It was not precisely lip-synching, but pretty close
The somber, elegiac tones before President Obama’s oath of office at the inauguration on Tuesday came from the instruments of Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and two colleagues. But what the millions on the Mall and watching on television heard was in fact a recording, made two days earlier by the quartet and matched tone for tone by the musicians playing along.
The players and the inauguration organizing committee said the arrangement was necessary because of the extreme cold and wind during Tuesday’s ceremony. The conditions raised the possibility of broken piano strings, cracked instruments and wacky intonation minutes before the president’s swearing in (which had problems of its own).
“Truly, weather just made it impossible,” Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said on Thursday. “No one’s trying to fool anybody. This isn’t a matter of Milli Vanilli,” Ms. Florman added, referring to the pop band that was stripped of a 1989 Grammy because the duo did not sing on their album and lip-synched in concerts.
Ms. Florman said that the use of a recording was not disclosed beforehand but that the NBC producers handling the television pool were told of its likelihood the day before.
The network said it sent a note to pool members saying that the use of recordings in the musical numbers was possible. Inaugural musical performances are routinely recorded ahead of time for just such an eventuality, Ms. Florman said. The Marine Band and choruses, which performed throughout the ceremony, did not use a recording, she said.
“It’s not something we would announce, but it’s not something we would try to hide,” Ms. Florman said. “Frankly, it would never have occurred to me to announce it. The fact they were forced to perform to tape because of the weather did not seem relevant, nor would we want to draw attention away from what we believed the news is, that we were having a peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.”
Anthony McGill, a principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera, and the pianist Gabriela Montero joined Mr. Ma and Mr. Perlman in “Air and Simple Gifts,” a piece written for the occasion by John Williams. While not all music critics agreed about the quality of the piece, some took note of the frigid circumstances for the performers. And the classical music world was heartened by the prominent place given to its field.
Mr. Perlman said the recording, which was made Sunday at the Marine Barracks in Washington, was used as a last resort.
“It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way,” he said Thursday in a telephone interview. “This occasion’s got to be perfect. You can’t have any slip-ups.”
The musicians wore earpieces to hear the playback.
Performing along to recordings of oneself is a venerable practice, and it is usually accompanied by a whiff of critical disapproval. Famous practitioners since the Milli Vanilli affair include Ashlee Simpson, caught doing it on “Saturday Night Live,” and Luciano Pavarotti, discovered lip-synching during a concert in Modena, Italy. More recently, Chinese organizers superimposed the voice of a sweeter-singing little girl on that of a 9-year-old performer featured at the opening ceremony of last summer’s Olympic Games.
In the case of the inauguration, the musicians argued that the magnitude of the occasion and the harsh weather made the dubbing necessary and that there was no shame in it.
“I really wanted to do something that was absolutely physically and emotionally and, timing-wise, genuine,” Mr. Ma said. “We also knew we couldn’t have any technical or instrumental malfunction on that occasion. A broken string was not an option. It was wicked cold.”
Along with admiration for the musicians’ yeoman work in the cold, questions had swirled in the classical music world about whether Mr. Ma and Mr. Perlman would use their valuable cello and violin in the subfreezing weather. Both used modern instruments. Mr. Ma said he had considered using a hardy carbon-fiber cello, but rejected the idea to avoid distracting viewers with its unorthodox appearance.
“What we were there for,” he said, “was to really serve the moment.”
Friday, January 23, 2009
is NOTHING not lip synched?