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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Is it ever okay to perform 'live' to a recording?

January 23, 2009 at 7:41 PM


You mean Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman were not actually playing their Strads outside in the 23-degree weather for the U.S. Presidential inauguration?

They weren't; it was pre-recorded. They were playing (as those standing near have attested), but we were hearing a pre-recorded version. Of course, this is not exactly on par with some other acts known for synching, I mean, Perlman and Ma were playing to recordings of THEMSELVES.

Many news organizations have jumped on the "cover up" (ie, they "covered" themselves, a bad pun because I don't think they were keeping it secret, but hey, journalists can't resist bad puns even if they distort meaning, please see LA Times.) Also we find stories about this in other news sites, including the New York Times and A & E.

Frankly, I was absolutely thrilled that two of the finest string players on the planet were asked to play at the inauguration, and that they agreed to DO it, despite the harsh conditions, the immense pressure, even just the physical difficulty of getting to their perch (I never remember it because he is such a towering figure to me, but Itzaak Perlman is disabled). I thought the performance was beautiful and authentic. Yes, authentic! It fit the moment, and having those musicians there meant a great deal. John Williams' arrangement, "Air and Simple Gifts," was written just for the occasion, and Perlman, Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Gabriela Montero played it with joy and gusto.

Check it out:

But not everyone would agree with me. Live should be live!

So is it ever okay to perform with a recording? If you think sometimes it's okay, please tell us which occasions would qualify, and which would not. And if you believe it's never okay, please tell us specifically what you would do about playing your violin in a quartet for an audience of 2 million people live, 40 million on T.V., in 23-degree weather in January. (BTW the Marine Band was live, and word has it Arethra's voice was as well). Certainly it would be very difficult to keep a stringed instrument in tune under these conditions, and to keep hands warm.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 8:36 PM

I voted "sometimes", because I have played on a few rock concerts where there was "enhanced" sound.  This practice seems par for the course in pop world.  Cher, Madonna, that unfortunate young lady on SNL a few years ago...maybe the pop fans don't know, or don't care.  Pavarotti was also busted for faking at the 06 Olympics, as I recall.

No one in their right mind would demand string players, wind players, and pianists to play in 20 degree weather.  It would have been nice to show the Inauguration Quartet from a live feed inside the Capitol Building.  But to have some of the most famous classical musicians in the world faking along to a recording is just tacky.


Posted on January 23, 2009 at 9:08 PM


This certainly explains the excellent sound without visible mics or transducer attachments I suppose. For those on the mall, they never knew. Gee, up until super zoom cameras, perhaps the TV audience would never know. How many in the listening audience are still oblivious. Only those atuned to music would really care, yes?

This is done on quite a regular basis...Super Bowl etc. but certainly puts into question authenticity vs. technology. Personally, winter is not the time for an outside venue.Why don't they just have the inauguration right around Cherry Blossom time? I know, all to do with history. It was fake and all for show!!!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 9:28 PM

At this weather, for sure!

here is the link to the article


From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 9:43 PM

And to answer Laurie's question, Would I do the gig?  Yes, I would, and evidently local scale is way less than Perlman's rumored concert fee.  (Quality not guaranteed). 

I still am curious about who got paid what, and who paid for it.  I read on CNN's website that the Presidential Inaugural Committe paid for everything but the swearing-in ceremony.  The PIC is a privately funded slush fund, no taxpayer $$$ used.  The swearing-in ceremony was paid for by the Joint Congressional Committee On Inaugural Ceremonies, which is funded by taxpayer $$$.

If the musicians were paid, I could care less if the PIC paid them.  But I think it is wrong for them to fake while getting taxpayer $$$.  I feel would feel cheated, and used.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 10:50 PM

Oh, I think they earned their money. I really do. I like that idea of showing it from inside, though. And yet, then they'd be separated from everyone. It's a tough call.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 10:45 PM

Why does everyone make a big deal out of this?  They are maybe some of the top musicians but they still are human beings and no violinist in the world would be satisfy by his playing at this tempeture.  They surly don't want to sound like a bunch of susuki 1 kids at their level and we can understand them! Why did they play outside, it is a symbol!  It is still them, the wonderful players who did the recording and they are presentable to the world.  If an author had written a book for Obama, he or she would come to the celebration to offer it to him.  It's the same thing: people who produced something of art for Obama.  And for the money from the public, I would say that Perlman Ma and the others are more than musicians, they are national symbols. So, it is fair to pay them and it is fair to pay for an official recording of them.  If it would not be on them, the same money would have been spend on something else so...  mind is well spend it to hire these great musicians that deserve it!

Anne-Marie it is only my opinion

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 11:43 PM

It's not a problem if Perlman and Ma do it.  It would have been a problem if Aretha did it (she didn't).  Overcoming adversity is the essence of soul, while classical needs to be at its technical best first and foremost. Both genres have the same purpose ultimately  but the requirements are very different for each. 

But having said that, I can't imagine Rostropovich "faking it" at the Berlin Wall.  Maybe he bridged both worlds.  I thought maybe Ma did too, but not yet at least.


From Paul G.
Posted on January 24, 2009 at 5:54 AM

"It's not a problem if Perlman and Ma do it.  It would have been a problem if Aretha did it (she didn't)."

Why is it acceptable for Perlman and Ma to do it, but not Franklin? That's not fair my friend.

I would have to say that if it weren't for Perlman's outrageous bowing, and the "almost-concert hall" sound coming from them, I wouldn't have been able to tell. If anything, I think Ma is amazing for being able to stay exactly with a recording. I saw no mistakes on his part.

But I did not vote either way.

I don't really think it's fair. WIth the incident involving the singer Ashlee Simpson a few years ago, she was called a complete fake, all of her fans turned on her and the whole incident blew up. Her reason for not singing was that she had a sore throat or something- Isn't that basically the same reason these classical musicians performed with a recording? A pshysical hinderence? It was too cold for them, her voice was too sore.

I just don't think there is a right answer. But the bottom line is, that I think everything for everyone should be equal. The same privelages, same consequences. If Simpson's career was ruined, why shouldn't these musicians lose a lot of credit? But then if you look at it in the way of these musicians doing it as a one-time-thing, what says it wasn't a one-time-thing with Simpson as well?

There are just too many ways the incident could play out and I don't think there is a fair answer from any end,

From David Allen
Posted on January 24, 2009 at 7:42 AM

Unfortunately, life is not fair and some are more equal than others. Not that we shouldn't make these our goals.

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on January 24, 2009 at 8:11 PM

For me this is all a huge storm in a teacup - or as the Germans would put it - making an elephant out of a mosquito...

If Yo-Yo and his friends had "mimed" along to a recording by completely different artists - well the criticism would certainly be justified.  But they were using  their own recording and by all accounts actually playing along too, not using soaped bows or "pretending" to play.  So where's the problem?  

Would it have been better for the musicians to play live and for Yo-Yo's A string to go flat right in the middle, for Perlman to play out of tune because his fingers were so cold, the clarinettist to sound like a dying mouse and the piano to be worse than a honky-tonk bar upright?   Then everyone else would be saying: "What was that absolutely rubbish classical music doing in the middle of such an important and historic occasion?"   It would have been a PR disaster for classical music..

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 1:14 AM

Paul, I gave the reason, I thought.  Classical has to be technically spot on, and I guess it's cold enough that can't be done.  Soul has to be spot on in other ways, that are more temperature-tolerant :))  They both do have to be spot on - so really there's no unfairness :)


From Deborah McCann
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 6:41 AM

In this case, it was justified.  Some of the other cases, it is also justified.  First, I don't know how many of you have tried to play with fingers cold from 23 degrees plus breeze which lowers the temp.  Also, that weather causes damage in string instruments-do we really want to damage Strads?  Clarinets and pianos also have a limit to what they can take.  Just going from a warm house to the cold car was enough to have constant tuning issues with my Guad in Iowa during the winter months and it was always in a Jaguar case.  The sound would not have been anything of quality.  If they had been in doors and the sound piped outside, it would still not have been live for some purists.  I have seen Perlman live and knew the instrument was not his usual one.  Given the weather, and the need to mic them, this was about the closest to live you were going to get.  A violin, a cello a clarinet and a piano in the outdoors under optimal conditions would need amping, and for over a million people?  To see them playing, live, and to have it mean anything I believe it was the correct choice.

From David Tebbe
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 9:45 AM

Obvious in this case it was justified.  There is a big  difference between the Marine Band and this

distinguished  Piano-quartet.  Compliments !    David Tebbe

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 1:31 PM

I can totally understand why they did that in that situation, and I think it was sensible and appropriate.  But, I didn't watch it in the first place.

From Jodi Bernard
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 2:01 PM

I have played when the temperature was 20 degrees and when it was also 103 off the hot asphlalt.... piccolo that is. I would never expect any wooden instruments to do the same. Yes they could have played inside with a tv monitor on the outside. But there is something to be said about being outside and a part of the event.

I don't feel like they (Ma, Perlman etc) have to justify themselves as musicians. I think it was nice of them to play under the circumstances. This shouldn't be a big deal.

From Charlie Piccione
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 2:16 PM

What is all the gibber about? The occasion was not about the performers it was about a new President elect. I think the people who attended and those that watched on TV wouldn't have missed anythink if Perlman and YoYo weren't even there. If you watched the program just to hear a 4 min. concert then I believe you missed the point. I would challange anyone to play there violin in those temps to just a few by-standers and feel they did a good job. Imagine performing before an entire nation (World) with a reputation like those two gentelmen have. I am surprised they showed up at all.

Today is a bit balmy, try it.

From NeaL Brooks
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 2:57 PM

As a musician who has performed outdoors in less-than-ideal conditions, I was astonished to hear those musicians introduced at the Inauguration, and a bit dumbfounded when they pulled it off as well as they did in that weather.  I have no doubts as to their skill, but the effects of the temperature and even the slightest breeze would be near impossible to effectively compensate.

So no, it came as no surprise to me when I heard it was recorded.  You could see in their facial expressions that it did not come off as well as they would have liked, so I figured I was hearing something different, or the acoustics of the location meant that they could not hear eachother very well.

These are musicians with skill and talent.  They have more than proven themselves before the world.  Nothing was "faked" about this performance.  Using a previous recording was a smart decision, considering the circumstances.


Now let me say that I'm frustrated by all of the partisan nit-picking I'm seeing in the media and on Conservative websites about this story.  I didn't vote for Obama.  I disagree with his politics, but I am holding off on expressing any criticism until when and where it's warrented.  To use the specifics of this particular performance by these outstanding musicians as a means of attacking the new President is petty and pathetic. 

From Priscilla Purnick
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 4:33 PM

The media always has to have something to complain about.  The more 'controversial' you make your story, the more readership it has.  This story is a case en pointe....most of us wouldn't think twice about the music being recorded, but if it's a *SCANDAL* or *COVERUP* becomes news!!!

Of course recording the music was justified.  Anyone who plays an instrument is aware of what temperature and humidity can do to strings, wood and fingers.  It's ridiculous to make anything out of this other than what it is:  amazing musicians wanting to do justice to the composition for a great event.  Period.  I certainly was not surprised when I heard what they did.  In fact, I was awed by the fact that they did so much work just to make the music sound as perfect as possible.  My husband and I were amazed that they were even playing outside in such weather.  We were watching very closely at the stage to see if there were heating elements anywhere.  We did notice that there seemed to be heaters blowing directly onto the piano and onto the musicians.  Even so, I'm sure the live version wasn't even close to what we heard. 

Kudos for their forethought and preparation!!

--Cil Purnick

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 5:49 PM

I didn't vote, there are some instances that we should be more forgiving, like that one, the weather were brutal to the instruments their playing, and I bet half of the specrators didn't give much attention either. I have to point though that, they (organizers) have admitted that it was a recording, I have to give them credit for that, being honest and all..

If that is a concert/recital for Mr. Ma and Mr. Pearlman, that is a different story, but again, they wouldn't play sync it either.

There some exceptions to the rule, and the innagurals is one of them. (considering the weather)

Hey Paul G., welcome back!

Its good to have you here around again!  I hope things calm down a bit for you, if not settled.


From David Wilson
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 7:28 PM

Difficult to keep a stringed instrument in tune! What about the piano?!.. Impossible!.. I watched their beautiful performance amazed at the sound production under those circumstances.. Those sound engineers must be geniuses, I thought!.... But they did the right thing to record and perform to playback..

The poignancy, elegance, and beauty of the music was perfect for the ceremony.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 8:59 PM

BTW, I want to thank member Anne Horvath for the idea for this vote! It was very timely, and I think it's important that we chime in on these kinds of things.

If you have an idea for the weekend vote, don't hesitate to e-mail me!

From BJ Berman
Posted on January 26, 2009 at 7:46 AM

I have had to play in much more congenial conditions than these and due to relatively small problems it still could not be done well, so of course these two should have had their perf pre-recorded.

However, it would have been a classier act if they had shown up in sensible deep winter clothes and offered their playing by recording due to circumstances, etc. That would not have been a fake but would have been an honest response to uncontrollable events and conditions.

They could also have played at a remote location nearby WITH their good instruments, in safety and comfort and been piped in after they appeared in person to say congrats. It's not as if their hosts couldn't afford it. They wasted an historic amount of money on things much less valuable.

These guys were not treated with respect by my lights.

In any event I didn't see the original broadcast. Politics is not the province of the musician, at least according to Yo-Yo himself (statement at Colorado Springs regarding his local perf that night. The night was 9/11/2001).

BJ Berman


From Laurie Trlak
Posted on January 26, 2009 at 2:08 PM

I am completely sympathetic to their situation. I am reminded of a somewhat similar circumstance when I played an outdoor wedding, not in freezing weather but in 100 degree heat with high humidity. Minutes before the processional was to begin, my g string broke, just spontaneously broke because of the weather conditions, so I had to change it right then. Of course, I then had to play the processional with a brand-new g string that was not only stretching and going out of tune due to newness, but also going out of tune due to heat and high humidity. If only I could have had a recording of myself playing so I could "fake it"!

I just hope that the wedding I'm scheduled to play this summer, which is also outdoors, will have better weather!

From Barry Nelson
Posted on January 27, 2009 at 2:20 AM

its never ok to fake a performance.

From Patty Rutins
Posted on January 27, 2009 at 3:45 PM

The recording they played to was their own. They were actually playing.  So here are the possibilites:

1. Actually playing with amplification for the miles of crowds and TV audiences


2. Actually playing with an amplified recording of yourselves for the miles of crowds and TV audiences?

Amplifying the cold-weather performance would have gained a little spontaneity.  Yes, it would have been very spontaneous if Perlman's eing had broken, or if Ma's Ding had suddenly slipped out mid-performance, or if ice had stuck a key in McGill's clarinet.  Is that what the purists want to hear?

It's also terribly difficult to mic an outdoor performance for consistent sound without blocking the view of the musicians.  Granted, the equipment that I typically play into is by far inferior to what would have been available at the inauguration, but my playing suffers because I have to remain still.  If I don't, the sound through the mics and speakers becomes very uneven.  And that's not even mentioning the difficulties of wind noise.

By the time the sound gets to the miles of crowds and TV audiences, it's been thoroughly processed anyway.  How is it less authentic to pipe in a recording of the same musicians playing the same piece in conditions more agreeable to their instruments?

I was impressed that Aretha Franklin didn't choose to lip sync to a recording, actually, though I suspect that her invisible back-up singers may have chosen otherwise.  Though, at 27 degrees it's a lot easier to keep your voice warm than it is to keep a violin and fingers warm.  I've gone caroling at 5 degrees, but the poor french horn player was fighting ice the whole time and ended up singing more often than he played; and I certainly wouldn't have brought my violin out there!

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