4 Striking Musical Touches at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics

by Lorelei Lin

The Paralympics are finally here, with more athletes competing than ever before

The games launched along with a campaign titled “We the 15,” a human rights movement to end discrimination against the 15% of people worldwide living with disabilities. While the Paralympics are underway in Tokyo, we’ve collected some brilliant musical moments from the Games to share with you. The Paralympics run until September 5th, so tune in to catch some gripping competition and sportsmanship!

  1. Violinist and Paralympian swimmer Manami Ito performs at the Opening Ceremony.

Two-time Paralympian swimmer Manami Ito was studying to become a nurse when her arm was amputated in 2004. Now, in addition to becoming Japan’s first nurse to use a prosthetic arm, she pursues her love of music by playing the violin! Ito deftly wields a custom bow using her shoulder. She has appeared on television programs worldwide and delivered a moving performance at this year’s Opening Ceremony.

Video: Violinist Manami Ito performs at Opening Ceremony | Tokyo 2020 Paralympics | NBC Sports
  1. Japanese and Irish folk music traditions merge in the Irish Paralympic team’s commemorative music.

Composers Donal Lunny, an Irish folk music legend, and Hiro Hayashida of Japan, a pioneer in the Taiko drumming field, collaborated on music for the Irish Paralympic team. Featuring elements of traditional music from both cultures, the music premiered at a “ParaBeats” concert held in Narita, Japan back in February. The event, featured below, includes the commemorative composition as well as other remarkable performances from disabled musicians.

Video: 成田市×アイルランド 共生社会応援プロジェクト PARA Beats! 勇気を奏でよう (Full version)
  1. The composer behind the champion British dressage team’s music shares behind the scenes details.

Great Britain swept dressage once again, maintaining their winning streak stretching from the introduction of para dressage in 1996. The team’s four riders each competed in three events to win the team gold: the team test, the individual championship, and the freestyle test, which is performed to music. In the podcast linked below, BBC’s Hilary Dunn interviews Tom Hunt, the composer who wrote music for Natasha Baker and Laurentia Tan’s freestyle routines!

Audio: Tom Hunt: Dressage music for the Tokyo Paralympics
  1. Paralympian, artist, educator, and activist Leroy Moore comes full circle.

After cycling for team USA at the 1988 Seoul Paralympics, Leroy Moore left athletics behind to focus on the arts. The poet, writer, and filmmaker went on to co-found several disability rights organizations including Krip-Hop Nation, a “worldwide association of artists with disabilities.” Moore’s journey came full circle as musicians from Krip-Hop nation were tapped to perform the title track of the 2020 Netflix Paralympic documentary “Rising Phoenix.” 

Video: Rising Phoenix | Official Title Track for the Netflix Documentary | Paralympic Games

Pictured at top: Sareh Javanmardi from Iran, gold medalist, Aysegul Pehlivanlar from Turkey, silver medalist, and Krisztina David from Hungary, bronze medalist in P2 – Women’s 10m Air Pistol SH1 at the Asaka Shooting Range during the Paralympic Games on August 31. Photo by @Hiroki Nishioka / WPPO

2020 Tokyo Olympics: Classical Moments We Loved

by Lorelei Lin

After a year of delay, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games were everything we waited for and more. Team USA led both the gold and overall medal count, and we were able to witness the Olympic premiere of several sports including skateboarding, karate, surfing, and sport climbing. Now that the Olympics have ended, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite musical moments from this year’s Games to share with you.

Video game soundtracks surprised fans during the parade of nations.

The Opening Ceremony set classical music fans and gaming communities abuzz with the inclusion of video game soundtracks. Orchestral arrangements of music from role-playing games including Kingdom Hearts, the Final Fantasy series, and Sonic the Hedgehog highlighted Japanese contributions to video game history while providing a nostalgic and uplifting backdrop to the flag bearing procession.

Video: Every Videogame Theme Featured in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremony was full of other musical moments.

Ravel’s Boléro played as athletes relayed the Olympic torch and Japanese-Haitian tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic Cauldron.

The ceremony was somber, commemorating the harsh toll COVID-19 has taken internationally. An original piece of vocal music called “The Anthem,” arranged by Japanese composer Shirō Sagisu, accompanied the raising of the Japanese flag. (Fun fact: Sagisu also scored the popular ‘90s anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.)

The 100+ year old Olympic Hymn sounds again.

The Olympic Hymn marked the official start of the Games. Written by opera composer Spyridon Samaras with lyrics by Kostis Palamas, this choral cantata was performed at the first-ever modern Summer Olympics, held in Athens in 1896. The Hymn has been played at every Games since, often translated into the host country’s language.

This year, Tchaikovsky plays in place of the Russian National Anthem.

Though the World Anti-Doping Agency banned Russia from participating in international sports competitions for four years in 2019, athletes from Russia are permitted to compete for the “Russian Olympic Committee (ROC)” at this year’s Olympic Games. Because of the ban, instead of hearing the Russian national anthem whenever a Russian athlete wins gold, we hear Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1!

Champion swimmer Katie Ledecky has a musical side.

Katie Ledecky, the highly decorated 24 year-old swimmer who took home 4 more medals at this year’s Olympics (including gold in the inaugural women’s 1500m freestyle), has dabbled in music. She started playing piano around age 8 or 9, but quit taking lessons in 8th grade to focus on swimming. Before graduating from Stanford University, Katie joined the marching band for a day on alto sax, attending field rehearsal and a football game. When asked why, she answered, “Because I wanted to!”

Oldest living gymnastics gold medalist Agnes Keleti was also a professional cellist.

Agnes Keleti has lived an incredible century. The Hungarian-Israeli and Jewish gymnast won her first national title at 16, but was forced to miss the 1940s Tokyo Olympics and used a fake ID to survive the Holocaust. She competed in her first Olympics at age 31 and accumulated 10 medals in just two Games. If that’s not amazing enough, she also worked professionally as a cellist after World War II.

Gymnast Jordan Chiles competes to superhero-inspired film music.

In the artistic gymnastics floor event, athletes combine superhuman flips with dance choreography as they tumble across a mat to music. The music lasts about 90 seconds and cannot have lyrics, so many athletes opt for classical pieces or movie soundtracks. Team USA gymnast Jordan Chiles is known for choosing heroic film music for her routines. Her Olympic performance featured the Spiderman theme.

To hear more classical pieces used in competition, look out for rhythmic gymnastics on August 6th and 7th.

Rhythmic Gymnastics puts classical music in the spotlight.

In astonishing feats of artistry and flexibility, rhythmic gymnasts perform choreographed individual and group routines to music while simultaneously handling one of 4 “apparatuses”: ball, hoop, clubs, or ribbon. The music ranges from Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls),” which accompanied individual all-around gold medalist Linoy Ashram’s clubs routine, to classical pieces. Watch the Russian Olympic Committee’s Averina twins deliver a stunning ribbon performance to Yasmin Levy’s “TANGO Presentation” and Pablo de Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25.”

Folk music creates unique spectacles in Artistic Swimming.

In this event that pairs choreography with music, swimmers perform incredible feats of synchronization—while suspending themselves mid-water! Artistic swimmers compete in duets and groups, performing a shorter technical routine and a longer free routine, with soundtracks ranging from custom dubstep mixes to traditional music. Watch the People’s Republic of China team swim their free routine to theatrical folk music in this video.

Tomotaka Okamoto performs a dramatic Olympic Anthem.

The Olympics Closing Ceremony celebrated athletes with another round of stunning musical performances. One featured performer was Tomotaka Okamoto, a sopranist, or male singer who sings in the soprano vocal range. Not only does his voice turn heads, his striking outfit and makeup do too.

The taiko drum booms throughout the Olympic stadium.

The Closing Ceremony featured a solo performance on taiko drum, a traditional Japanese instrument with roots dating back to the fifth or sixth century CE. It has historically been used in multiple contexts, including for military, religious, theatrical, and imperial court purposes. In modern times, kumi-daiko, the art of performing taiko in ensembles, has become popular worldwide.

Paris 2024: Chloé Dufresne conducts the French National Orchestra to music by Woodkid.

Renowned French conductor Chloé Dufresne led the French National Orchestra in recording pieces for the Paris 2024 preview. She conducted a piece by French singer-songwriter and music video director Yoann Lemoine, known as Woodkid.

A saxophone send-off… in space?!

During the Closing Ceremony, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet performed the French national anthem on saxophone… while aboard the International Space Station! He also teamed up with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide in a mini ceremony to pass the Olympic torch from Japan to France.

We’re looking forward to Paris 2024. In the meantime, the Tokyo Paralympics begin on August 24th, and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are less than 6 months away.


WDAV has Olympic Fever

With the Summer Olympic Games starting Friday, the world will be focused on London as athletes from across the world compete for medals in sports from rugby to table tennis. WDAV is turning our focus to the British capital, too. Join us from Friday, July 27 to August 12 for a festival of English music and performers!

The Line Up

FRIDAY: The Opening Ceremonies

  • Our festivities kick off Friday morning with Matt Rogers as he plays each of the Olympic Themes written by composer and conductor John Williams – one per hour of Matt’s program.
  • At noon, Matt brings you the Mozart Café featuring – what else? – Haydn’s “London” Symphony as the main course, plus recipes from Charlotte’s Big Ben Pub.
  • At 5pm, Fred Child hosts Beethoven’s Ninth: Live from London, a special concert to kick off both the BBC Proms – the world’s largest classical music festival – and the London Olympic Games. The broadcast begins with a music-rich pre-game, which includes highlights of the BBC Proms as well as colorful comments from Daniel Barenboim, Olympic athletes, and London locals. Then hear conductor Daniel Barenboim lead the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Beethoven’s last and greatest symphony.

JULY 28-AUGUST 12: The Games

Hear a feast of music by English soloists, conductors and orchestras, and works by composers ranging from William Byrd, John Dowland and Henry Purcell to Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and William Walton.

  • Each weekday at 2pm you can hear a different English Artist Spotlight. We’ll feature a recording by English classical musicians such as pianist Stephen Hough, conductor John Eliot Gardiner, and trumpeter Alison Balsom.
  • Enjoy a different complete symphonic work by an English composer each weeknight on the Symphony @ 7.

It’s a “jolly good show” chock full of English classics from July 27 through August 12.

And keep checking our blog for more Olympic surprises!

-Frank Dominguez
Program Director