the soundtrack for the olympic season: introduction

when tessa and scott announced their music, their fan community on fsu gathered together to discuss it. i sat in front of my computer and spent hours reading those amazing posts, with the glow of the screen lighting up my face as i read long into the night. i normally do use this blog to discuss tessa and scott's music in a way that allows us to appreciate their bold music selections. i wrote on funny face two seasons ago and i worked with two lovely sisters from spain to discuss the infamous spanish opera, carmen, which was the free dance last season. so, of course, i read those posts and thought about what it would take to bring the current forum discussion to the blog. i looked up and out my window, gazing down at the incredible view that only happens when night descends and the great city of toronto is covered with shadows and moonlight, before contemplating a plan that would make that goal possible. that was in early august and it's mid-setempber now ... i'm happy to say that a few of my ideas did work out very well and this particular post serves as the introduction to the overall series.

jazz standards for the short dance

fans of jazz greats, louis armstrong and ella fitzgerald, spoke about their love of tessa and scott's short dance music: "dream a little dream of me", "muskrat's ramble" and "cheek to cheek". it was such as a universally beloved choice that fans were celebrating.

"who was the person who said they had a dream tessa and scott were dancing to 'cheek to cheek'? i am pretty convinced you are clairvoyant. please have more dreams of tessa and scott winning olympic gold—maybe it will come true!" 
parapluies's comment after the music was released
"omg they're using cheek to cheek!! about three months [ago], i said i had a dream they were skating to that ... ETA: lol that was me parapluies." 
shayii responds

that short dance will be divided into three parts, with each section set to an iconic jazz song by ella and louis, allowing tessa and scott to take a jazzy approach to their foxtrot and quickstep. they've already aced the compulsory dance, as seen by their august debut of the program at the quebec summer championships, so it's a matter of making the overall short dance gorgeous by taking the ballroom movements easily done on hardwood floors and executing them perfectly on ice, under the guidance of their childhood hero and one of canada's great ballroom champions and choreographers, jean-marc généreux. you can read about how they created that short dance in my interview with them during stars on ice toronto 2013 here and you can watch the video here.

our reaction to the short dance music still makes me smile, even now as i write this. to bring this sense of fun and love to the blog, i reached out to lori, who lives in british columbia, and asked if she wanted to work on something with me. she agreed and spent a few weeks putting her essay together. we then developed it into the final piece, stars shining bright in the short dance. no, you won't find technical details that will take you through louis' style of trumpet playing in "muskrat's ramble" or a detailed breakdown of ella's interpretation of "dream a little dream", but that's not the point. as you read lori's commentary, you'll find the perspective of a longtime fan who has deep appreciation for that era where jazz legends were born and for those two singers in particular. she was even able to share what it was like to sit in the audience and witness ella sing at one of her final concerts. and she draws wonderful parallels between ella and louis, and tessa and scott. it's a gorgeous read

russian romance for the free dance

tessa and scott "will perform their free dance to selections from two turn-of-the-20th-century russian composers, alexander glazunov and alexander scriabin" to quote icenetwork. specifically, they'll be using glazunov's ballet "seasons" and scriabin's "piano concerto in f-sharp minor", but they're hired music technicians to combine and compose a special arrangement of both pieces for their four minute olypmic free dance. it's fascinating and those symphonies sound really pretty, but our first reaction, honestly, was "i've never heard of glazunov or scriabin before. who are they?" and that started an amazing discussion about the composers, their compositions and the romantic period in classical music.

i reached out to two of our classical music specialists and asked them to write something for the blog. both took a week to write their piece and we worked together for a week or so, via email, to create the final product. in the end, we put together two amazing series.

leticia, a music student who lives in south america, helps us to understand classical music by dividing it into three main periods: baroque, classical and romantic, and she gives us great advice about how to identify romantic music by talking about the characteristics and style of that era. she also gives us a great summary of the romantic period itself, including how the late romantic period in classical music differs from the early romantic period. that distinction is important because tessa and scott selected music from the late romantic movement.

introduction to romanticism in music
the three main periods in classical music
the period of romanticism

taking a different approach, catherine gives us great insight into it's like as a musician to play this music and what musicians notice when they hear both pieces. she's been studying music professionally for many years in northern europe, so her insights are amazing to read.

commentary on "the seasons" and the "concerto"
a run-through of the "concerto"

the romantic era

to get a broad overview of romanticism, you can read the wikipedia entry here. personally, i studied english literature in university, not music, but i did study romanticism and the romantic poets. here is a wonderful example of a romantic poem by william wordsworth. even though it seems perfectly normally for him to write about flowers and clouds in the way he does, we really have to think about this: he was the one who made this normal. in fact, he was the first poet to write like that. and even the idea that you can willingly suspend your disbelief and just watch evita meet juan perón for the first time or carrie dance with big to moon river in sex in the city, believing that for as long as the scene lasts, everything about it is real and true -- and it's alright to lose yourself in those worlds and their stories -- is an idea that comes directly from the romantic era in literature and wordsworth in particular.

i'm contributing a literary point of view, but it's important to know that romantic composers drew inspiration from the romantic writers. it's all connected by the concept of romanticism and that era spanned an entire continent and defined an entire century of thought, literature and art ... so the major english poets could have literally inspired the great russian composers. in fact, wordsworth is credited with ushering in romantic age in literature so his poetry was a must-read.

a sense of history

i also want to point out why it's important to set the romantic periods, whether in literature or art or music, in terms of chronological time and seeing that time as it relates to russian history. glazunov and scriabin didn't just write late romantic symphonies. they were russian composers who wrote their music in russia in the 1890s and, at that time, russian nationalism mattered deeply. in fact, glazunov is described as being very important to russian nationalism. in a way, his music was the soundtrack for this era in russian history. my initial reaction when i realized this connection was, "what is russian nationalism?" so i found the wikipedia article on the topic here. it starts with pre-imperial russian nationalism. it then goes to imperial russian nationalism, then nationalism in the soviet union and it ends with modern russian nationalism. there's also a wikipedia article dedicated to russian nationalism in music here. reading those articles helped me to understand the importance of these composers and their contribution to russian glory, which will resonate even today ... a hundred year later. without a doubt, there will be a groundswell of national pride and a deep reverence for russian heritage as the winter olympics happen in sochi. when the lights go on for the opening ceremony and the first person walks out on that stage, russia will feel it as deeply as canada did four years ago for the vancouver winter olympics. speaking as a torontonian, i do remember that there was much drama leading up to the games themselves, but i also remember how the country stood transfixed the moment k.d. lang performed hallelujah in the opening ceremonies, golden lights surrounding her on all sides throughout the stadium.

plus, marina zoueva was raised in soviet russia and competed for the soviet union as a skater herself, before she decided to focus on choreography. during the 1980s, she worked with the legendary pairs team of ekaterina gordeeva and sergei grinkov. in 2001, she had joined forces with another russian coach and soviet skater, igor shpilband, in canton, michigan, and together, they created one of the greatest schools in ice dancing history. under their training, their students easily became the greatest ice dancers in their own country and the world. they attracted great students from around the world, including tessa and scott, who left their first coaching team in canada to be trained under this coaching and choreography duo. so, at this point, they've trained with marina for well over ten years and, under her guidance, they became the first candians to win the world junior championships in ice dance. they also became the youngest skaters to become olympic champions in ice dance and the first north americans to triumph over the russian and european dominance in ice dance at the olympic level. essentially, tessa and scott have become one of the most important ice dance teams in figure skating history. the fact that marina chose these russian masterpieces for tessa and scott's greatest free dance yet says so much about her deep love for them and her trust in their brilliance. she definitely has a plan to let them explore the true height of their talent and she has stated that it is without a doubt an honour for her to have tessa and scott as her students and to coach skaters at that calibre.

it's also truly an honour for me to be able to turn on the television, connect to a webcast or sit in an arena and watch tessa and scott skate, seeing this modern legend unfold right before my eyes. they're incredibly savvy, ambitious and mature at this point in their career -- so, i'm sure that it'll be an honour for them and marina to use these historic russian masterpieces as the music behind their olympic free dance. every free dance is indeed special, but the olympic ones take on special resonance and as defending olympic champions, tessa and scott have to take this particular dance to another level of perfection. they've spent the early summer preparing their special arrangement of "the seasons" and the "concerto", and they've spent the entire summer creating and practising the compelling and complicated moves of this new dance ... all for that one moment where they leave marina at the boards and glide together towards centre ice at the iceberg skating palace in sochi, knowing that they're ready to once again skate their olympic free in such a way that they transcend the sport of ice dance itself and make everyone watching forget that this is even a competition.


thanks to everyone who participated in that particular tessa and scott thread, sharing your excitement, curiosity and knowledge.

since i gushed about him on twitter several months back, i just wanted to mention m.h. abrams, the great american literary critic who specialized in romantic literature, and his 1953 book, "the lamp and the mirror: romantic theory and critical tradition". it was and remains an incredible contribution to the field of english and revolutionized how we think of the romantic period. according to the wiki entry, with this book, "abrams shows that until the romantics, literature was usually understood as a mirror, reflecting the real world; but for the romantics, writing was more like a lamp: the light of the writer's inner soul spilled out to illuminate the world."