February 22, 2018

Olympians and Pianists

It’s time for the winter Olympics again. Tomoko’s daughter Beata competed as an ice dancer in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City (convenient for her, but not as exotic as South Korea). Tomoko attended those Olympic Games, naturally, and often accompanied Beata to other skating competitions. In the process, Tomoko has seen many parallels between Olympians and pianists.

Fundamentally, both fields depend on the body and its mastery. Both fields require detailed physical coordination. Just as there is a correct foot position, there is also a correct hand position. Furthermore, training the body requires discipline and daily practice.  Basic moves need to become automatic, and even an entire performance has to be mastered so well that that one can depend on muscle memory. Both fields also involve rhythmic movement, and music certainly facilitates the body’s flow. 

Training and support are also similar. The teacher makes a significant difference in the student’s learning experience. In both cases, students need to learn the basic techniques, and practice them dutifully – and correctly.  The teacher selects the developmentally appropriate pieces or routines for the student to master, and there is a “canon” of classics in each case. The teacher is both supportive and challenging; targeting the trouble spots – and helping the student see them as personal challenges to overcome. The teacher has to be sure that the student pays attention to every detail, and master it, at which point the student can add personal interpretation to deepen the performance.

Competition is another shared hallmark. In both cases, competition usually starts locally and low-stakes. Years of practice and performance are needed before one can enter and succeed at the national level. The higher the stakes, the more complicated the performance and the more exacting the judging. Both the stress level and the level of accomplishment are higher. But the payoff and the exhilarating feeling are worth the effort hopefully.

So when you hear the music of an ice skating or ice dancing performance at the Olympics, think of the music and the musicians too. They are all professionals in spirit.