I have been keeping track of the music skaters use over the past several years. I try to include skaters that will be at international competitions, in front of international judging panels in my lists, including Grand Prix Assignments and big international competitions like Worlds. What always surprises me the most is the total lack of originality among so many skaters who one would suppose to have some artistic sensibility since figure skating is an artistic sport.
Perhaps some skaters don’t have a lot of musical knowledge and depend on others to guide them. Or perhaps skaters don’t pay attention to what other skaters use or really follow skating broadly and so are unaware of how well used their selection may be. Or it could be the reverse – a skater loved another skater’s music so much they want to emulate them. Maybe they are just athletes with no artistic soul. Whatever the case, I am here, in that time of year when new programs are being contemplated, to encourage skaters and coaches to educate themselves. Before you make that final decision, check how often that music has been used. If it has been used before, put it aside because there is a LOT of music out there, more than what the skating world would suggest. And – and this is the crucial bit – because skating is a small world, the music selections can get very repetitive and boring, I’m assuming for the judges (who can be in the sport for a long time and I’m sure have long memories) as well as the audience.
What I am going to do is deal with the heavily used, recognizable music that is used in skating in a two parts: what you often hear called “warhorses” (I), and then a category of “well used music – to be avoided” that includes moderately used but recognizable music to heavily used music (II).
I. Let’s talk about the warhorses.
Warhorses are pieces of music that have been used by multiple skaters over the years. Not only that but they are pieces of music that are extremely popular in general and therefore extremely familiar. Basically, they are never out of vogue and they always seem like a viable choice. But that is a mistake! That thought is a trap!
This music is so popular it automatically tells a story of its own, which people will expect when they hear it. Unless you are deliberately choosing the music in order to create a new perspective or aesthetic, you are going to blend in with the crowd. And, that crowd is going to include some iconic programs and skaters – Olympics and World Champions – that people remember. Are you ready to take that on? For most skaters, I would suggest, it is better to choose something that is going to create a fresh impression, something that is all your own.
In my books, the following pieces are warhorses. (If you would like to know how many people have skated to each piece in the past 6 seasons, I can tell you, but suffice it to say, it’s a lot. And that’s just the past 6 seasons. I didn’t even bother to count the number of times they’ve been used, and frequently quite famously, before that.)
- Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven – Are you ready to compare yourself to Papadakis/Cizeron, and before that Gordeeva/Grinkov? No, I thought not.
- Carmen by Bizet – Just avoid anything from Carmen, the entire opera.
- Liebestraum by Liszt
- Don Quixhote by Minkus – Although some pieces in the ballet are better known than other, this really covers the entire ballet.
- Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev – Same as above. (There are a lot of Romeo and Juliets out there and we will get to the others in time. This is not free reign to choose from the rest of them.)
- Nessun Dorma from Turnadot by Puccini – This really includes all of Turnadot, but Nessun Dorma is really off limits.
- Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninoff – I don’t think I even need to explain myself here.
- Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov
- The Nutcracker AND Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky – Both ballets in their entirety.
- The Four Seasons by Vivaldi – All of the seasons.
- Exogenesis Symphony by Muse – Part III is particularly dangerous.
- Feelin’ Good performed by Michael Buble – Usually I would list the composer or songwriter but this particular version is so well known, I will just say it instead. But really, any version counts. (Aside: Did you know that this song was originally written for a Broadway musical called “The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd by Newley & Bricusse? Neither did I.)
- Je Suis Malade by Serge Lama – Performed in any number of covers.
- Sing, Sing, Sing by Louis Prima
- Adios Nonino by Piazzolla – Adios is right!
- Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo – I love, love, love this music and therefore it might sway me to love anyone who skated to it. You see, I understand the appeal. But if the program or skating was mediocre, flat or uninspired, I would then hate the person. Double-edged sword.
- Malaguena by Lecuona
- The Godfather soundtrack by Nino Rota – For this and all the movies, I refer to the entire soundtrack.
- La Strada soundtrack by Nino Rota
- Love Story soundtrack by Francis Lai
- Moulin Rouge soundtrack from the film by Baz Luhrmann – Tessa and Scott. Do I need to say more? If it wasn’t off limits before, it really is now.
- Romeo and Juliet soundtrack by Nino Rota
- The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Weber – Ah, the 1990s otherwise known as the good ol’ days of Broadway (I’m not really serious here) when they created original music and didn’t just adapt movies to the stage. But back to The Phantom. We have heard it all. Really, we have.
- Les Miserables by Schonberg and Boubil – “Bring Him Home” and “I Dreamed a Dream” are particularly fraught choices.
There is another side to the warhorses and that is popular themes or bodies of work from which music is so frequently selected, it doesn’t matter what you choose, it will be repetitious and/or unoriginal. Really, selecting something from an extremely popular musical or movie soundtrack could fall into this category, like Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables above, but it could also include selecting music by a particular artist or on a particular theme. Some of these overlap with the ones above.
- The music of the Beatles – In medley or individual song format
- The music of Elvis Presley – Same as above
- Michael Jackson – And again
- Queen – Either way with this one too but particularly true of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Who Wants to Live Forever”
- Piazzolla Tangos – Here is where overlap comes in. “Adios Nonino” is the most popular Piazzolla tango in skating but so many of his pieces get used and frequently (Libertango, Oblivion, etc.). This could lead to a whole other discussion called, “What is it with tango and skating?” (Aside: If you choose to do a tango next year, unless you are an ice dancer and therefore compelled to in the short dance, I wash my hands of you.)
- Riverdance and/or Lord of the Dance – These seem to be the only sources of Irish music! Who knew?
- More musicals:
- Notre Dame de Paris
- West Side Story
- More movies:
- The Black Swan soundtrack by Clink Mansell – This overlaps with Swan Lake. Mansell based his score on it, so it doesn’t matter which. Both are off limits.
- The Great Gatsby soundtrack from the film by Luhrmann – I don’t even know how this happened.
- The Mask soundtrack – Who would have guessed that this one is still going strong?
- Romeo and Juliet soundtrack by Korzeniowski – Another one of the Romeo and Juliets. This one is everywhere these days.
- Schindler’s List soundtrack by John Williams
- W/E soundtrack by Korzeniowski – He’s a popular guy!
- James Bond – The Bond theme itself is used a lot, so although skaters tend to sample from a variety of the movies in the addition to the theme (From Russia With Love, Octopussy, Thunderball, Skyfall), and while the movie music differs, like the movies, it’s really all the same thing.
- Charlie Chaplin – Again there is a lot of music, good music, to choose from, but even when the music is different, the story is the same.
- Puccini – On further reflection, I am making Puccini a categroy all on his own. Basically, all of his major works are heavily used in skating: Turnadot, Tosca, La Boheme, and Madame Butterfly. At this point, it doesn’t really seem to matter what you choose, it will be a warhorse.
Hopefully skating can branch out in the future, but in case it doesn’t, I have prepared a little game of Warhorse Bingo for you! It can help bring to life any skating competition rendered boring by musical repetition. Bon chance!