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Hugo Chouinard : le designer musical des plus grands patineurs artistiques

International Figure Skating

1 February 2010

The Man Behind the Music
by Susan D. Russell

He may not be a household name, but there are likely countless skating fans around the world that have hummed many of the musical creations Hugo Chouinard has produced for hundreds of skaters over the years.

This season, more than 50 singles skaters and teams from all corners of the globe are performing to Chouinard’s musical compilations. His client list for the Olympic season includes Yu-Na Kim, Johnny Weir, Joannie Rochette, Tomas Verner, Takahiko Kozuka, Yukari Nakano, Qing Pang and Jian Tong, and Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang.

Chouinard and choreographer David Wilson have collaborated on the musical creations for Kim’s programs the past three years, but her short program this season ranks as one of Chouinard’s all-time favorites. « David and I wanted to create a completely different concept for Yu-Na this year, » Chouinard said. « David called me and said, ‘Sandra (Bezic) has a vision. How about a mysterious Bond girl? Send me all your greatest Bond tracks.’ »

« I asked myself how I would create a Bond program for a girl because it could so easily sound cheesy and overdone. But I discovered a fully orchestrated album of Bond tunes with mysterious-sounding sections that was amazing. David liked it right away. The blending of the five Bond pieces has a subtle balance of mystery and romance. »

Finding the right music for Weir’s new programs was another adventure. « David sent me a vague e-mail describing the ‘Fallen Angel’ concept, » Chouinard said. « He wanted thunder and lightning, church bells and an organ, something dark and foreboding with haunting violin and strings. I love that kind of challenge. »

The final product exceeded everyone’s expectations. « Johnny fell in love with it. When I was structuring the music, I imagined Johnny’s movements and the atmosphere in the arena, » Chouinard said.

A former singles and ice dance competitor at the national level, Chouinard plays piano, violin and tenor saxophone. He credited his parents with instilling a love of music in him.

The Montreal native acquired his first small music mixer with two turntables at age 13. Chouinard recalled Wilson helping him edit his first skating program on a tape deck using the play and pause technique.

« I met Hugo when he was 10. You would open his bedroom door and alarms would go off, » Wilson recalled with a laugh. « He has always been a techie. »

When Chouinard’s former ice dance choreographer suggested he purchase the equipment necessary to make good quality sound programs for her skaters, the music maestro was motivated. He borrowed $4,000 from his parents, bought a new system and set up a studio in his family’s home. « My clients sat on my bed while I created their music, » the 35-year-old said.

In 2004, Chouinard produced the music for Jeffrey Buttle’s ‘Naqoyqatsi’ free program. « Jeffrey won his first national title that year, and it was the starting point of a new and wonderful era for me, » Chouinard said.

Chouinard also produces musical gems for two of Canada’s top synchronized skating teams, Black Ice and Les Suprêmes.

But his creativity is not limited to the ice. His résumé includes Olympic synchronized swimmers and world champion ballroom dancers.

He has worked with ‘So You Think You Can Dance Canada’ judge Jean-Marc Généreux since 1998. Généreux was Chouinard’s ballroom teacher during his ice dance career, but when the music guru opened his studio, Généreux and his wife France became Chouinard’s clients. « If you think it is musically impossible… ask Hugo! » Généreux said.

Wilson was the best man at Chouinard’s wedding and is the godfather of his 1-year-old son, Olivier.

 « Hugo is a major part of my career. I don’t know what I would do without him, » Wilson said. « At times I will be at my wits’ end, and I will send him a vague idea and he will find a way to make it work. Even with the simplest of projects, he will make it better than you ever thought it could be. »