that no longer would be accepted nowadays... (if you have not clued in by now, 19th Century opera is super misogynistic, probably just like society was back then )

3) When skaters make a case of trying to tell a story, and they reveal that this is their approach and focus for the program, then, yes.. they should really do some research, at least about the story and context. Some do. Some do not. In the end, can we really fault them ? I don't think so... I do appreciate when there are attempts to stay "true" to the work, even if the attempts are not so successful.

In the end, I mostly get mad at coaches and choreos for choosing inappropriate topics (in my opinion) for young skaters... but I do not expect skaters to know so much about the music itself and its context.
 
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Mathematician

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Of course, for an opera, the libretto is revealing but for what we call "pure" music (by opposition to programmatic music) a lot of work needs to be done and the interpretation can vary immensely from one performer to another.
This is a great point. If the actors in the play themselves interpret the characters and music in their own way, why cant the skater interpret in dance her feelings to the same music? Same goes with the message itself of plays; theres many themes and messages you could argue for a Shakespeare play, so who is to judge what the skater should be expressing when it comes to allusions to that play?

In the end, I mostly get mad at coaches and choreos for choosing inappropriate topics (in my opinion) for young skaters...
I dont totally agree about this nuance. Some skaters will be more talented and mature than others by nature, thats just how it is. If one girl at 13 can digest Tchaikovsky and skate like a ballerina, while another cannot, then I think the former being held in higher regard is just the way art goes.

I think it would be a great diservice to the sport if coaches just chose Justin Bieber or something for the young girls under the pretense the girls couldn't be "mature" enough for something greater. Artistic talent cannot be hindered like that, some girls were born for Tchaikovsky and some were born for Bieber; I know which of the two I want to see in skating. Some have what it takes and some dont - thats art; thats life.
 

4everchan

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I dont totally agree about this nuance. Some skaters will be more talented and mature than others by nature, thats just how it is. If one girl at 13 can digest Tchaikovsky and skate like a ballerina, while another cannot, then I think the former being held in higher regard is just the way art goes.
I am not talking about musical maturity to perform Tchaikowsky .. I am talking about a 13 year old telling the story of a prostitute for instance.
 

rabidline

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The general consensus to me at this point is, you are doing a greater disservice to the composer if you are trying too hard to be a replicator rather than an interpreter. If you dont actually feel what the composer was feeling, whatever that may be, then trying to replicate it like a robot insincerely will only bastardize their message - hence why today a lot of people have been lead to think classical music is "boring". With emulation over interpretations you are killing the emotion and profundity of that piece.
My current personal feelings about musical interpretation in figure skating is definitely around this sentence, thank you for putting it so sufficiently.

Since I'm a more recent figure skating fan, I am used to the generation where the competition is dominated by younger skaters, especially in singles. These younger skaters have not much life experience, not every skater have the same level of formal education, and there's also language barriers to think about. So I don't really expect all skaters to know, much less comprehend, the vast history of the pieces they are skating to, especially if it's composed centuries ago. I definitely don't expect all skaters to interpret the music the "correct" way, if there's even any. I myself sometimes don't vibe with the "correct" musical interpretation.

I do appreciate the coaches and choreographers who do study them and share their knowledge to their skaters, and I do appreciate skaters making the effort to consume and study the media that is the source of their music (going to the Opera / musical / concert and/or reaching out to musicians and/or singers and/or composers and/or other experts in the artistic field). I also don't mind skaters who just let instinct take over for their interpretation of the music. My favorite skater is like that. He's not perfect, but he's doing pretty okay.
 
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Mathematician

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I am not talking about musical maturity to perform Tchaikowsky .. I am talking about a 13 year old telling the story of a prostitute for instance.
Oh, I understand. It seems there has been a lot of that kind of stuff recently in figure skating - I have noticed it too. Not to mention society in general; dark times...
 

TallyT

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I think skaters and their choreographers should at least try to be empathetic to the music, whether or not that means close to what the composer felt or intended or (as happens) quite different. After all, not only has time and passed and culture changed since much of the great classical works were composed, but skating, like many performance-based things, is now much more global and being interpreted from other backgrounds and histories. And that changes everything sometimes, and that is good.
 
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Great thread! One thing to keep in mind, as 4evercghan alluded to, is that the skaters themselves are mostlly teenagde athletes with little musical training or education, so these are really questions for their choreographers and coaches. At the 1998 Olympics Tara Lipinski had a big fight with her cchoreographer Sandra Bezic over her music. Bezic wanted her to attempt something with musical substance, but Tara was adamant that sher wanted to skate to "The Rainbow" because it was so pretty. Meanwhile, Michel;le Kwan resisted Lori Nichol's choice of the Allwyn harp concerto. And in fact, when she parted compasny with Nichol three years later to "take control of my own skating," Michelle turned to her own musical tastes, classical war horses, for her LPs.

If the original performers created an official video for the song, should awareness of the imagery in the video be referenced in any skating choreography to that song?

It's hard to imagine a dance team taking on Michael Jackson's Thriller and NOT doing the monster walk. :laugh:
 
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rabidline

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I think skaters and their choreographers should at least try to be empathetic to the music, whether or not that means close to what the composer felt or intended or (as happens) quite different.
Empathy to the music is a very good point as well. It reminds me of when Shoma skated to Dancing on My Own (DOMO) with some pretty damn sad lyrics about heartbreak, but there were some performances when Shoma would have a soft, giddy, hopeful smile in his face but it doesn't necessarily look "dissonant" with the music, at least for me. But obviously a smile while the singer is lamenting about not being the guy who is loved by his loved one is not exactly the best literal interpretation of the lyrics of that song.

I figured the reason why was because the song itself, while about a heartbreak, was musically on a major key and had some uplifting parts that does bring a smile to my face. And lo behold, when David Wilson who choreographed it was interviewed, he revealed that choosing that song in particular was on purpose: when the song itself is selected with an autobiographical perspective of the skater (Dancing on My Own... for a skater on a coach-less season, yep. very literal.), the song has to be uplifting. So there's something like that too. When the skater actually listens to their music, they can find the quality in the music that brings out their genuine expression, even with the lack of knowledge and language barrier.
 
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TallyT

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I remember the reaction when a little Japanese skater and her (I think) French choreographer announced that they would be using 'Strange Fruit'... thankfully that was dropped but it does illustrate the pitfalls of not being at least a little aware of your music's story and affinities. And I do not believe that it's just music with lyrics.
 

4everchan

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I remember the reaction when a little Japanese skater and her (I think) French choreographer announced that they would be using 'Strange Fruit'... thankfully that was dropped but it does illustrate the pitfalls of not being at least a little aware of your music's story and affinities. And I do not believe that it's just music with lyrics.
Pieces without lyrics... I find it much harder to evaluate either way... Do you have examples where you would say it's not okay or it's okay to use in figure skating because the context is just too much or not that important respectively?

If you take the gorgeous Sheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov, which is pretty much a figure skating warhorse... well R-K himself considered not using "literal" titles but simple terms like "Prelude" etc for the 4 movements of the piece. He was mostly inspired by "oriental" musical colours (orientalism was a very strong movement in arts at the turn of the century) and perhaps not too keen on the stories themselves... or the context for the collection of stories. So, should young skaters skate to it or not considering the original context from the literary work???

From our friend WIKI

The story goes that the monarch Shahryar on discovering that his first wife was unfaithful to him, resolved to marry a new virgin every day and to have her beheaded the next morning before she could dishonor him. Eventually, the vizier could find no more virgins of noble blood and, against her father's wishes, Scheherazade volunteered to marry the king.

Once in the king's chambers, Scheherazade asked if she might bid one last farewell to her beloved younger sister, Dunyazad, who had secretly been prepared to ask Scheherazade to tell a story during the long night. The king lay awake and listened with awe as Scheherazade told her first story. The night passed by, and Scheherazade stopped in the middle. The king asked her to finish, but Scheherazade said there was no time, as dawn was breaking. So the king spared her life for one day so she could finish the story the next night. The following night Scheherazade finished the story and then began a second, more exciting tale, which she again stopped halfway through at dawn. Again, the king spared her life for one more day so that she could finish the second story.

Thus the king kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the conclusion of each previous night's story. At the end of 1,001 nights, and 1,000 stories, Scheherazade finally told the king that she had no more tales to tell him and asked to be able to say goodbye to the three sons she had given him during those years. During the preceding 1,001 nights, however, the king had fallen in love with Scheherazade. He spared her life and made her his queen.
 
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TontoK

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I'm not very musically talented, so I'm speaking out of depth here - just a layman's view.

I think it's more important that the skater use the music as a canvas to portray his own interpretation, rather than adhere to someone else's view of what that music SHOULD mean. It takes some skill to do this...

I'm reminded of Ryan Bradley's Mozart program. That definitely was NOT what a traditionalist might view as an originalist interpretation. It probably wasn't everyone's cup of tea... but I liked it. And even critics would have to acknowledge that Ryan applied his own unique point of view to the music.

But, just to illustrate how contrarian I can be... recently a young woman skated to the old Shaker hymn Simple Gifts, and she was dressed like Miss Kitty at the Longbranch Saloon. I disliked the clash between the music and the styling. It's OK, I'm allowed to like and dislike any program... but that's the risk any skater takes in preparing a program.

I'm definitely against the idea that any music be declared culturally off-limits to skaters. Once you go down that road, you open a can of worms. Waltzes for Austrians only? Tango limited to skaters from Argentina? Only devout Catholics may skate to Ave Maria? Where exactly do you draw the line?
 

Mathematician

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Pieces without lyrics... I find it much harder to evaluate either way... Do you have examples where you would say it's not okay or it's okay to use in figure skating because the context is just too much?

If you take the gorgeous Sheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov, which is pretty much a figure skating warhorse... well R-K himself considered not using "literal" titles but simple terms like "Prelude" etc for the 4 movements of the piece. He was mostly inspired by "oriental" musical colours (orientalism was a very strong movement in arts at the turn of the century) and perhaps not too keen on the stories themselves... or the context for the collection of stories. So, should young skaters skate to it or not considering the original context from the literary work???

From our friend WIKI

The story goes that the monarch Shahryar on discovering that his first wife was unfaithful to him, resolved to marry a new virgin every day and to have her beheaded the next morning before she could dishonor him. Eventually, the vizier could find no more virgins of noble blood and, against her father's wishes, Scheherazade volunteered to marry the king.

Once in the king's chambers, Scheherazade asked if she might bid one last farewell to her beloved younger sister, Dunyazad, who had secretly been prepared to ask Scheherazade to tell a story during the long night. The king lay awake and listened with awe as Scheherazade told her first story. The night passed by, and Scheherazade stopped in the middle. The king asked her to finish, but Scheherazade said there was no time, as dawn was breaking. So the king spared her life for one day so she could finish the story the next night. The following night Scheherazade finished the story and then began a second, more exciting tale, which she again stopped halfway through at dawn. Again, the king spared her life for one more day so that she could finish the second story.

Thus the king kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the conclusion of each previous night's story. At the end of 1,001 nights, and 1,000 stories, Scheherazade finally told the king that she had no more tales to tell him and asked to be able to say goodbye to the three sons she had given him during those years. During the preceding 1,001 nights, however, the king had fallen in love with Scheherazade. He spared her life and made her his queen.
A very interesting conjecture with this example here.

I would personally not skate to anything which had such connotations. However, I cant harshly judge anyone who would be able to disconnect the story from RK's music, since the correlation isnt particularly strong in this case; its not a play, or lyric song, just some music which was inspired by a rather controversial story. Again, myself I would feel uncomfortable, but most would make the disconnection.

I wasnt aware of the actual story of Shceherazade. I know Kamila did a performance to this story and I think Zagitova did as well. A lot of Russian ice shows seem to be about controversial pagan stories like this. Definitely raises opportunity for a lot of questions and debates.

I hope more people give some sophisticated perspective on these kinds of things outside of the simple "who cares its just an edgy story" type answers. I'm curious to see some discussion on this as im not totally sure what to think yet.

I'll return to this question later after watching Kamila's performance.
 

icewhite

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It's not important.
However I would like the skaters (and everyone who works with them on that program) to know the background well. It's fine and even nice when someone brings their own interpretation, maybe leaves tradition and original intention behind and makes something new. But I would like that to happen consciously, not because of ignorance or misunderstanding. In the worst case it can otherwise even become pretty cringe.
 

TontoK

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I'm definitely against the idea that any music be declared culturally off-limits to skaters. Once you go down that road, you open a can of worms. Waltzes for Austrians only? Tango limited to skaters from Argentina? Only devout Catholics may skate to Ave Maria? Where exactly do you draw the line?

Expanding on my comment:

Our beliefs of what a particular piece of music should mean, and who should be allowed to use it, are challenged by the recent controversy surrounding country music star Luke Combs' cover of Tracy Chapman's Fast Car.

A few weeks ago, discussion was raging. What was Luke Combs thinking? Tracy Chapman is female, black, and LGBT. And he's a stereotypical country music white-guy-with-guitar. How could he possibly interpret this song? Television panel discussions and magazine articles and newspaper editorials abounded. There was no shortage of critics weighing in. Lots of pontificating about appropriation of a black "voice" in a white-dominated musical genre, the unique challenges of addiction in the black community, the impact/lack of impact of queer music... on and on about what the song meant to varying constituencies.

So, why did Combs choose to cover this song? Nothing complex. He liked it. He remembers riding in a truck with his father listening to it on the radio. The opening guitar riff inspired him to learn to play guitar.

What did Tracy Chapman herself have to say about it? "I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there. I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced Fast Car.”

Chapman recorded Fast Car in 1988, not really all that long ago, and still the cultural critics completely misinterpreted or disregarded how the original artist might view the cover. Yet I'm supposed to put great weight on how people view music from 100 years ago or more? Nah. Art is for everyone. No gatekeeping.

PS. Not that it matters... I prefer Chapman's original, but I don't hate Combs' cover.
 

4everchan

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Expanding on my comment:
This is referred to as cultural appropriation. It's another sensitive topic. It happens in figure skating of course but I think it has been less problematic in general. Bollywood is one style that has been talked about but it usually worked out, mostly because the skaters would consult with Bollywood specialists and do it with respect (I am sure there are some bad examples of it too...but my memory only remembers the good ones this morning. ) Waltzes and Tango are considered universal at this point, so I wouldn't worry about those two or any style related to ballroom or latine dance.
However Dominina-Shabalin were very badly informed about taking a first nations dance to Vancouver games of all places.... First nations are very much part of society and culture in British Columbia and I can tell you that it was mentioned pretty much in all the news outlets. I was there and almost nobody talked about figure skating if not for Joannie Rochette's skate hours after the death of her mother and those awful costumes and dance (the costumes were toned down from earlier that season but were still inappropriate). (PS, I was not on GS back then, I have no idea if it made a huge deal here or not). So clearly, that's an example where the entire team didn't do their homework. Considering it was an Olympic year, it tells a lot about the lack of knowledge and/or consideration that happened within their team.

 

el henry

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Very interesting questions, @gkelly, and I need to ponder more to answer each one.

But as far as 20th or 21st century music is concerned, I do think that skaters need to be aware of the context of certain songs.

Of course, artists can re-interpret and skaters can adapt. Of course, art is what it means to the person viewing and the person performing (dear heavens, stop me before I revisit the signifié and signifiant of my college days.:biggrin:).

But some songs truly are off limits. Some poor Japanese junior had "Strange Fruit" as one of her pieces of music, not knowing its history I am sure. She eventually replaced it, I think with Sinnerman. That is an egregious example, but they exist. We do need to have limits.

The same thing with that horrid "aboriginal" dance. Other cultures can be approached respectfully, as Meryl and Charlie did with Bollywood. As anyone with an ounce of common sense or the politeness their mama raised them with would do. :)
 

lariko

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Even for abstract instrumental music, is it important for skaters and their choreographers, judges, and/or fans to be familiar with when and where the music was composed, and what the composer's intentions were, if known?

For a song with lyrics, is it important for the choreography to reflect the story told by the singer(s)? What about instrumental arrangements of songs originally were written to be sung with lyrics?

If the original performers created an official video for the song, should awareness of the imagery in the video be referenced in any skating choreography to that song?

For music that was written for an opera or ballet or musical, or as incidental music for a stage play or movie or TV show, should the program show awareness of the plot and/or characters of that story?

What if the music already existed but was made more famous by use in a specific movie etc.?

What if a skater chooses music that already has strong associations with a particular story or theme but chooses to use the music to tell a completely different story?
All good in my books. I trust them to make their choices.
 

lariko

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As for cultural sensitivity, if someone tells me they are offended with the rep, i believe them. Any other position is just a pure loss and a waste of time to defend.
 
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