Saturday, January 24, 2009

Songs in My Head Saturday

This gorgeous arrangement of Air and Simple Gifts, written by John
Williams for the inauguration, has been in my head all week. Did you
know they actually prerecorded the music on Monday, because the
frigid temperatures would alter the instruments and cause them to
lose pitch? During the inaugural performance, the piano keys were
detached from the hammers and the stringed instruments were
soaped to prevent the sound. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak
Perlman, pianist Gabriella Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill
did a fabulous job of making us believe they were truly in the moment!

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.


  1. Nice post, thank you Willow.

    I seem to get jingle-esque songs in my head constantly. Makes me wonder if I'm crazy...

  2. Hi Willow, I wonder if it would be possible for you to put a link next to the embedded posts, please? (In the way that Barbara Martin has on her Wolf post today). For some reason, some of us can't access embedded videos on our computers, but can via links. I would so love to be able to hear and see your film posts! Giraffitude!

  3. Some folks are off put by syncing to music. In this case I think it was well utilized - we wouldn't want any more stumbles on inauguration day.

    It would be an entirely different matter, and carry some merit for folks to be miffed if they were performing and synced at the Met.

  4. Well, how strange, willow. You certainly would never have known.

    I used to sing that when I was in a choir many years ago and loved it then.

  5. What a lovely fake, I marvel at the lack of aging of Perlmann.
    A nice post though.

  6. I heard about their pre-recording from Yo-Yo Ma on NPR. You would never have known it. Regardless, I LOVED it.

  7. Splendid. I have also been thinking about this piece. A timely post willow.

    Ever Yours,
    Clayrn Darrow

  8. Lovely, Willow. Who knew musicians could be such fine pantomimers?! What a nice bit of background. Thanks!

  9. Raph, just click on "Air and Simple Gifts" in the body of the post and you should be directed to the video clip.

  10. Yes i watched the whole inaguration on t.v., i have to say that i have seen this blog a lot but actually never comminted before, fut it is a very excellent blog. Plus i enjoy anything with a classical apperince.

  11. I liked that song as well. Itzak Perlman and YoYo Ma sre two of my favorite musicians. I have seen them perform numerous times at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA.

    But, the song that keeps running through my head is At Last(Etta James) song by Beyonce at the first ball the President and First lady attended.

  12. Oh, I didn't notice. Hehe. I was fooled!

    I don't mind though. =)

  13. I adore yo yo ma! He always has a huge smile plastered on his face! You can tell that he loves what he does!

  14. Thank you Willow, much appreciated!

  15. I didn't realize that it had been prerecorded, although it does make sense. (I wondered how the speakers could speak -- between the cold and the nerves!)

    Such lovely words, too . . .

  16. It all makes sense and people should not have been surprised.

    Besides, their instruments do not do so well in temp changes. Can't imagine the price of the instruments, let alone letting the frigid air do crazy things to the wood.

  17. Well, the military bands hung round for hours in the freezing cold then managed to play in tune while marching about.

    But you remember the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony? Remember the cute little schoolgirl who sang in front of billions? Well, not only was that pre-recorded but it wasn’t even her singing! She couldn’t sing for toffee, and the girl who was singing was butt ugly.

    Mr Perlman said: “This occasion has to be perfect – you can’t have any slip-ups.” (Like getting the oath wrong, for instance.)

    I suppose if you have to have music at such occasions there might be circumstances under which pre-recorded music needs to be used, but then why go through the transparent charade of pretending it’s actually happening? The words “defining moment” drifted into my mind. But those near the players would have heard them – they weren’t silently miming. It would have been better if the announcer had said, just before they started playing, that most of the crowd, and the TV audience, were to be fed a recording. There was no need to pretend otherwise – there were honourable reasons for the recording.

    Here’s an interesting view from a marine band piccolo player (courtesy of The Flute List):

    I guess I have a bit of information regarding the pre-recorded music. The quartet at the Inauguration used the Marine Band’s rehearsal spaces to rehearse and record their music. I heard that on Sunday night, Mr. Williams made the call to use a recording of his piece. It was simply too cold for the instruments to function and stay in tune. I don’t blame him. The world was watching. As for our piccolos, two of us used metal piccs, two of us had composite piccs, and one had a grenadite (or plastic) piccolo. We don’t take wooden instruments out if the conditions are too extreme. Honestly, we get used to playing music, especially the Stars and Stripes solo, at all temperatures. I remember one January job where ice was flying into the embouchure hole of the piccolo as I played the solo. For a huge event like Inauguration, we have pre-recorded music to use ONLY if it is so cold that valves and slides are freezing. I guess it’s an “always be prepared” thing. The Inauguration, in general was simply incredible. Because of bridge and road closures in DC, most of the band slept in our rehearsal rooms the night before. We left at 4.30 a.m. with our bus convoy. Once the security check was over, we waited inside the Capitol for a few hours. We entered the platform through the press scaffolding a few minutes before 10 a.m. Walking out and seeing the Mall took my breath away. It was like a sea of people waving American flags. The energy was intense. I don’t think I’ll see anything like it again. I really couldn’t believe that I was there to witness it. It was a great day and made me really proud to be a part of the Marine Band. Now I’ve thawed out and am returning to the cosy concert hall. We’re doing an all-Haydn concert with our Chamber Orchestra this weekend. No two days are ever the same. Our solo piccolo player, Cindy Rugolo, told me she is going to post something more in depth about Inauguration soon.

    So even the Marines wouldn’t use wooden instruments live on such a cold day.

  18. Willow, I had been wondering how they managed to play in subzero temperatures. I would be very worried if my grand piano had to be out in such extreme temperatures.

    Do you know Bill Coleman's beautiful book "The gift to be simple : life in Amish country"?

    Btw, the Library of Congress in Washington DC,, has a whole host of materials about "The Gift to be Simple" online!

  19. I just read online yesterday that this was pre-recorded. I had no idea while I was watching it. And yes, it was a beautiful piece.

  20. This was a great moment indeed!
    Thank you for the info about the the instruments and the cold. Something I would never think of, but it makes sense, of course...

  21. I thought it was beautiful, too. Even more so that it was pre-recorded because of the weather.

  22. I didn't know it wasn't live
    but it was lovely anyway
    yes, haunting and magical

  23. 'Tis indeed a gift!
    Let the beauty of the music shine through. Technology did what it had to, it opened the parachute!!!
    Thank you so much.

  24. Have always loved Simple gifts. Was a tad startled to learn about the pre-recording.

  25. Hellow Willow,

    Thank you for posting this. It was a part of the inauguration that I didn't get to see!

    Pre-recorded music is used so often these days I don't suppose we should be surprised. But I find we use far too much technical wizardry these days - such as when there is a duet on CD and you know the singers weren't even in the same country, let alone the same recording studio, when it was made!

  26. Dear willow, aren't I lucky to be able to follow your blog?! Finding you is like stumbling across a treasured bookstore, the kind I have only ever created in the pages of my mind, and inside books like 84 Charing Cross Road... I love that you distil the beauty of art and poetry. My father does the same, and it feels like being handed a jewel specially dusted off and polished so it gleams bright and true.

  27. I was all goose bumps while they played, then to find out it was matter, the moment was magic, the thrill was in the air, nothing could have ruined the beauty of the day!

    Beautiful words!


  28. amazing really! My French husband asked that very question about the frigid temperatures altering the sound- but, they sure had me fooled and delighted.Thanks for sharing!
    salut !

  29. As a pianist I find this fascinating. Great post.

    CJ xx

  30. Yes I just heard that on the news last night, not surprised really, the Hubster has had that problem with his band on cold outdoor evenings!

  31. I read about that in the NY Times! I think they called it the musical equivalent of lip-syncing! Sounds like it was so freezing cold that the strings would have snapped, and that "that wasn't an option," so I don't blame them! I enjoyed the bits of Copland's Appalachian Spring in that piece, too.

  32. This is a very nice tune for a lazy Saturday afternoon here in the British capital. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  33. Today's paper had an article on this and the powers that be are catching some flack...comparing this to the Milli Vanilli fiasco several years back. No comparison! These are accomplished musicians, who would never pass up a chance to perform their music "live". They pulled it off beautifully. (Altho, I do remember asking my daughter (a violist/clarinetist) how they could play their instruments in such cold temps).

  34. thank you so wonderful..I love the words, are those the words to the music,or just the poem?

  35. Have you heard the Allison Krauss/Yo Yo Ma version?? So gorgeous.

  36. Oh, Willow!
    Now "Simple Gifts" is stuck in my head, too. And thanks so much for shattering my illusions ;) Had read (in the NYTimes) that the orchestra for the pre-inaugural concert had used composite instruments because of the cold (& you could see that in the broadcast), and Yo Yo Ma was considering playing a composite cello at the inauguration for the same reason, but never considered that they would have "faked" the performance. Very understandable, but a little sad. Still, it's a wonderful tune, a beautiful arrangement, and wherever they actually produced it,lovely to hear.

  37. You and Sandy Carlson must have been channeling. I'm thinking more along the lines of "Pain in my head, bugs in my bed, pants are so old that they shine. Times are so rough I just ain't got enough to buy me a bottle of wine."

  38. Willow,
    Yes! I thought the inauguration arrangement was superb. And I remember me being proud as a peacock when your daughter sang it as a selection for her Junior Recital at Indiana University School of Music!
    Fond memories!
    The Bach

  39. Hello Willow,

    I found you by way of my sweetheart Michael...

    A lovely blog you have here..such atmosphere.

    I was unaware that the music was prerecorded. But I agree, quite lovely to hear nonetheless.

    By the way, loved your blog entry about the hats too...smiling.

    Wishes for a lovely rest of the weekend..

  40. I watch them play and I did not know that. How did you learn that?

  41. Writer, I heard Yo-Yo Ma being interviewed on NPR Friday afternoon.

  42. I didn't hear the performance until after I heard it was pre-recorded....because of this I could just enjoy the wonderful arrangement for itself...a beautiful arrangement of a beautiful song...probably my favorite song...I don't blame them for the pre-recording but they would have skipped all this hewing and hawing if they had just said at the time what was happening...

  43. 25 Things Meme from BT Thecraftygardener

    Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

    To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.

    Willow, I can't make it work as it should to tag you so am doing it here! Anyone else want a go, please do so.

  44. That is a beautiful piece. I wouldn't mind having that stuck in my head.

  45. Well, here I am, checking in a #45....! Heh!

    Yes, I read that due to the cold, cold weather and because of the danger of broken strings, etc. they did record the music two days before the event. Not a bad idea... it is such a big day for everyone it would be sad to, well, have a malfunction because of the weather.

    Years ago I often played Taps at funerals at local cemeteries. I would hold the mouth piece of my trumpet in my hand or keep it in my pocket on cold days - but sometimes the keys would freeze up on me (those were the days... heh!).

    You can play a trumpet like a bugle and do not have to use the keys to play Taps - thank goodness. But it was quite a challenge at times and you never wanted to mess up for a military funeral since it was such a serious occasion.

    The John Williams' piece sure reminds me a lot of Aaron Copeland... but certainly beautiful.

    Take care.

  46. Sneaky. Very, very sneaky.

  47. That is so intresting. I had no idea. How on earth did you find that out? This is the only place where I've read about that. I did wonder how they could play with such surely cold fingers.

  48. I had heard they "lip synced" the performance. I guess running the risk of a bad sound or broken strings on those instruments just wasn't worth it. I didn't much mind that it had been recorded--they did actually make the music, and we all know they can. It was like hearing music piped in from heaven.

  49. I was wondering why Ma and Perlman had those earpieces, but now I know! I love the piece, but it was terribly hard to hear in that environment, and I hope it receives a concert hall performance sometime by the same performers. The song itself, lyrics you provided, has always been one of my deep favorites.

  50. It has always been one of my very favorites, too.


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)