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Fuss for nothing?

So, the N.Y. Times revealed today that the quartet performing “Air and Simple Gifts” at the inauguration on Tuesday was playing along with a recording!

Read the article here.

As a musician, I was impressed that the musicians were able to keep their instruments in tune in those temperatures. Think about it–the clarinet can keep his horn warm by breathing into it–but what do you do for a cello, violin and piano? And then there’s the danger of wood cracking.

Back in my Army days, I had two clarinets. The good one that I used indoors and the less good one that I used for marching band and outdoor concerts in bad weather. I didn’t want to risk a thousand dollar clarinet in cold weather. Now–I don’t know what Yo-Yo Ma paid for his cello, but I’m certain it was a lot more than one thousand dollars. Besides which it may be difficult or impossible to replace.

So–play on a lesser quality instrument, you say. Well, it turns out that he did and Itzhak Perlman also played on a lesser quality instrument at the actual event. I’ll bet they used the real thing for the recording though.

The quality of the instrument does make a difference on the sound. And numb fingers probably do too. So, what’s wrong with using a recorded performance to assure high quality? It’s not a live performance, but then again–hearing the performance artificially amplified isn’t the same as sitting in a small concert hall to listen to the sound that comes from the instruments themselves. At one point should technological enhancement not be allowed?

Would we feel better if we knew the recording made in the Marine Barracks in preparation for the concert was done in one take? No mixing board was used to achieve a sound that those four musicians couldn’t produce on their own?

I don’t know the answer. I only know that the music was beautiful, inspiring and fitting for the moment. Having the musicians on stage performing added to the enjoyment even though the sounds we heard came from a recording. Bottom line–I do not feel cheated. I would certainly have felt disappointed if some weather-created problem had destroyed the performance.

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