Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nothing is real, and nothing to get strung about (Inauguration Memorex moment)

OK, I've lost all confidence in humanity now.

Before Dick Clark, you could always count on the fact that when you saw people singing and playing instruments, they were actually singing and playing instruments. But since "American Bandstand," it seems like more often than not pop musicians weren't really performing. A few classic examples include Michael Jackson "singing" the song "Billie Jean" at Motown 25, Ashlee Simpson's famous appearance on Saturday Night Live, and most if not all public performances by Milli Vanilli.

But that, of course, was the dirty world of pop music, which isn't real music. Real musicians don't result to such trickery.

Well, sometimes they do. One of my pet peeves in church is when a choir sings to pre-recorded music. But hey, I figure, they're volunteers and not professionals. Obviously profesionals would always play live, but you can't expect volunteers to do so. I should be thankful that we do have professionals who do play live.

This is what I believed when I settled down today, two days late, to watch the Obama inauguration. I was at work that morning - in fact, I was in a conference call at 9:00 and missed the oath of office and Obama's speech. But I did hear Yo-Yo Ma and the rest of the string quartet, noting at the time that "Lord of the Dance" is not a song to be playing at a political event (where politicians are notorious for dancing around the facts).

So I didn't actually see the inauguration until today. And when I saw Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Gabriella Montero, and Anthony McGill, a thought struck me that didn't occur to me when I listened to the quartet over Internet radio a couple of days ago:

It just hit me - Yo Yo Ma and the rest were playing outside! Very tough.

I played flute outside in conditions near freezing, but I wore gloves, a jacket, and a hat.

A few hours later, I was browsing through FriendFeed and discovered that I was watching an illusion - or an inconvenient truth:

Whether you loved or hated the classical music played at President Barack Obama's inauguration, unless you were sitting within earshot of the celebrated quartet, what you heard was a recording made two days earlier.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriella Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill made the decision a day before Tuesday's inauguration after a sound check to use a previously recorded audio tape for the broadcast of the ceremonies.

Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said the weather was too cold for the instruments to stay in tune.

"They were very insistent on playing live until it became clear that it would be too cold," said Florman in a telephone interview Thursday night.

Oh well. When you can't count on some of the most accomplished classical musicians in the world to play live, who can you trust?
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