23 January 2009

A mystery explained

Like some 60% of Americans, I watched the Inauguration live -- it was at work, and things were not too busy yet, so I was able to pop in and out of the break room and catch most of it.   I was psyched to see Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman play before Obama took the oath -- I've been a huge fan of Yo Yo Ma ever since I first heard his rendition of Bach's 6 cello suites, which remains among my favorite music pieces.   I was not enthused to hear that the piece they were playing was a John Williams arrangement, "Air and Simple Gifts," but it turned out to be elegant and in keeping with the atmosphere of the great event.   One thing stuck me, though, watching their performance:

It was cold there, damn cold.  The commentators had been talking about all the people being treated for hypothermia and all that sort of thing.   I play fiddle (badly) and I know how hard it is to keep my violin in tune when there are temperature changes, especially dramatic swings (hot car in summer, or taking it outside in winter). I commented to the other folks there that I was stunned that they were able to play stringed instruments in those conditions, but the general consensus was that Perlman and Ma were just so awesome that they could pull it off.

Turns out that we were half right.  The NYT reports today that the performance was recorded and played over the loudspeakers, while the musicians played along to their own recordings.   "The conditions raised the possibility of broken piano strings, cracked instruments and wacky intonation," the Times reports.  Yo Yo Ma said, “We also knew we couldn’t have any technical or
instrumental malfunction on that occasion. A broken string was not an
option. It was wicked cold.”

Also noted: they chose not to risk their Strads in the cold, using modern instruments instead.  Yo Yo Ma considered using a carbon fiber cello (such a thing exists?) but did not because he did not want to distract with its unusual appearance.


  1. Carbon fiber cello


    I read bookofjoe every day. I knew I saw it in there somewhere.

  2. Ma's carbon fiber cello is awesome. His picture on the manufacturer's website: http://www.luisandclark.com/photogallery.php

  3. the inauguration had too much praying to jeebus for my taste. guess i'm a "nonbeliever"

  4. not actually playing was very lame.....

  5. Oh, the irony! A man who talks up destroying the economy in order to save the world from Global Warming® is coronated on a freeze-your-nuts-off cold day.


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