Hugo Chouinard: “Skate to a music that grabs your heart!“

Hugo Chouinard Interview by Vladislav Luchianov

Hugo Chouinard is a former Canadian National team member in ice dancing. Since 1994 he works in a musical design for sporting competitions, especially for figure skating. Thanks to his talent and genuine passion for figure skating his musical works appreciated by many famous figure skaters, coaches, and choreographers around the world. Over the years he has worked with such renowned skaters as Yu-Na Kim, Qing Pang/Jian Tong, Joannie Rochette, Miki Ando, Akiko Suzuki, Jeremy Abbott, Alissa Czisny, Jessica Dube/Bryce Davison, Sasha Cohen, Jeffrey Buttle and many more. By results of his clients we can confidently say that his musical design is the work which helps to create great Champions. Today I have an opportunity to talk with Hugo and ask him some questions.

VLAD: Hugo, you are a famous musical designer. How do you make your music? How do you find it?

HUGO: First of all thanks Vlad for giving me this opportunity to talk to your readers. I don’t know if we could use the word “famous” but I am certainly passionate about skating and music. I started my business in 1994, and since then skating and technology have changed significantly. Just a few years ago, the skating crowd was expecting less both from the music selection and the editing. It was common place to hear “music salads” and very poor musical transitions. However, our world has changed and people now expect outstanding beauty and near perfection in every aspect of the performance. Skating follows the mainstream in society, and as the father of industrial design Raymond Loewy so aptly stated “Ugliness Does Not Sell” .

There is no special recipe to design a musical program, but I certainly have developed a wide variety of skills throughout the years to help me achieve my goals. Since my debut, I have created over 20,000 musical programs, this is a lot of experience! I am certain that my understanding of the sport, both from a technical and emotional level helps me build the musical programs that I do. I’m a former member of the Canadian National Team in Ice Dancing and it, of course, taught me a lot about the skating world and how music should be structured to maximize the impact both on the judges and on the crowd.

First of all, it is important to find the right musical concept. This is achieved by listening carefully to what the skater, coaches and choreographer have in mind. Most of the time they have a rough idea of the style they want and they ask me to find selections to fit their vision. They may also have the concept or track titles in mind, and then they ask me to find the most appropriate version for the athlete. Youtube is an incredible tool to watch the skater’s previous performances and to determine what could fit their style. iTunes is my favorite Music Store but there are so many other ones available. Internet now gives us access to millions of musical treasures!

To complete the program, I do the editing in a very close relationship with the choreographic plan. The musical highlights need to fit the placement of the elements to optimize the score. The final design needs to enhance the skater’s performance and must keep the crowd’s attention until the end. It’s like a good movie that grabs your attention from the beginning until the final punch!

- Could you tell us how is it looks like to work with such a great skater as Yu-Na Kim and others who are also the top skaters?

- I feel very blessed to work with not only the world’s most elite skaters, but with the top choreographers as well. It’s really exciting for me to create for these individuals because of the International visibility and the global impact it has on our sport. I enjoy this kind of opportunity to help make a mark on the skating world! We always try to come with original and unique concepts to push the limits of figure skating.

My favorite period of the year is from March till August as I’m daily challenged by coaches and choreographers. I am so fortunate to collaborate with Shae-Lynne Bourne, Pasquale Camerlengo, Sebastian Britten, Renee Rocca, Angelika Krylova, Yuka Sato, Sandra Bezic, Brian Orser, David Wilson and many more!
Brainstorming, intense search for new concepts and complex editing allow me to experiment and to push my limits, thereby constantly developing my skills. It is this process that keeps the flames of my passion for my work alive and growing.

- Where does your inspiration comes from?

- From the skaters, the choreographers’ concepts, new groups of music, movies, shows, travels…and sometimes in my dreams!

- How much time needs (at the average) to create a full program – from first step to a final?

- In general, the first draft takes about one to three hours to create, but it depends on the complexity of the request and the number of parts to be blended together. A program can have just a single transition, but sometimes more than 100 are required. Then the tweaking and fitting period can last a few weeks, or perhaps even a few months.

- What do you think about using the modern pop music in the figure skating?

- I’m really not crazy about that type of music for skating, however, it really does depend on the context. Pop music can be ideal for gala programs. Also with the new “short dance” it can be appropriate to use pop selections as it goes with ISU new focus to make the dance event look like the new ballroom stream, as seen in television programs such as “So you think you can dance?”, or ” Dancing with the stars…” However, apart from these few scenarios, most of pop music doesn’t offer the emotional depth or structural complexity to support skating choreography.

I certainly understand why the youngest skaters want to skate to their favorite radio hits, but coaches have a responsibility to help these young skaters develop a musical culture. This is so very important for skaters and they should be encouraged to experiment with many different styles of music as early as possible. Fortunately, most of the pop hits are only available in karaoke version and it is really not musically attractive! I hope the ISU never allows vocal music for singles and pairs skaters, because we would lose an enormous piece of our cultural heritage.

- What do you think about the future of music in skating?

- I think that we will always be surprised by the infinite possibilities to create new concepts and new designs. It only depends on the athletes willingness to perform to unexpected concepts, such as Yu-Na’s Bond Girl program. Figure skating is getting more and more interesting every year. This has certainly become more evident since the IJS that challenges the skaters to a much deeper understanding of their music, and this can only result in more outstanding performances. Many styles of music can be transformed into masterpieces. I love working with all music genres, but it is particularly pleasurable for me to re-visit some of the well known classical ballets or operas and present them in a new and unexpected angle.

- In your opinion what is the difference between “good” music and “bad”?

- Good or bad for skating depends on the choreographic potential of a musical piece and how it could be blended. A track that sounds interesting but seems to go nowhere could become very surprising if it has enough potential. My most recent example is a world level short program I have created last week. Two of the three tracks were good but not exceptional by themselves. But with manipulation, sampling and overlapping it suddenly exploded!

- Tell us a few, please about your works for the next season?

- Professional secrecy is my most important value and the highest mark of respect for my clients, so I will not reveal any titles or themes. I can tell you that it’s my busiest season ever and I’m proud of every single project. Alissa Czisny, Nobunari Oda, Virtue/Moir, Daisuke Takahashi and many others. I will reveal more on my Sk8mix.com Facebook Page…one Grand-Prix at the time. Hope you’ll like the coming season’s new programs!

- Do you have your favorite music style?

- When I was an Ice Dancer, my favorite music style was Cuban music. I still enjoy listening to the Buena Vista Social Club. I also really love Astor Piazzolla, Giacomo Puccini, Frédéric Chopin, Philip Glass … they all have created so many masterpieces!

- My traditional question is about your advice to young skaters.

- Skate to a music that grabs your heart. You must love it!

- Hugo, thank you very much for so interesting interview! I wish you all the best with your amazing works!

- Thanks, Vlad! You too!

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