So, Meka and I were sitting in the family room, watching the inaugural ceremonies Tuesday night (we recorded it on our DVR). Daniel had already seen it in school and was busy bouncing a ball in the kitchen. We finally asked him to stop so we could hear the music playing before Barack Obama was sworn in as president. It was one of those typical sweeping melodies from John Williams, as played by a superstar quartet of musicians: cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill.
Meka wondered, “How can they play their instruments when it’s so cold?” We both knew Yo-Yo Ma has a Stradivarius cello. Generally it’s not a good idea to subject a priceless instrument to sub-freezing temperatures. We scrutinized the television and threw up some theories. The wind was blocked by the bulletproof glass. Maybe there were heaters keeping their little area warm. My thought was they were playing on less priceless instruments. After all they were legends; Yo-Yo Ma could probably make me cry playing on a rental cello from the local music store. Like most conspiracy theories, it turned out the truth was something neither of us had considered. The music was actually pre-recorded. Yo-Yo Ma put soap on his bow to reduce the sound made when he applied it to the strings of his cello. The piano keys were disconnected from the hammers inside. None of the instruments were actually miked.
Maybe it’s not as shocking as discovering the cute kid sang to the homely kid’s vocals in the Olympic opening ceremonies, but it still left a sour note in my ears when Yo-Yo Ma came clean on NPR Friday afternoon. What was worse – in my opinion – was the blasé attitude. Of course, the music is pre-recorded. The Marine Corps Band has done it for years.
While they dress as well as they play, the Marine Corps Band is – ultimately – made of marines. I thought they were the postal workers of music: neither rain, nor snow, nor dark of night will prevent them from playing lively marching tunes. It turned out that was a misstatement by Yo-Yo Ma. The band played live (though they had pre-recorded Hail to the Chief, just to be on the safe side).
In the final analysis, I don’t disagree the musicians should have played live no matter what. I appreciate their desire to put out the best product possible for the people who braved the winter weather in Washington D.C. In fact, I would say they didn’t go far enough. Imagine how historic the oath would have looked had Chief Justice Roberts been able to mime against a tape he had perfected in the studio.