NEW YORK (AP) - To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, here we go again.
The revelation that millions of people who saw the inauguration
of President Barack Obama were actually listening to recorded music
instead of the actual performance of the Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak
Perlman-led quartet has led to comparisons of lip-synching (though,
in this case, might the correct term be hand-synching?) and drawn
comparisons to other infamous cases, including Ashlee Simpson's
"Saturday Night Live" debacle and perhaps music's most famous
pantomimes, Milli Vanilli.
But Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional
Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, says she doesn't understand what
the fuss is all about.
"I think this is a whole lot of nothin'," she said on Friday.
"These are world-class performers who are playing in 19 degree
weather and the technical requirements of their instruments made it
impossible for them to have their music amplified and know that it
would be in tune. So they made, what I think, was probably a
difficult decision to play to tape."
A representative for Perlman echoed her comments Friday with the
following statement: "Mr. Perlman was deeply honored to be a part
of the inauguration ceremony. The brutal cold created the distinct
possibility of broken or out of tune instruments and, in order to
avoid a weather related issue detracting from the majesty of the
day, a decision was reached to play along to the recording that the
quartet had made earlier in the week."
Cellist Ma, violinist Perlman, pianist Gabriela Montero and
Metropolitan Opera clarinet player Anthony McGill performed "Air
and Simple Gifts," a piece arranged by Oscar-winning composer John
Williams. Montero was wearing gloves, but the rest of the quartet
played their instruments barehanded in the frigid 28-degree
Florman said they were indeed playing their instruments and not
miming their moves. But those who saw the event did not hear that,
but the recorded track.
Don Mischer of Don Mischer Productions, which produced the
pre-Inauguration "We Are One" concert, the last few Super Bowl
halftime performances as well as two Olympics, says some kind of
recorded music is often used at major events, especially when there
are poor weather conditions.
"The main thing is that you want the music to sound good, and
there are some conditions in which the music will not sound good,"
Florman said everyone performing at the inauguration, from
Aretha Franklin to the U.S. Marine Band, recorded a version of
their performance as a precautionary measure, typical for such
events. But Franklin sang "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" live, and
the band also performed live.
Florman said when Obama made his request for the quartet,
because of the delicacy of the instruments and the size of the
grand piano, there was some consideration given to having the
quartet play at the Capitol and have their performance beamed to
"Everyone agreed that they needed to perform someplace so
(Obama) could actually watch the performance," she said. "But
obviously the drawback is that they're out in the elements."
Kent Webb, manager of technical services and support for the
famous Steinway & Sons piano maker, said its instruments are
extremely sensitive to changes in temperature and the extreme cold
would not only have made the instrument out of tune, but would have
made the keys susceptible to sticking.
"The playability and the amount of finesse that one can extract
from a performance are very compromised," Kent said.
The idea that the quartet's music was not heard live may be
heresy to some in classical music - the late Luciano Pavarotti
caused a stir when it was discovered he lip-synched on one
occasion. But while it may not be as widely publicized as when a
pop star lip-synchs, it does happen, says Mischer (though he added
the hope is to "always go live.")
He produced the opening ceremonies at the 1996 Summer Olympics
in Atlanta, in which the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed. He
said the ensemble did so to recorded music.
"There was no way that we could in fact mike the Atlanta
Symphony Orchestra and make them sound good on a show that was
going to be seen by 80 percent of the planet," he said.
He also recalled his production of the opening ceremonies at the
2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which featured Ma in a
performance with Sting. While Sting's vocals were live, what
viewers heard was a recorded performance by the cellist.
"Yo-Yo has got a Stradivarius cello that's worth ... $2 million
or $3 million," he said. "We had snow falling that night, we had
17 degree temperature, we had the wind blowing as high as 20 mph,
and that's a very very risky environment in which to play an
instrument like that and expect it to sound good. And it's not like
someone else played the music, Yo-Yo played the music."
Mischer said during the torrential downpour during Prince's 2007
Super Bowl performance, the rocker sang live and even played his
wireless guitars live, but the percussion was piped in because of
But even in good conditions, getting good sound in an open-air
stadium, or sometimes even a domed arena, is difficult.
Some artists choose to lip-synch - Whitney Houston's memorable
performance of the national anthem in 1991 at the Super Bowl was
sung to a track. "There are artists who absolutely want to go with
prerecorded tracks because they worked hard to create a sound, and
they want it to sound good," said Mischer.
But for this year's Super Bowl, which features Bruce Springsteen
as the halftime performer, don't expect any lip-synching from the
"Bruce Springsteen is going to go 100 percent live," he said.
"That's the way Bruce wants it."