Half a year ago I joined a gym. My main goal was to increase strength and energy levels. I had no idea how inspiring this decision would be!
I used to loathe anything fitness, thinking that a trip to the gym must be a mindless and boring experience. The idea of being surrounded by buff fitness enthusiasts in a pop music environment was so discouraging, likely to induce hitting self-effacing rock bottom.
I found myself in a dilemma because I have an incredible appetite for life, a never ending curiosity about things, I love to travel and I love to play my instrument, but sometimes I could hardly keep up with myself, so I definitely needed more energy and strength.
I decided to override my aversions and to start by simply taking a look at a gym, and I realized how very wrong I had been. I actually couldn't imagine anything further from my preconceived ideas about fitness and gyms.
- No music (a big one for me—such a relief).
- No supernaturally flawless looking bodies, just a great space for some "me" time.
- Smiling faces.
- Andrew—my awesome personal trainer.
- And a pool.
I got into a routine, got a Bluetooth headset to listen to my music and started swimming, and since my headset is water proof, I thought I'd give it a try in the pool!
Swimming in music - possibly the best feeling ever
I will never forget my first swim with music. Mozart Piano Concerto no. 21 as I dipped into a completely empty, still and pristine pool. Creating those first water ripples with my strokes as the orchestra introduces the themes is sheer magic. It feels like swimming in music rather than with music. Swimming with the clear closeup sound of music playing through my headset feels a bit like swimming through a great concert hall. It is definitely the stuff dreams are made of.
Working out already feels great, but this experience adds a dimension of artistic satisfaction and inspiration that makes we want to come back for more—actually for a lot more.
How to find good swimming music
I started getting excited about planning my swimming music ahead of time. By now I have tried many different genres and composers. Here are a few insights and recommendations to find musical pieces to accompany your swimming.
- Length matters
The average piano concerto or sonata is about 20-30 minutes long, a great time frame for a pool workout. A similar time frame goes for most symphonies, but they can be longer.
- Style period matters
Baroque and classical works are particularly well suited for swimming because of their relatively steady volume levels. Swimming for example to "La Mer" (The Sea) by Claude Debussy seems a natural fit for swimming to music, but the orchestra plays long stretches of not-to-be-missed pianissimo sounds, which get drowned out by the splash of the pool water.
Bach Cantatas are an excellent choice for a slightly shorter workout. I particularly like "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme". Looking further afield, I can't wait to try earlier composers like Hildegard von Bingen or Gesualdo.
- Inspiration matters
I usually don't work out on big concert days. Often I don't have time because of rehearsals or travel, but my main reason to stay away from concert day workouts is that I like to zoom in on my performance. The last swim before the big day usually happens the evening before. Here I like to listen to positive, uplifting and inspiring music.
My favorite swimming music
Glen Gould: Goldberg Variations 2nd recording. This is my go-to choice; I grew up with this recording, and it has accompanied me to all corners of the world. For time-reasons, I usually only listen to half of the variations which fits my workout schedule beautifully.
Arcadi Volodos: Live at Carnegie Hall. I love this recording for inspiration of color variety and sound creation. The live recording aspect gets me into the right performance state of mind the night before a big concert.
J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concertos. This is my top choice for confidence-building and mental strength.
Maria Callas or Cecilia Bartoli aria compilations. This is music in pure form—a wonderful inspiration before recitals of Chopin, Mozart, and pretty much anything with a cantabile melody.
After a good workout and after literally being immersed in one of these pieces for a good 20 or 30 minutes I feel thoroughly renewed and inspired to share what I love doing most—playing music.
I would love to hear about your ideas for swimming music. Give swimming with music a try—you just might find great inspiration as I have.