The online column “Piazza Navona” meets the music therapist Dario Masala, the creator of the “Swim‘n’Swing” project according to which swimmers move to the rhythm of funk, jazz and swing. In this way every swim can be translated in music.
The week of the online column “Piazza Navona” starts with an interesting meeting. In fact, guest of our virtual square is Dario Masala, the music therapist originally from Sardinia who created and elaborated his interesting Swim ‘n Swing project, bringing music to the pool helping disabled swimmers to create their own rhythm. It is a project that revises and revolutionizes the concept of sport and swimming, proving to be very useful for the disabled as well as for the able-bodied.
Let’s go to listen what Dario Masala has to say to us. He moved by his passion for his work, has very clear ideas. And there’s also a message for bassist Mark King…
- When did you discover your love for music?
When I was 17, a friend of mine asked me to play bass. I didn’t even know what it was. Obviously my friends were all musicians while I was the only one who didn’t play. I did swimming competitions. I was a little discouraged because I played with these guys who were already good. I was a bit down, I was mocked by everyone. Then I met a person, a drummer who said to me, “Look, listen to this and you’ll see that you’ll want to play bass.” And it was a Level42 video and I went crazy. I retired to private life for six months, a year and I started playing only and exclusively Mark King.
- What was your artistic and professional background?
I started as an autodidact. I started with Level42, Toto and Iron Maiden. I had this strong double musical personality that characterizes me. I had this strong dualism inside me: I loved Mark King and Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, then funk with heavy metal. Then I started taking lessons from Massimo Moriconi who is Mina’s bass player. For me it was crucial. With Massimo Moriconi I started playing in a slightly more precise, professional way even though I later relied much more on my instinct. But this is the first rule of Massimo Moriconi.
- How did you perceive the therapeutic effects of music and decided to share them?
My path to music therapy was important, a triennium that I really want to praise, taught me a lot I studied in Milan at the CMT School, Center for Music Therapy Studies and Research. Here prepared Teachers provided me with important notions and I wrote a thesis about movement thanks to a very good neurologist in Cagliari (where I live) and a very competent physiotherapist from Nuoro. To realiza this thesis I set the movements of a person with problems on the path. We used music as an integral part of physiotherapy work and neurological assessments related to walking. We did a work on the pitch combining rhythmic patterns and music played with percussion and string instruments.
- Where does your project called Swim’n’swing come from?
I have written so much about my work. Then I wanted to deposit the project in the OLAF section, Works of the genius of Siae. Swim‘n’Swing was born when I was a kid and I did seminars on swimming with a great Hungarian coach named Thomas who had last an unpronounceable surname. I remember these notes he left us. The first voice was “swimming is rhythm”. So I thought: “If swimming is rhythm because we don’t talk about rhythm?” And from there I started observing all the strong swimmers he brought with him to give us training courses. At that point I started using all of Massimo Moriconi’s exercises, I started listening to the best music for swimming, I started to understand some swimmer movements from the outside and then I started swimming and understanding all my movements, “swimming and playing them”.
After playing them with the bass I created a wide range of exercises and songs that gradually became more and more complex to reach the optimum, that is the athlete’s evolved swim. I peeked over the swims of the strongest athletes, the educational swimming videos, the images on the web and started playing all their swims with the bass. This I started doing when I was agonist around the age of twenty, then my life changed because I started working in a clinic as a swimming instructor for the disabled within a health staff, taking care of the sports part. After closing the clinic and having to start all over again, I started to develop and perfect this idea.
I started to notice that people with disabilities enrolled in my courses for disabled people. In didactic terms I have achieved many results, the music in fact allowed me to communicate with the students in a different way. This that I propose is a variant of swimming that does not exclude everything else, where the goal of my lessons concerns the fluidity of movement and the rhythmic intention of swimming. Federica Pellegrini swims in that way : she has that rhythmic and musical expression that I play in music mainly with the bass and the drums: the drums are the skeleton of the movement while the bass is the blood of the music and therefore it gives that sense of fluid and oscillating movement (just like water). Swing and funk are the genres that fluctuate the most as the swimmers float on water. recalls in one of his books: “the walking bass must be played with efficiency and fluidity, the same characteristics required of the surfer with his board on the waves”.
Funk and jazz and the pillars of the rhythm of these interesting musical genres also have these sensations of oscillation and roundness. The Level42 funk for example is a special funk because it is emotional and has something almost goliardic and sparkling, that tastes like celebration. They have this playful, very round part transmitted by Mark King through his laughter and then by his technical ability. A swimmer must be like this: thinking, playful and instinctive. The balance between these virtues makes up, in my opinion, the swimmer who comes closest to perfection, such as the great Phelps, Thorpe, Pellegrini, Paltrinieri. Let’s think about Mark King’s skills of coordination and predisposition who signs autographs with the left and plays with the right singing and plays with the bass completely different lines performed at the same time. King should be the subject of studies by Michael Touth, the neuroscientist who most he studied the relations between music and the brain or Professor Giuliano Avanzini of the Carlo Besta Institute in Milan. These scientists would enjoy studying Mr King’s brain. Mark King in fact should make himself available to science.
- How was your project welcomed by the world of swimming?
Swimming is divided into two large areas: that of the agonists and the rest of the world which, often having no access to the agonistic technique that is that which makes you more fluid in the water, enters a gym. One day a girl comes to the pool to do a trial lesson (she had already taken lessons in another pool but she was curious and a little discouraged by her technique), she enters the water and sees me with her shoulder strap on board tub with percussion set. She smiled puzzled.
I tell her to swim and she swims as she usually does. The adult: performs leg strokes in continuous and rigid octaves connected to the quarters of the stroke. The motor pattern is completely rigid and often leads to considerable fatigue. Then it came out of the water and we started playing very simple things. Then I asked her to swim on the music and started to slide respecting the metric she had played on the bongos. To each of his strokes corresponded a numerical extension, metric and his rhythmic intention was noticed. The people are all different of course and I try to understand the most suitable musical messages by keeping the constants, so I make my students relax on rhythmic patterns depending on the styles (dolphin, back. frog, free). The girl eventually advanced with the least effort and came to the other side of the tub following what she had heard and played.
This was done first with disabled kids and I became curious when I saw that people without disabilities preferred to join more specialized courses for the disabled. Now the people who attend the courses are many both in Cagliari and in Sassari, in fact there is a team made up of psychomotricists, swimmers, music therapists, educators, musicians, physiotherapists. The project I had in mind is slowly realizing.
- What are the rhythms, the styles, the musical authors you prefere touse in your lessons?
The musicians I refer to are: Mark King, Toto, Allan Holdswroth (especially his album Secret which is crucial for my work), then there are performances of Standard Jazz by Massimo Moriconi, Bill Evans, Sting and the drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. There are some songs by Vasco Rossi like Forti Sensazioni (in its central part there is a little bit of swing) and Amore, then Earth Wind & Fire, Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Yellow Jackets. Just two words for Fabio Poddighe Sassares, four-time pentathlon champion, trained by Ilario Ierace who occasionally gives me a concert with his athlete. He swims and I play on his perfect swim (odd-asymmetric).
- Who is your project for?
My project is dedicated to those who love change and also have a little fear of change. Because those who are afraid of change, if they change, become happy. I get excited about the enthusiasm but I get even more excited about the person who doesn’t know to have talent. And making this happen for me is interesting. A person who registers because he wants to swim and firm up his buttocks doesn’t give a damn about bass or Sting, but then it happens that at some point he buys the bass. Many of my pupils in the pool, especially the female world, have bought a bass and now have a low life.
- What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future… I know what I want but it doesn’t exist. It does not exist because it would require a business owner who instead of building a hypermarket in the middle of the city or in the suburbs would build a swimming pool equipped with a recording room with the Swim’n’Swing brand, creating an unique system that can ben replicated everywhere. It is a new way of thinking about swimming with pools much smaller than traditional ones. But in reality it exists only in my mind. This system would have a great success because there would be no competition, there are no other similar realities, there are no people in bathrobes who come down to the poolside.
I would like to involve internationally renowned musicians to play their instrument on athletes swims. I follow a boy who was built from an educational point of view by me using my method and then trained by Gianluca Fenu (full time sport Sassari). He is in a wheelchair and has only one working arm. He is a splendid boy. He had an accident and finished third at the Italian Paralympic Championships in 2018 in Brescia. He with one arm is like playing drums in the water. I imagine musicians playing on swims of disabled and non-disabled athletes, all together, where music and water act as barriers reducers so as to build a rhythm and orchestrate increasingly coordinated movements. It would be interesting then to play the great champions of music with the great champions of swimming. Basically I think of Mark King and Ian Thorpe or Phelps: they are brothers and they don’t know it.
- Mark King is one of your favourite musician. He is very sensitive to music therapy. Do you want to leave a message for him?
Leave a message to Mark King … wow. I saw him in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008 and I shook his hand. Actually I did not shake hands with Mark King but with a thought because when a person becomes so big it becomes a thought. Mark King breaks away from Mark King and becomes a system of artistic thought. All the greats break away from the music they make and become books, words, ways of being and this is what happens with Mark King and it will be like that even in a hundred years.
What would I ask Mark King? To play poolside on the my disabled pupils’ swims and to swim with us. Small percussive workshops with those who already have a minimum preparation in the water. Especially on the swim of Luigi Usai who, after a car accident suffered so much, is in a wheelchair and has only oneworking arm. So if Mark King played a 7/4 with his bass on this guy’s swim, (a fairly simple pattern that Mark King would do in three seconds) he would have the same feeling of playing with Gary Husband on drums.
- Which swimmer would you like to put into music?
I would like translate Michael Phelps swimming to music and I would like to have Mark King playing on Michael Phelps’ swim. It would take a bit of rehearsal, tank clear of lanes, installation for the lower side of the pool, King and Phelps who agree on how to arrange the swim. I would explain them very small directives then I would get out of the way… well, the concert is on the silver plate.