Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:37 pm

Thanks to my company being so cool, I had the chance to watch part of the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday morning of this week. They set up the big-screen TV in the conference room to stream the video feed; unfortunately it kept hiccuping, the audio and video were out of sync, etc. which was pretty annoying. But I enjoyed the chance to see it regardless.

As you probably know, famed film composer John Williams composed a piece specifically for the inauguration entitled Air and Simple Gifts, based on the famous Appalachian folk melody, and it was performed live by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriella Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill. My first thought upon seeing the performers was “They can’t really be playing, it’s way too cold for the instruments to stay in tune!”

You know, turns out I was right. I saw an article on MSN today making that same point. The musicians were in fact performing live, so the people who were close enough to them could hear them playing; but the instruments were not amplified and the music that was broadcast over the speakers at the event and to the millions watching on TV (myself included) had been recorded several days before.

That’s a reasonable decision–really the only reasonable one, if you think about it. The temperature was about 30 degrees, as the article points out, too cold for any of the instruments to play in tune but especially “play[ing] havoc” on the piano. This happens pretty frequently with classical performances in very cold environments, and even the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti famously lip-synced his final performance. I fully support the decision of the musicians at the inauguration, as I imagine any reasonable person who understands the factors involved would. But I find it amusing that the press wants to make a point of revealing this fact. The article can be found at the link below.

“Their performance was live — but music wasn’t”

When I wrote the first draft of this post, I replaced my original text “I find it amusing that the press wants to make it a big deal” with the text of my penultimate sentence above, thinking the word choice of the former was too strong. But several hours later, the article made it to a more prominent place on MSN’s front page and also added a reader poll, entitled “Vote: Bad Choice?” So now I return to my original thought. It’s ridiculous that the press is making such a big deal out of it. The actual question on the poll is practically incriminating: “Was it wrong to ‘fake’ music at the presidential inauguration?” Fortunately, 68.2% of the people who voted in the poll voted no. But some of the responses (you can comment as well as vote in the poll) are rather amusing in themselves; one person who voted yes commented “Just more smoke & mirrors from the obamamite camp.” The third option in the poll (besides “yes, it was wrong to fool the masses” and “no, who cares, it sounded good”) is “Maybe. If this is how the administration starts out …”, and one of the readers who voted that option also commented “i’m not at all surprise if it was recorded, everything sorrounding the obama campain has been stained with deceitfulness” [sic]. As if Obama or his “obamamite camp” or “campain” had anything to do with the performance (whatever the heck they are). Doesn’t anyone have any common sense anymore?



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    Mike Morabito on 01.24.2009

    Hahaha, I was wondering if you had seen this. Very funny.

    PS. my captcha for this comment is also really funny, check twitter in a moment for a picture.

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    Erin Hoover on 01.24.2009

    And they weren’t actually keeping it a secret. The news outlets were told in advance that they might be using a recording because of the weather. There was no deceit. I wish people would just calm down…

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    Desha on 01.24.2009

    wow- the press was advised as to what might happen and why, and they still made a deal about it? Unbelievable. Or, sadly, totally believable.

    Two thoughts come to mind: 1.) With everything going in life they choose to spend their time on this? and, after reading some of those comments, 2.) Amazing how many people will find politics under every rock, if you know what I mean.

    One word sums it up: Puh-LEEEZ.

    AJ – that was the first thing that came to my mind, too! I was thinking, holy cow, they can’t possibly be playing that well in freezing cold, but I guess that’s why they get the big bucks. Heh! I was totally not surprised to find out it was pre-recorded – makes total sense.

    The only other reasonable decision would have been to have them inside somewhere and project their live performance out onto jumbo-trons or something, I suppose.

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    AJ Harbison on 01.24.2009

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks for the comments! That’s a good point that Erin and Desha made that I neglected to mention in the post–there was nothing secretive about the fact that they were (or might be) going to use a recording. The press already knew. Sad…. And Desha makes another good point, that another reasonable solution (which I didn’t consider) would have been to have them playing live somewhere and broadcast the performance onto the Jumbotrons outside. But I guess that wouldn’t have been dramatic enough.

    Thanks again for your comments–keep ’em coming!

    AJ Harbison

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