Figure skating legend Kurt Browning takes audiences into music integral to sport with WSO concerts

Kurt Browning hosts the Music of the Ice concerts with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in Winnipeg this weekend.

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's Music of the Ice explores relationship between music and figure skating

Canadian figure-skating legend Kurt Browning is in Winnipeg for three concert performances with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra exploring the music behind the sport. (The Forks/Facebook)

How do world-class figure skaters choose the music they skate to?

Canadian figure-skating legend Kurt Browning and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra will answer that question this weekend, as they team up to explore the relationship between the sport and the music.

"The music is integral. Without it we can't display our talents," said Browning, who is in Winnipeg to host the WSO'sMusic of the Ice, which had its first performance Friday night and has two more Saturday and Sunday.

"You can hit a baseball, or you can catch a football or shoot a hockey puck, and it's not necessary to move in a way that illustrates what the blades can do on the ice, and the music enhances everything that skating does."

During the concerts, the WSO will play selected music that has featured prominently in the history of figure skating, while Browning will share stories and explain the role music plays in a skater's performance.

"The wrong choice can really make or break a skater in whether or not they come across as great or mediocre," he said in an interview Saturday with CBC Radio's Weekend Morning Show.

In figure skating, there's no one on the ice to check you or block your shot or hit the tennis ball by you. Your biggest opponent is your mind.- Kurt Browning

One of the musical selections performed is Singin' in the Rain, which was notably featured in the 1952 musical film of the same name, and which has become a staple in Browning's own performances, complete with a prop umbrella.

"I was doing the program in my head that I do on the ice," Browning said, recalling what it was like hearing the music performed by the orchestra Friday night. "And as I was listening then I realized that's not going to happen tonight in that way, and I thought, OK, don't get confused."

A mental sport

Getting up and speaking in front of an audience is a different kind of performance for Browning, but one he's been able to practice as a commentator for CBC and TSN.

He will be heading to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics as a commentator. Browning competed at the Olympics three times, but despite winning world and Canadian championships multiple times, each of Browning's Olympic appearances ended in disappointment.

"My competitive career was a lot of fun and exciting and it had super highs, and the Olympics were actually the super lows, so for me the Olympics are always super emotional," said Browning, who never made it onto the podium at the Games.

"Some competitive environments feel right, like they just feel like I'm going to have something special happen today. And others feel like you're swimming upstream and you know you're fighting, and you're trying to relax and enjoy the moment and let your training take over," he said.

"In figure skating, there's no one on the ice to check you or block your shot or hit the tennis ball by you. Your biggest opponent is your mind, so figure skating is really a mental sport as much as it is a physical sport, or close to it."

This is the first year Browning isn't performing as a skater. He says he wants to take some time to focus on other things, including being a father.

"I'm trying something new. I'm trying the word 'no,'" he said.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Kurt Browning perform Music of the Ice Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.

With files from The Weekend Morning Show