Inauguration Scandal: Music Not Live

Taking a page from the Communist Chinese Olympics, the Obama inauguration featured truthy music.  Daniel Wakin blows the doors off this travesty in a NYT exclusive:

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.”

While rather amusing, it’s hard to get too excited about this.  Yes, it’s lame to have world famous musicians pretend to play their instruments when the sound is being piped in.  But what were they supposed to do, really?   I was downstairs working until just before the swearing in but my wife mentioned that the TV people reported that Yo Yo Ma had to use a substitute instrument, because his normal cello was too delicate for the weather.

I will note, however, that the Marine band sucked it up and played despite the cold.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    I don’t recall the Marine Band having any delicate wooden instruments costing about $1 million.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I dunno, these are the same people who pay $700 for a hammer.

  3. sam says:

    I dunno, these are the same people who pay $700 for a hammer.

    As an Ex-Marine I resent that remark. We’d steal the effing thing.

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    I will note, however, that the Marine band sucked it up and played despite the cold.

    The sound of brass instruments isn’t affected by the cold the way string instruments are.

  5. Bithead says:

    No big deal?

    You may want to ask Jeff Lynne about that. ELO, you may or may not recall was one of the first bands accused of lip syncing.

    I must admit, though…there is something rather satisfying, though, and rather fitting,seeing the Obama Coronation being compared to a Mili Vanili album…

  6. tom p says:

    As they were playing, I was very curious myself… I knew Perlmann and YoYo Ma weren’t playing their personal instruments (which might very well be valued as high as 3 mil or better), add to that the effect of cold on stringed instruments and the difficulty of making cold fingers do intricate moves (I have a lot of experience with this)(and the broken, twisted fingers as a result to testify to this fact)…

    To say that I am not surprised is an understatement.

  7. M1EK says:

    The sound of brass instruments isn’t affected by the cold the way string instruments are.

    No, but it is a lot harder to play brass instruments in the cold. To say nothing of the freezing valve problem.

  8. DC Loser says:

    I do remember Perlmann and Ma wearing the earpieces. Now it’s making sense, they were “playing” the music to the recorded score.

  9. Matt says:

    Frankly, it would never have occurred to me to announce it.

    Ummm….right. Because history shows there’s never been a kerfluffle over recorded music that was supposed to be live.

  10. John Burgess says:

    Brass, string, and woodwind instruments all have their problems with weather, temperature, and humidity. They’re just different problems. Extreme conditions lead to extreme consequences, starting with detuning the instruments, but also possibly leading to frostbite on the lips for brass players.

  11. Our Paul says:

    Whether it was piped in, or actually played, I thought the whole performance was pretty slick…

    A traditional Americana tune, Simple Gifts, with variations scored by an American Composer, played by a classic quartet (Violin, cello, clarinet, piano), whose individual musicians were multicultural, and (gasp) included one of those species horribillis, a foreigner (Gabriella Montero) on the piano, and (horrors) just before the swearing in ceremony…

    Of course, only a true liberal, with unbound sensitivity would appreciate the subtlety of such a pastiche.

    My pappy, source and fountain head of all knowledge, once commented that : ”If you got, flaunt it”. Ms. Montero carries what is truly a simple gift in her musical brain, the ability to pick a tune, and improvise on its themes. I believe the product, among classic fans, is termed Variations on a Theme.

    Here she is at the Koln Philharmonic, showing she’s got it, and for about six minutes, flaunting it

  12. Eneils Bailey says:

    Who cares?
    It was nice music.
    Very few people have ever been able to stroke a fiddle or blow a flute when it has been 20 degrees.
    Barney Frank was unavailable for consultation.

  13. Some one smart says:

    you guys are being absolutely stupid. If you go to one of their concerts INDOORS they will amaze you. First of all, the stringed instruments are worth milliions of dollars and are too delicate to play outside or they will crack. Secondly, wood expands and contrasts as the weather changes, and when is 20 degrees outside, there is no way their instruments will sound good. Thirdly, all four of them are respected as musicians world wide, and have reputation as being phenomenal. They were force to play at the inauguration outside, they couldnt help it. They recorded it, and didnt lie about it. They are not like ashlee simpson or anything, they were just being smart.