Tom Hunt On Creating New Freestyle for Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro to Defend Olympic Gold Medal

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Charlotte Dujardin riding Valegro to new Freestyle for Rio Olympics with composer Tom Hunt (in which sweater) and coach Carl Hester (in yellow jacket) looking on at Hartpury CDI3*. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Charlotte Dujardin riding Valegro to new Freestyle for Rio Olympics with coach Carl Hester (in yellow jacket) looking on at Hartpury CDI3*. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 14, 2016–When Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro go into the Olympic Equestrian Center Monday for the Grand Prix Freestyle she will be riding to new music with a distinct Brazilian flavor from the creator of the iconic British musical performance that won the pair individual gold in 2012.

Creation of the freestyle has been almost a year-long process by composer Tom Hunt and Charlotte with some final tweaks after a tryout at the Hartpury CDI3* in Gloucestershire, England a month ago that Charlotte gave a two thumbs up.

However, the judgement on the music and the choreography performed by Charlotte on the 14-year-old KWPN gelding starting at 12:40 local (16:40 in Britain, one hour later in Central Europe and 11:40 am US Eastern time) will be made by a seven-member ground jury.

In the Grand Prix that was the first phase of the team competition, Valegro brought into the arena the “wow!” factor that has won the pair a treasure chest of Olympic, world championship and World Cup as well as European gold medals and every record they repeatedly break along the way. However, Isabell Werth on Weihegold OLD, the leader of the German juggernaut, claimed the Grand Prix Special as both top individual and to take the team gold while Britain claimed silver,

Charlotte and Valegro are favorites so how the pair dance and the music sounds is all that will matter–despite the competition from three German combinations–including world No. 1 Kristina Bröring-Sprehe on Desperados FRH, a close runner-up to the British pair at the 2015 Europeans, and Dorothee Schneider on the still young but spectacular Showtime FRH–and who knows who will produce the ride of a lifetime.

Tom has created innumerable freestyle since he began producing them in 2010 after graduating from university where he studied music, majoring in composition. He studied classical guitar at school and moved into more contemporary styles of music while studying at university, playing guitar and singing in bands and performing in gigs most weeks.

“I used to love performing my music live with a band,” he confesses.

In creating freestyles now, he works with riders at all levels, from Novice to Grand Prix that he enjoys as the different riders and horses present new challenges.

The association with Charlotte began in 2010 and reached its zenith so far at the Olympics in London in 2012 where the British team won gold, their first dressage medal in 100 years of Olympic horse sports then the pair went on to win individual gold.

Many in the predominantly British audience were shedding tears when Charlotte rode Valegro to the music with its Big Ben chimes and a theme that Tom said was “to celebrate all things British and to mark the occasion of the London Games.”

Defending Olympic champion combination of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, Olympic team and individual gold medal winners at London. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Defending Olympic champion combination of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, Olympic team and individual gold medal winners at London. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“Orchestral music has always been our preferred style of music for Valegro because an orchestra offers so many dynamic layers which is perfect for highlighting Valegro’s powerful and expressive movement.

“So, in the same way the London freestyle celebrated British music, we really wanted to encapsulate a carnival atmosphere for the Rio freestyle, whilst still keeping a contemporary orchestral theme.”

He met up with Charlotte at the British dressage championships last September to start talking and thinking about a new freestyle.

“We spoke loosely about themes and general musical direction but it felt very clear to me that we were both on the same page” Tom said. “Once we had decided on a musical direction for the new freestyle it was over to me to work out how to make it happen.”

He started thinking about new music last Christmas, his initial focus to find out what defined Brazilian music and more importantly what instruments and techniques are commonly associated to this part of the world.

“I began researching Samba music, carnival styles and Brazilian street music,” he said. “It became immediately evident to me that the use of rhythm and percussion was an influential part of the music and acted as focal point.

“I first started creating demos at the beginning of April this year with the intention of sending Charlotte some rough ideas synched to footage of Valegro’s floor plan. These were just short clips/demos of music to give Charlotte an idea of the vibe of the music I was creating, a taste of some of the instruments I was working with and hopefully a feeling of a Brazilian street carnival!”

Composer Tpm Hunt (white sweater), Carl Hester )yellow jacket) next to Richard Waygood, British dressage team manager at the tryout of the new Rio Olympic Freestyle. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Carl Hester )yellow jacket) next to Richard Waygood, British dressage team manager at the tryout of the new Rio Olympic Freestyle. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Over the past six years, he has developed a good understanding of how Charlotte likes to work when creating a new freestyle and he believes they have created an excellent working relationship to produce freestyles.

“Charlotte likes to hear demos at an early stage,” he explained, “which allows her to feed back to me early on in the process.

“One thing I can always rely on is her honesty and clarity when it comes to feedback and you certainly know about it when you get something in the music right! I appreciate Charlotte’s attention to detail and close involvement in the music process.

After the demo process, which involves Tom sending music ideas to Charlotte, he goes to the studio to  start composing the music in full.

He began by creating a detailed tempo track of Valegro moving through the different paces and movements in the test, on a computer to the video of the floor plan being ridden.

“The tempi tracking is a very important stage of making a freestyle because although it is something I can change at a later stage, it really is beneficial to make sure all the tempi changes are in place and correct before recording and tracking instruments.”

Tom said that when he’s writing music, I tend to lock myself away” but is learning that for him keeping a balanced life style is very important to generate fresh and interesting ideas.

“I personally prefer to start composing work later in the day and then work into the night. I suppose I do consider myself to be a night owl as my best ideas usually come whilst burning the midnight oil. An idea can come into existence in a variety of ways. Sometimes there is a eureka moment in the studio and a melody or chord structure might come to me very quickly but other times I can be driving my car or doing something mundane and an idea or tune can pop into my mind. I’m always thinking about music.”

After the first run through at Hartpury of Charotte’s Rio music, both wanted to make adjustments, mainly in the overall mixing of instruments and tweaking levels to make certain areas of the test more defined and rhythmical.

Correction: An earlier version misidentified a spectator as Tom Hunt. Dressage-news.com regrets the error