Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thar Be Pirates About!

Freestyle Work Begins Again

Friend and fellow dressage rider, Jutta Lee of Appledore Farm invited me to her farm to view the first FEI Intermediare 1 freestyle / kur she was working on for a dressage competition which was three weeks away.  The music she selected was straight from the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, was deep and powerful, and sounded like it was performed by a full orchestra.

Some of the music was wonderful.  However, some of it just didn't feel right.  As Jutta expected, I was honest in my opinions.  We both have enjoyed success in freestyle competitions, so we starting sharing ideas....

Since I have more musical training and enjoy the challenge, I offered to create the Pirates kur for her.  With a copy of the soundtrack loaded into my iShuffle, I listened to the music several times and agreed she had selected a song that was great for her canter work.  However, I found nothing wonderful for the walk and trot.  We were going to need to look elsewhere for more Pirate music.

Hurray for iTunes!

On YouTube, we found other dressage freestyles that used "Pirates of the Caribbean" music.  One was fairly good (viewable here on youtube) and encouraging in the sense that it proved the Pirates music could be used fairly successfully for dressage.  This particular kur included music from other films.  A few iTunes purchases later, I had the soundtracks from three other Pirates of the Caribbean movies - Dead Man's Chest, At World's End, and On Stranger Tides - loaded into my iShuffle and I immersed myself in Pirates music for the next few days.

Using Pinnacle Systems's Studio 10 software, I watched video loops of Jutta and her horse, Glorious Feeling, performing the walk, trot and canter portions of her freestyle while listening to the music, most of which is composed by Hans Zimmer.  I listened for hours on end.

Finding ideal music for a horse and rider is an inexact science at best.  First, one needs to understand and accept the musical tastes of the rider.  After all, it is she who will have to listen to the music over 100 times!  I knew Jutta wanted to stay clear of Spanish guitars, vocals, and death marches!   :-)

Searching for music, luck certainly helps.  And patience.  And keeping an open mind.  Fast forwarding after a few seconds of sampling a tune is NOT a good idea!  For example, one of the Pirate songs, at first, did not sound suitable at all.  But, at the very end, there were a few measures of truly beautiful walk music!  A couple minutes into another song, I discovered entrance music which Jutta and I both liked.

Music is 10% of the Score

In USDF / USEF dressage freestyles, from 1st to 4th Levels, the music makes up 20% of the total score.  At FEI level, the music of a freestyle only accounts for 10% of the overall score.  However, at International Level, the quality of the music is expected to be very good.  It also must be pleasurable to listen to and even the horse needs to accept it!

Leave the Chippy Choppy to the Chefs

One key to making a good freestyle lies in a deep desire to avoid what I call "chippy choppy" transitions which can insult the ears of the audience AND JUDGES.  You know what I mean.  When a piece of music abruptly and prematurely ends and another follows.  Smooth musical transitions are very important to making the music more enjoyable, more entertaining and simply easier on the ears.

While cutting and editing music, maintaining an even beat in the music must also be considered.  An incomplete beat during the trot, for example, will cause a blip which can cause the whole picture to appear unbalanced for a moment.  It will also throw off anyone who was happily tapping their feet to the music.... something we hope judges will do while enjoying the performance!

It's the Rider's Music

In the end, the music belongs to the rider.  She must love it, live it, sleep it, dream it, hum it and become one with it.  And so the rider's input into the composition is critical.

In the end, we create a Pirates of the Caribbean freestyle which flows smoothly from movement to movement, matches Glory's graceful lightness and powerful impulsion, includes the sounds of ship bells and cannons, and left one member of the audience at the July GMHA Show - USDF Vice President Beth Jenkins - with goosebumps!

The Debut CDI

After a few "trial runs" with the freestyle at schooling and USDF shows, Jutta and Glory made their Concours de Dressage International debut at HITS on the Hudson in Saugerties, NY.  They won the freestyle class!  And were written up in World Dressage News!

Next stop, the NEDA Fall Festival and CDI-W ! If you are there, come say "Yo ho" to the Pirates!

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