Inauguration music was a recording! Milli-Vanilli strike again!

January 24, 2009 at 04:22 PM ·


I was right!

NBC News just reported (5:53pm pst) that the quartet music heard at the inauguration WAS recorded! They were playing, but the sound actually heard was a recording!



Replies (53)

January 24, 2009 at 05:26 PM ·

I wounldn't take my strad out in 20 degrees weather either, so I don't blame them!

That is, if I had a strad, of course!

January 24, 2009 at 05:40 PM ·

Yes you spotted the fake version, but making the comparison with Milli Vanilli is rather harsh.

Milli Vanilli mimed to someone else's recording; this quartet played along quietly with their own pre-recorded track.

January 24, 2009 at 07:57 PM ·

It's been widely reported for a couple of days now by NY Times and AP.  

I don't have a problem with it given all the circumstances.  I played a gig last month with wind chills in the 20's.  It was miserable, we were playing backup instruments and I'm sure we sounded bad.  Not willing to move inside, the people putting on the wedding got what they deserved, IMO.  Anyway, I thought I.P., Yo-Yo and company did the right thing

I don't think you should compare this to a concert situation--this was functional music, ceremonial.

Aretha's accompaniment was canned and it certainly sounded like it--I guess they didn't feed the signal directly into the mix, but rather only through the speakers?  At any rate, that did bother me a little bit.  The bottom line is the sound.  The quartet sounded great, she sounded great and her background music did not. 


January 24, 2009 at 08:06 PM ·

When I first heard that it was pre-recorded, I was disappointed. After thinking about the weather situations, though, and hearing that they did all they could to play it live, I was fine with it and completely understood.

January 24, 2009 at 08:44 PM ·

 Who said either had to use their Strad? Personally I'm disappointed, as I was when I heard Pavarotti had lip-synced a performance. What if Obama had lip-synced to his own speech?

It was too bad about the conditions, but worse about deception. Someone should have looked ahead. There's a reason why my trio doesn't do weddings outside in January, or specifies that we have to be in shade in August.

January 24, 2009 at 09:46 PM ·

  a performance on such "fragile acoustic" instruments should have been kept for one of the indoors White House concerts and "NOT" given in the frozen outdoors. The performers know quite well what temperature does to the hands, sound quality and the instrument itself, whether it be a Stard or any lesser quality instrument.

The whole thing was FAKE  AND  ALL  FOR  SHOW...just like everything else the government seems to put out

watch this, it will scare the vibrato right off your fingerboard...

January 24, 2009 at 09:58 PM ·

 Oh come on you people,do you believe that any instrument would play in tune in 23 degree weather ?  It is common practice to record these music pieces beforehand !

Scott,when your trio does perform,I doubt you have hundreds of thousands of people in attendance-except for your  imagination only.

" Heeheehee!" = a low-very low blow.

January 24, 2009 at 09:47 PM ·

Does anyone doubt their abilities? It's not as if they've been faking their entire careers. The comparisons to Milli-Vanilli are apples-to-oranges, or should I say air guitar-to-Segovia!

Disney has used canned music for years as a tool to keep vocalists in synch who are stretched out over city blocks.

Besides, its all a big dog-and-pony show anyway.

January 24, 2009 at 10:38 PM ·

 Honestly I don't have a problem with them doing that. They are both accomplished musicians. I'm happy they got to "perform" though. 

On a personal note...if I had a Strad, it would not be out in the cold.

January 24, 2009 at 11:27 PM ·

Who cares if it was a recording. It was like 19 freaking degrees... they were lucky if they didn't bust a seam.

Now if it was a perfomance at a hall... then there would be talk and maybe a comparision to the pop stars... but come on...

January 25, 2009 at 02:38 AM ·

This is the subject of this week's weekend vote: Is it ever okay to perform "live" with a recording? So vote, if you haven't!

January 25, 2009 at 02:45 AM ·

By the way, to anyone who says "I would have played it live!" I flat-out don't believe you. It was a pivotal moment in history, that inauguration, with 42 million people watching. This moment was NOT ABOUT THEM proving something to the world. They really don't have to prove they are world-class musicians, they simply are. They have my respect.

It was impossible to take a quality fiddle out into that weather, very improbable that any instrument would stay in tune long enough to get through the piece. So they wanted it to sound as good as possible, seems to me that in this case, that's okay!

January 25, 2009 at 07:09 AM ·

I feel betrayed, violated, taken for granted, & disrespected, and I expect all the musicians to give back their grammys & recording contracts (or fabulous orchestral position, in the case of the clarinetist), reimburse me for my CD purchases, and leave the business forever.  And naturally Obama should resign for countenancing such deception and whatnot.

It's what any decent human being would do, but of course being children of Evil they probably won't.  *sigh*

January 25, 2009 at 01:08 PM ·

Ahhhhhhhh..... I love debates like this...

Here is a way to look at it.  If they had played live and it didn't sound all that great because of the condiitions, the great majority of the people on this site would have criticized the playing as not being up to par, not perfect, blah blah blah, etc.  Knowing this (Yo-Yo Ma said just as much) and in order to deal with unknown weather conditions, they decided that the musical quality should prevail, they recorded the piece and played along with it without live sound).  Again people criticize.  What does this say?

January 25, 2009 at 02:51 PM ·

We should all try to play outdoors in 20 degree weather. Then come back to this blog and let us know how you made out. I don't play a Strad but my fiddle would not be out side in 60 degrees let alone 20. What they did was right.

January 25, 2009 at 03:21 PM ·


What it says is that it was a STUPID idea in the first place. You don't play outside in January and to put  sound recording with it as an audio shield of defense only makes this point all the more correct.

January 25, 2009 at 03:49 PM ·

I have no problem with them playing along to a recording they themselves made.  the four musicians have all been around for years and have proven themselves.  They could have probably played that out in those conditions it was the delicacy of the instruments that kept that from happening.  There is no basis to compare them to Milli-Vanilli. 

January 25, 2009 at 05:21 PM ·

The instruments were outside anyway, and they weren't junk, so I'm not sure protecting the instruments holds up as a good reason.

In response to those who have said "Try it for yourself", If it warms up to 20 today, maybe I'll take a shot at playing outside for four minutes and 31 seconds, the duration of that piece, and report back.  :-)

January 25, 2009 at 04:15 PM ·

 I agree with Sam. They knew it would be cold in January in DC when they agreed to play. On top of that, they billed it live while putting on soap on their bows.

They were supposed to communicate the momentous occasion. How could they have? They prerecorded two days before anyone was sworn in. IMO, they are trivializing the power of live musical communication themselves.

January 25, 2009 at 04:42 PM ·

Ironically, I can't think of any instruments that are less affected by the temperature than strings. In all other instruments, pitch directly depends on the temperature of vibrating air inside the instrument, warm air moves faster driving the pitch up. Strings can easily loosened to compensate the cold temperature. Is it not?

January 25, 2009 at 04:59 PM ·

Even if what you say is true hands lose fine motor control in cold weather. I certainly wouldn't want a decent instrument out in that weather. I would have even understood if they had just stood there and an announcement was made that they had recorded the music earlier.

January 25, 2009 at 05:01 PM ·

Can't we just let this die? We've established it was recorded, we've all had our time to gripe about it and to defend the artists so I think it's safe to say it's been discussed?

January 25, 2009 at 06:16 PM ·

Ray, I agree with you, too. I would like that. My biggest objection in all this is the make believe part .

January 25, 2009 at 05:09 PM ·

I already ranted about this on Laurie's poll, but I thought I would share the reaction from my students, and their parents, so far.

They were all disappointed, and surprised too.  The students and parents assumed the live performance was really live.  Keeping in mind that Ma and Perlman are considered the tops in their fields by these young people, and have deserved that recognition.  I guess it is hard when your trust is breached. 

The students I have talked to were very excited to have famous classical musicians perform at such an important ceremony.  Living in Flyover Football Country, classical music does not get a lot of validation around here.  Sadly, some of my students have been teased about playing violin.  Having  Perlman perform was especially a big deal.

I did use Chief Justice Roberts' bungling o' the oath as an important teaching moment.  And all the Moms (and me!) loved Ms. Franklin's hat!

That is all.


January 25, 2009 at 06:12 PM ·


You want that hat, you'll have to fight Michael Phelps for it...

January 25, 2009 at 06:28 PM ·

 Perhaps I was unfair to compare them to Mili-Vanilli:

Those guys were actually quite good dancers!

January 25, 2009 at 06:31 PM ·

"I am shocked!!!  SHOCKED!!!" - Claude Raines (in Casablanca)

It is also a little known fact that during President Obama's inauguration, the dignitaries standing behind the new President were cardboard cutouts, and the audience of 2,000,000 people were lip-synching their cheers and faking their applause (the real cheering and applause being piped in from a recording by the University of Nebraska Applause and Cheering Team).


January 25, 2009 at 10:04 PM ·

The  outdoor test is complete!

It didn't look like the temperature would get up to 20 degrees F today, so I had to make do with 17 degrees.

How did it go? Basically fine. A 28 thousand dollar violin was the most expensive I had laying around, so that's what I used. It didn't explode. It didn't implode. It didn't make any cracking noises. No seams opened. The pegs didn't slip, and they worked fine before, during and after. The bow hair tension remained about the same. All in all, for that short time, playing wasn't much more difficult than at room temperature. I was happy to come back inside though.

Things which could have presented a slight challenge:

The steel E string went about a half step sharp almost immediately, in about the time it would have taken to walk onto a stage. A two second adjustment with the fine tuner took care of it. The other strings remained in tune. At the end, my fourth finger started to feel like it was on the verge of slowing down. The violin sounded slightly different, and I think the bow felt slightly stiffer. Hair grip felt slightly reduced, as if using a less grippy rosin. Maybe a softer rosin would have taken care of this.

Experiment details:

17 degrees F, light wind, playing was in the shade. Normal indoor clothing was worn (no long underwear) with a light jacket. Didn't "pre-warm" myself, just walked outside from a 70 degree room. Test duration was four-and-a-half minutes from the time I started playing, the same as the inauguration performance. Most of the playing was done with a practice mute in deference to the neighbors  :-), but it was removed at the end to check the sound and playing qualities.

Other observations:

I was surprised that the pitch on the Dominants didn't change appreciably. The pitch change on the steel E suggests that steel strings on a cello might do the same, and would take a few minutes to acclimate. Maybe the cello could be carried out slightly in advance, and then retuned.

The steel strings on the piano could be the biggest challenge. Maybe it would need to be tuned in an unheated building prior to the event. Sounds like some work, but probably less work than what they did, which  was to disconnect the keys from the hammers.

So when people in other threads say something like, "They did what they had to do", put a link to this, will you?

Sorry, don't know nuttin' about clarinets.  ;-)


David Burgess

Professional violin dinker, and former violinist.

January 26, 2009 at 12:04 AM ·

Mr. Burgess,

Why do you have to go and spoil a perfectly good argument by introducing cold, hard data?

(Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun!)

January 26, 2009 at 12:27 AM ·

David, please post video of your playing under these conditions. We are going to show it to 42 million people with high expections. ;)

January 26, 2009 at 03:24 AM ·

Well David,your test was basically flawed because the actual musicians involved in the inauguration would have to be seated for quite awhile before they were expected to perform...Your "test" was non-equivalent because you left a warm environment [70 degrees] and played immediately....Your comparison group may have waited for hours before playing--therefore,the results are non-negotiable in this study...

Kind regards though !    Has the violin been sent to our Iraq soldier  ?     Love your comments and would enjoy a try at one of your violins !!!     Thanks !


January 26, 2009 at 03:39 AM ·

not sure where laurie got the 42 mil figure.  since the event has a strong global following and there are many electronic ways to "watch tv", i think the global figure is possibly much higher than that.  the influence and impact of that occasion is huge.  and it is live.  to the organizers of the event, calling attention to anything or anyone else other than obama is probably to be avoided.

david's inquisitiveness and brilliance is at play with his experiment, providing preliminary data for the next inauguration:).  as he noted, e pitch went higher due to metal contraction in the cold.  what if perlman's e string actually breaks due to the higher tension, a real probability given david's experience? 

politicians are control freaks.  as much as i look forward to reading creative and well articulated stuff on, we must bear in mind that that show is not really the musicians' show.


January 26, 2009 at 04:02 AM ·

Okay, since it's hardly been mentioned, I'll defend the poor, neglected clarinet.  Assuming it was a professional quality instrument, hence wooden, it would have been the instrument to suffer the most under such extreme conditon's...especially the playability.  Being a woodwind, the player blows air into it which would have introduced condensation and in 20 degree weather, I can't imagine it could stand up to such abuse. 

Also, considering the musicians and instruments probably were sitting out in that cold for a significant amount of time before they were cued to perform...that clarinet would have played like a frozen turd.

January 26, 2009 at 04:06 AM ·

elegantly put. Needs a nice warm prune.

January 26, 2009 at 06:34 AM ·

I wonder what all the fuzz is about, but then again, if the pope can hold a mass in front of a crowd from within a specially erected bullet proof glass pavillon then I wonder why Perlman, Ma & Co. couldn't perform from within a glass pavillon, heated to room temperature.

January 26, 2009 at 07:47 AM ·


regarding the millions of viewers of the music portion of the was ZESTFULLY SEEN

January 26, 2009 at 01:18 PM ·

Yes, my experiment assumes that the event could have been structured so they could come out of a warm room and play. If I'd stayed outside for a while before playing, warmer clothing would have been required at the very least, with gloves worn up until the time of playing. A radiant heater would have been another option.

Al, a half-step increase won't normally cause breakage on a steel E string if the setup of the violin is correct.  I just tuned one up a minor third without breaking. Cello steels strings can normally be tuned up at least a third without breakage. Again, that assumes that the setup on the instrument is correct. Instrument problems can cause a string to break even before it reaches playing pitch, but that's unrelated to this scenario.

I don't know much about clarinets, but I know quite a bit about wood and moisture. If there is normally any condensation on the inside of a clarinet, more shouldn't make a difference. The wood doesn't know if the moisture layer is thick or thin. With wood and moisture, it mostly comes down to exposure time. You can get a little moisture on your frog and wipe it off without it doing much. Soak it overnight and you've got problems. We routinely moisten ebony fingerboards during the resurfacing process and they don't change shape appreciably. Again, keeping it wet for a longer time would cause problems, although ebony is rather dense wood and holds up pretty well to moisture. There's a lot of misunderstanding amongst string players about their instruments and moisture content, even amongst makers. Are clarinet players and makers any wiser? I don't know. You-all can have a go at that one. LOL

Laurie....uhm..... I sounded about as bad as I normally do. :-)  I haven't done any serious practicing for about 35 years, so if we want 42 million people to listen, I think we'll have to pay 'em. LOL   What I can still do is notice subtle differences in playing, and in how the violin is functioning.

I'm in no way saying what these musicians should have done, just providing data to replace some of the speculation.

Equipment failures? Use them to advantage. Heck, if Paganini the showman had been giving that performance, he probably would have broken a couple of strings on purpose, finished the number on the remaining strings, and gotten headlines the world over for this feat. :-)

January 26, 2009 at 01:42 PM ·

I think it's great that the quartet was scheduled to play for the inauguration regardless of the weather conditions....maybe it will inspire others to pursue music since Obama seems to be a role model for many.

January 26, 2009 at 02:32 PM ·

The difference between the string instruments and the clarinet would be the keys.  In that kind of cold weather, the condensation in the instrument would surely have caused some of the keys to malfunction and become sticky.  The pitch of the instrument would have been effected as well.   It would have played higher than normal causing the other musicians to have to adapt.   Easy enough for the strings, but a big problem for the piano. 

And this is all nit-picky stuff if you're outdoors and playing for say...a community fund raiser.  But we are talking about the inauguration of the President.  They wanted the music to be perfect.  Not possible with 20 degree weather.



January 26, 2009 at 02:27 PM ·

Isn't the tension on the string the same when tuned to a pitch? Regardless of the temperature?Clarinetists collect moisture even indoors. I have seen their instruments dripping in concerts. Don't really want to know what those drops consist of.

If 42 million people watching with high expectations makes you put on a CD and soap up the bow, we have no reason to attend a live concert. They missed a great opportunity to show the world how classical music can capture the poignant moment like no other music can. Speak directly to average man and women conveying something celebratory singing and chanting can't? If anyone could, it will be them. Instead, they put on a CD made before they had the chance to experience the moment. All we get to talk is million dollar instruments too precious to be outside. Maybe classical music itself is too precious to be in the real world.

January 26, 2009 at 02:45 PM ·

...dripping with condensation...yes.  But playing indoors, in a heated venue...spit won't freeze.

"Maybe classical music itself is too precious to be in the real world." 

Interesting thought........

January 26, 2009 at 03:08 PM ·

Oh geez, now I have to dig up a clarinetist.....  ;-)

Blowing through 'em would seem like a good way of preventing freezing.....

January 26, 2009 at 03:19 PM ·

Blowing through 'em would seem like a good way of preventing freezing..... 

That would increase the windchill factor.

January 26, 2009 at 03:29 PM ·

If he had enough alcohol in his system...that too would prevent freeze up.  The woodwind players antifreeze.  Keeps all the keys primed.   Could also explain the smile on YYM's face. 

January 26, 2009 at 03:47 PM ·

 Sorry to take the pulse of this discussion away from unfreezing clarinets with alcohol and closet Polar Bear Club members playing outdoors when there's a perfectly good heating system working in their workshop, but...

 Apparently the problem was the piano as much as anything else. During the sound check on Monday, the action on the piano was sticking -- the keys would move, but the hammers wouldn't. Now, I don't know nuttin 'bout pianos, but that sounds like a reasonable argument to me. And although David has proved with unrelenting scientific fact that it's possible to play outside in sub-zero (Celsius) weather without serious damage to player or instrument, the question remains:

 Why would anyone in their right mind WANT to do such a thing?


January 26, 2009 at 03:50 PM ·

...fame, fortune, and bragging rights for the grandchildren...great grandchildren...great-great grandchildren.

And, to start a new discussion at

January 26, 2009 at 04:49 PM ·

 A friend tells me that (former Ormandy/Philadelphia concertmaster) Anshel Brusilow left his post at the Dallas Symphony years ago over an incident involving the orchestra not playing in cold weather (by his decision) for fear the woodwinds would sustain cracks.  Apparently the board did not agree.

I don't know if it's true, I suppose you can ask Brusilow or one of the sounds plausible to me.

January 26, 2009 at 04:52 PM ·


Why would anybody want to play outside in the freezing air? Why because it is Kinky, of course:)

January 26, 2009 at 05:15 PM ·

The issue with clarinets (or oboes, or bassoons) in cold weather is cracking.

The instrument is (obviously) a cylinder of wood.  As the player blows air through the inside, the wood on the inside of the cylinder gets warm and starts to expand.  If the weather is cold, the wood on the outside stays cold and doesn't expand to accommodate the expansion inside.  The expanding wood inside forces the non-expanding wood outside to expand anyway, resulting in a crack..  A cracked instrument can usually be repaired, but it's never quite as good (or worth as much money) as it was before.

Oboe players are taught never to play their instruments if the temperature is below 65F.  I have been in concerts with oboists & clarinetists whose instruments actually did crack when the temp. was in the low 60's onstage.  (This was indoors - once it was due to insufficient heating in the winter, and once it was because of ferocious air conditioning in the summer.)  Apparently the insurance companies won't pay for the repairs because playing in cold temperatures constitutes "willful abuse." 

I don't know if Anthony McGill only pretended to play in order to protect his instrument, played a plastic clarinet, or just sacrificed one for the sake of the event; but actually playing a clarinet outdoors in subfreezing weather is very, very bad for the instrument.

January 26, 2009 at 05:33 PM ·

Well who would have thought that the bowed strings would be the most durable of the bunch?

 At least now we can blame those other people, with their silly instruments that they put in their mouths, or can't even fit in a car. ;-)

January 26, 2009 at 05:39 PM ·'s a Freudian thing.

January 26, 2009 at 11:23 PM ·

sometimes a bassoon is just a bassoon.......

January 28, 2009 at 02:48 AM ·

This is off-message, but...

Bill, thanks for the link--that's one of my favorite tunes, actually.  Not a very dynamic video, but there are some good shots of a pristine first edition flying V and an equally nice EB-3.

Back to you, Chet...

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