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The music of Olympic figure skating isn't what it could be

Just mood music

From the silver screen: Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy will skate to the "Out of Africa" soundtrack.
From the silver screen: Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy will skate to the "Out of Africa" soundtrack. (Ivan Sekretarev/associated Press)

Increasingly popular, too, are film scores. "Film scores have no rhythm," Hurwitz says. "It's just mood music, not meant to be choreographed. But they do it anyway, because they liked the movie [and can] wear a funky costume."

Even the musically knowledgeable do things to their musical selections that would outrage any purist. Alexander Goldstein, a Russian-born composer who has been arranging music for athletes since he worked with the Soviet figure skating and rhythmic gymnastics teams in the 1970s, points out that on his computer he can "make the music faster, make the music slower, without any degradation of the sound quality." But that's the least of his manipulation.

For the Japanese skater Miki Ando, the 2007 ladies' world champion, Goldstein has assembled a short program from excerpts of Mozart's Requiem. The problem is that no branch of figure skating, except ice dancing, allows words in the musical selections for its programs. Goldstein, therefore, had to creatively arrange the score. "I used the choir, but they don't pronounce any words," Goldstein says. The result is a kind of expressive vocalise that, as he says with a "what can I do" tone in his voice, "fulfills the figure skating requirements."

Weisiger, whose mother is a concert pianist, also resorted to rewriting when helping Weiss assemble his 1998 Olympic program to Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 ("Pathetique"). She felt the music needed something more than a piano in the slow section, so she beefed up the arrangement with a cello and a clarinet.

"The guy who helped me arrange it said, 'Beethoven is flipping over in his grave,' " Weisiger says. Perhaps not as much as Tchaikovsky is in reaction to Goldstein's creation in 2007, for the male Japanese skater Daisuke Takahashi, of a hip-hop version of "Swan Lake."

Non-masterpieces better?

There's an argument to be made for using ballet music and film scores rather than more demanding works: If you're going to chop a piece of music down into a four-minute segment, perhaps it's better to use functional music that was written to be adapted to its users rather than masterpieces that can only suffer through abridgement -- like the arrangement Goldstein prepared for the Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

"You need something people can relate to, something that can evoke some kind of picture quickly," Weisiger says, wondering how many iterations of "Phantom of the Opera" will be heard at this year's Olympics.

In fact, some risk-takers have been rewarded, like the ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who did more than perhaps any other skaters to elevate the sport to an art form with, among other things, their signature dance to Ravel's "Bolero."

But coaches are still leery of putting their skaters at a disadvantage. Weisiger dreams of creating a routine to Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun"; "it's just so ethereal," she says. But one day when she played it at the rink, she says, "one of the young male coaches skated by and said, 'Oh, God, don't use that; that will put everyone to sleep.' " As a result, it's back to the status quo, where "all the guys want to see the action hero," she says, and adds, "and all the girls skate to something Spanish."

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