Music: The Magic of Figure skating

By Sonia Bianchetti Garbato

Figure skating is indeed a very special sport where the technical ability of the skaters is strictly connected with their creativity, their musicality, their ability to convey to the audience their inner feelings.

Figure skating is a sport, but a sport with something more. And this something more is its artistic component. Figure skating is music. Without music our sport cannot exist, without music our sport would lose the strength of its expression. It is the music which gives a sense to the compound of the elements and their sequence in a program.

The skater skates his music, he feels it, he lives it and gives back to the audience the feelings and the emotions that that particular music inspires him.

Figure skating, as I use to define it, is a "physical art", it is the understanding and the interpretation of the music through harmonious and elegant movements, in the same way as ballet. Both ballet and figure skating are inspired by the music.

The bridge between figure skating and art is music, and it is through music that the skater expresses his or her inner feelings and shares them with the spectators. All the elements of a free program are the means by which the competitors communicate with the audience. Further more, the value of the entire program depends on how all of these technically difficult elements are blended together to compose the program. The fact that a jump is landed on the exact beat of the music, for instance, adds value to it.

The music should be understood as the best part of the ability of a skater who must be able to rouse the interest of all those watching him, public, judges, fans and capture their attention.

The music is the first step in inventing a new program. The construction of a free program must correspond to the musical structure of the piece of music chosen. The skater must give a sense to the music chosen through the composition of the program which means an harmonious distribution of all the elements, jumps, spins, lifts and steps over the ice surface.

The skater, the ice, the space and the movements must compose a unique whole. The structure of the program must be dictated by the music and the sequence of the elements, each movement, each position or gesture must be inspired by it. For example, a beat of the music can be underlined by a special movement, by the landing of a jump, or in case of a jump needing a long preparation, the jump itself could be executed at the climax of a phrasing of the music, as if the music itself was leading the competitor to that jump, as if the jump or the lift were the natural conclusion of a melody.

Every detail is important, is vital for the harmony and the perfection of the program. As in a masterpiece of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, at first sight one does not notice all the details which compose the fresco, but the details are there and they are important to achieve the perfection of the painting or, as in our case, of a free program.

To express the music a skater must use the entire body, not only his arms; he must fill and give life to the space with a variety of movements and gesture, and each movement and gesture must be completed, have a definite meaning, like a word in a poem, and must be in harmony with the music, its speed, its intensity.

Once again it is the music to dictate a program, to transform the sport into a performance, into a kind of art and without music figure skating simply cannot exist and without a deep understanding of the music the sport can exist but would lose its deeper connotation and its impact with the audience and the judges as well.

The music must have an immediate appeal to all the judges on the panel and this, some times, can create some difficulties. There are from 9 to 12 judges on a panel from different countries, different culture, different ages and different taste, and they can only hear the music a couple of times before the competition. This is why it is of vital importance that the music has an immediate appeal to all the judges. It is therefore advisable that the skaters avoid any type of strange or unknown pieces of music, which are difficult to understand and feel. Nothing is worse for a skater than a piece of music perceived by the judges as a "nightmare", a dreadful noise lasting too long.

The choice of the music is vital because it has to enhance the skaterís personality, his talent and his technical capability. To be able to select the best possible music for his pupil, the coach or the choreographer must know him thoroughly. Not only he must know his temperament and his character, but also his technical ability, his style, his speed. A slow skater with a fast music will appear even slower, and a young skater will be just killed by a famous symphony!

Also originality is an important feature. A great skater should also be original and innovative. A skater is not considered original because of a fancy dressing or color of his hair, his make up or spectacular costume. Originality must be expressed either by inventing some new movements, new entries or positions in spins or in spirals, new dismounts in lifts or by the choice of a special kind of music and the way it is interpreted. For instance, a competitor may just copy a classic ballet or create a new choreography more suitable to his personality or to the ice.

For his free program a skater may chose either different pieces of music harmoniously blended together for the duration foreseen by the rules, or select a music of a single composer, a unique theme with variations of speed to include a slow part. Since the early 1990s this second option is the favorite. What is most important is that the program impresses, gives an artistic emotion and is remembered as something that one would enjoy seeing again and again.

The structure of the program must be designed for the music chosen to enhance the skaterís qualities. The sequence of the elements must follow the logic imposed by the music itself; each movement, each gesture, each position must be inspired by the music and be consonant to it. The skater must give a sense to the piece of music selected through an harmonious composition of the program and a well balanced distribution over the whole ice surface of all the technical elements: jumps, spins, lifts or steps.

Only if the skater understands and loves the music he is skating to, his gesture, his positions, his movements will be understood and appreciated by the audience and the judges. The choreography must bring the audience to immediately understand the story the skater intends to tell, it must raise their interest, capture their attention and detain it through the entire program.

Important is also that he underlines the variations of the speed and the tempo of the music through the movements of his arms and positions and expresses its rhythm with his entire body. The increasing of the speed of the music, for instance, can also be underlined by the increasing speed of the rotation in a spin.

Melodic and slow parts of the music can be underlined by long steps with deep edges, spirals or spread eagles and ample gesture of the arms. Once again it is the music that dictates a free program, that transforms the sport into a show or a kind of art. To learn to feel the music and to interpret it, is as difficult, if not more, as to learn to execute the technical difficulties relevant to the sport itself. The perception and the expression of the music is what makes the difference between a skater and a champion

To interpret the music does not mean to skate to the tempo of the music or move the arms up and down as a robot. It means much more than that. It means to live the music, to skate with passion, with the heart; it means to express oneís interior drama with the entire body. Each move of a hand, or every turn of the head must make sense with the music, the skater must really feel it, he must live an emotion and must succeed in giving it back to the audience, the judges and the entire world.

Watching a high standard competition is exciting for the difficulty of the elements executed but, at the same time, it is fascinating, captivating and appealing for its art. A real champion is beautiful to look at, beautiful because he is elegant, because he is harmonious and expressive, intense and communicative

Many competitors can execute good and well choreographed programs, highlighted by difficult and spectacular elements, but very few are those who are able to transform a good program into a piece of art, a program that we would like to watch forever. For a great skater, the jumps, the spins, the lifts are only the instrument through which they express the music, same as the piano for a pianist or the violin for a violin player. A "Great Skater" will not be remembered for the number of jumps he has executed in his program, but rather for his personality, his originality, for the way he moves on the ice, for the emotion he is able to transmit to the audience, the contact he is able to create with his fans and for having set the path that others will try to follow.

Only for these acts, the creation of artistic images, will a skater be remembered through the decades. This is what makes our sport unique and magic and is what must be preserved as a precious diamond.

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