51 thoughts on “Yo-Yo Ma Fakin’ it!

  1. aly hawkins

    I heard about this a couple days ago and my first reaction was, That explains how good the mix was. And my second thought was, Well, of course they faked it! Can a cello even be played at 27 degrees without cracking into pieces?

    I guess I just wasn’t tuned into the ethics part of the whole thing. I couldn’t figure out why the headline read, “Inaugural Shocker!”

  2. Alex Wen

    Should’ve heard our apartment after the news… you might be shocked at my stance on it. Or you might not.

  3. Stick

    I can remember marching with a saxophone in a parade in high school at that temperature. I’m sure we sounded horrible and I know my fingers were pretty numb.

    Yo-Yo and Itzhak did the right thing.

    I wonder if that Steinway will ever be the same?

  4. Scott

    I think it’s becoming more and more understood that sometimes you just have to prerecord. Now when it’s gonna be 27 degrees outside, maybe you ought to not plan for “live musicians” at all– string instruments especially! The more ridiculously illogical our programming choices get in regard to instrumentation, acoustical space and climate, the more need there is to intervene with technology.

    Let me ask: if the musicians had played live from INDOORS via satellite uplink, would people have had a problem with that? They’re still getting a recording, more or less, of the group, only the group didn’t even bother to actually show up. Any thoughts?

    In closing, I’m almost ashamed that nobody has yet employed a Yo MaMa joke on this thread. I expected worse from you people. :)

  5. corey

    A buddy of mine was recently out with Pink for her big pre-tour media push. He and I talk alot about how musical entertainment has almost become 51% visual and 49% sonic. I’d like to default to my cynical ways and argue that in LA it’s closer to 70/30, but hasn’t live music always been that way? I don’t think Ziggy Stardust wrote the book on the big visual display.

    And all this plays into our current social situation with technology because we now have access to visual media like never before. Even my 9 and 11 year old boys can watch movies on their iPods, my 6 year old daughter knows how to use our digital camera, and many people’s phones can pick up live tv signals.

    I guess my point is that the more access we have to visual media, the more the world (and specifically musical performance) will become subject to aesthetics- Steinways be damned.

  6. michael lee Post author

    Corey, there’s a lot of controversy right now over the decision by the NY Metropolitan Opera to consider the image of the person being cast for leading roles. The Met broadcasts live to IMAX theaters, bringing much more scrutiny on the visual aspects of the lead performers.

    Traditionally, classical music and jazz have had some immunity from those concerns – what mattered was what happened when you picked up your instrument, or opened your mouth to sing. Now, it helps to be young and pretty while you do it.

  7. corey

    crap, there goes my shot with the NYMO. I’m waiting for lanky and homely to come en vogue, then I’m gonna strike like a ninja and watch the gigs. roll. in.

  8. sharolyn

    Resist seeker-sensitive opera.

    I believe the reason jazz and opera have had some immunity is because their audiences are looking for something different than other genres, something based on mastery of one’s instrument, or perhaps and elevated level of expression.

  9. sharolyn

    Chad, it’s not my favorite. Having played clarinet in two operas, I started to connect with those ones after watching them a dozen times. For me, the emotional connection wasn’t handed to me on a silver platter, and I kind of liked that. Passion is plenty in opera. There was more reward to be had in working for the connection. And by working, I mean reading subtitles. (kidding)

    Opera aside, it’s the “young and pretty” thing that makes me throw up in my mouth a little. I won’t go on my “Would Ella Fitzgerald be known today?” rant. I think I was born in the wrong generation.

    As far as Yo Yo Ma, they got it right. -Physically present to show their support… it was truly them that we were hearing, I hope… not endangering their instruments or what would have been a doomed listening experience. There was also a clarinetist. For Friday night football game field shows, I would use my plastic Selmer clarinet. When playing in an orchestra, I would use my wooden Buffet that is older than I am. To me, this was in the same category of instrument use.

    I just wish Yo Yo could lose a few pounds – maybe get some Botox for his wrinkles? Then I could enjoy the visual aspect of his music much more…

  10. michael lee Post author

    Why not use space heaters?

    Why not have the ensemble play from inside the Capitol building, and broadcast it out to the throng?

    I think this is an essential question: would your ability to enjoy the music have been different if they had been introduced as, “I’d like to present these four famous musicians pantomiming to a pre-recorded version of a new piece of music by John Williams.”

    Almost certainly, yes.

  11. sharolyn

    One thing that is obvious, but needs to be said, is that this is vastly different than the Milli Vanilli ethical question in that who we were seeing was also who we were hearing. “Pre-recording” and “impersonating” are very different things.

    Mike, you have swayed me a little bit with your questions. They are valid. It all comes down to risk and reward. The oath was not pre-recorded (more risk). It was far from perfect, but 100% human.

    Mike, do you think the purpose of the event matters? For example, does it matter if someone had paid for tickets to hear these musicians play, versus an outdoor public event?

  12. Nick

    Does it help that the reputations of these musicians precede them? We all know that those musicians are brilliant, tested musicians. I’ll admit that I don’t listen to classical music, and Yo Yo Ma and Pearlman are just about the only classical musicians that I can identify by name (Sorry everybody).

    I think it’s different from when we see Britney Spears sing live, or Ashley Simpson’s track mess up, and we can say, “see! That just proves that anybody can sing if you have the right equipment!” I guess I’m just willing to give them a pass because I know they can bring it.

  13. Chad

    That’s a good point. The most interesting thing Ashlee Simpson has ever done was getting knocked up by Pete Wentz.

  14. michael lee Post author

    I think they’ve traded in a little bit of their reputation on this one. From now on, when you see one of those four people performing at a large outdoor event, there will be a question mark in your head … are they really performing? Are those runs being done live? Is it ok to fully embrace this musical moment, or am I being played to?

  15. Sharolyn

    The first time I saw this post, I mistakenly read “Yo Fakin’ It”, and my mind went some place very different.

  16. michael lee Post author

    Great discussions in class yesterday, both in the Senior Ethics course, and in my freshman Music Technology class.

    It’s always funny to me how black and white freshman are. They’re basically all fundamentalists, right and wrong are very simple ideas requiring no critical thinking or subtlety of thought. It makes it all the more fun to explode their heads with probing questions. I ended that class yesterday with the questions, “Would it have been a different experience if they had been introduced as 4 famous musicians pantomiming to a recording?” We didn’t discuss it, I just asked it and kicked them out the door. They left with very disturbed looks on their faces.

    I love my job.

  17. aly hawkins

    “Would it have been a different experience if they had been introduced as 4 famous musicians pantomiming to a recording?”

    Wait. My understanding was that they DID actually play the tune (they weren’t just miming), but what was heard thru the PA was a quickie recording they’d thrown together the day before. Their stated reason was the weather, the merits of which argument we could debate from here ’til Tuesday, but I feel like there are a host of variables we don’t haven’t the faintest clue about. How much control did the musicians have over the decisions that were made? Was the recording made with the intention of using it, or was it a safety net that came in handy when it came time to play? Who made the call? If it was the event’s producer, how appropriate or inappropriate would it have been for our musicians to put up a stink, seeing as how the event wasn’t about them or the music in the first place? (My thought is that it makes a difference that the event was not a concert featuring these performers.)

    My secret crush on Itzhak Perlman is making me care when I really should just do the laundry.

  18. michael lee Post author

    “My understanding was that they DID actually play the tune (they weren’t just miming), but what was heard thru the PA was a quickie recording they’d thrown together the day before.”

    yes, that’s what I meant to imply.

  19. Scott

    Aly makes a good point. What if it wasn’t their decision? Maybe they were committed before the issue was breached. Maybe they hated the idea but decided to take one for the team in honor of the big historic event.

    But then, what if it WAS their decision to prerecord? Can you fault them for deciding not to play live in the freezing cold? Would you rather they be safe and perform early… or totally suck, souring many people’s event of a lifetime?

  20. michael lee Post author

    Those are false choices. There were other available options – such as heating the space, performing inside and broadcasting it, or even building a freekin’ plexiglass cube for them to play inside of.

  21. aly hawkins

    Now who’s the fundamentalist, dude? All I’m saying is that it’s even money that the musicians themselves were not given the option of those options. How much bigger a story would it have been if they played diva by drawing a line in the sand?

  22. Scott

    I already presented the “offsite” choice and nobody jumped on it, so I thought we were sticking to possibilities within Sharolyn’s apt “Physically present to show their support” comment.

    Plexiglass? Was the pope playing finger cymbals?

  23. june

    Leonard soooo funny.

    I’ve been trying to think of something insightful and enlightening and deep to relate the visual arts to this discussion….but I can’t. My cold and my children (and let’s not forget the laundry and the dishes) have sucked all the insightfulness right outta me. (Hmmm…that makes it sound like there once was some there.) I guess I think this is not quite an “ethical” issue since, as someone else said, these folks have already proven to be able to play in the manner that was heard and because they were also playing along. And, was the fact that they were playing along with a recording ever a fact that was hidden?

    I think Mike would give me a D, at best, if I was in his class. And, he’d like doing it.


    In the “senior seminar” class I took as an art major, all we did was discuss ethical and theoretical issues. (I think I wrote a paper on Kant and during that time also adopted a stray cat and named it Soren.) What I wish one of my professors would’ve piped up with, at least once, was that as people aspiring to be both Godly and skilled artists, the truth that we could apply to the eeeeendless subtle, gray, and confusing matters of life was (is) the quest for discernment and wisdom. Perhaps it didn’t need to be said…I don’t know. I can’t quite remember what my mental state was at age 21 and my senior year was so traumatic (due to other circumstances) that who knows what was said that I simply don’t recall. But, I don’t have an overall impression/remembrance that our professors made a point of teaching us to pray for, talk about and continually strive towards possessing greater wisdom and discernment in order to better execute our artistic efforts as we ventured out into the “real world.” This seems like the kind of thing that should be mentioned, if not taught, (not sure how one “teaches” that) at Christian universities.

    Am I being a dork? I’m not just aiming for self-deprecation when I say my brain is small. I realize I often fall prey to shallow thinking.

  24. Leonard

    when I first read the heading I thought it said “yo moma’s fakin it…” which has a totally different meaning.

    So here is a real question. I get it if a person fakes a whole concert, fakes albums and such, but for a singular performance such as the inauguration or super bowl, why does it matter?

  25. Chad

    I think, speaking only for myself here, that it cheapened what was, for me, the highlight of the inauguration.

    I was duped, actually, by the performance, and that’s unusual. I have a pretty keen eye for such things.

    It’s a beautiful piece of music. It totally took me in. The performances, recorded or not, are rapturous. The idea that that hands and feet of 4 men alone could create such wonders…

    …but then it’s just less wondrous.

  26. corey

    June, make no apologies for “shallow thinking”. It’s why I feel camaraderie with you. Let Mike tell you about last night- how he taught me what a Public Library is for. I was indignant that regular people don’t actually use them. So then I turned to Rosy and said, “Rosy, you’re on my side… when was the last time you went to a public library?” He responds, “what day is today? Thursday? Ok, it was Monday.”


    So, I felt like I was a single chromosome away from walking on four legs. However, that shame has been abated by the fact that I went this morning to sign up for a library card. I even checked out my very first book. It’s about firetrucks.

    Ok. I’m finished. Back to your scheduled discussion.
    Carry on Musiconspiracy Theorists…

  27. Chad

    It’s funny… I noticed that, too, except the vocal sounded live, even though it didn’t quite match her lips. Strange. I’m pretty good at hearing a pre-tracked vocal, and the sound I was hearing sounded exactly like what I felt like I saw, meaning that over the ear mic, and the way it responds to the voice. It didn’t, at all, sound like a studio vocal piped in.

  28. sharolyn

    Now I can’t ever fully embrace Beyonce’s musical moments. I’ll forever be wondering, “Am I being played to?”

    It was the only bummer in a great number. (Rhyme unintended.)

  29. Chad

    I have 2 thoughts:

    1. Beyonce is a pro’s pro. There’s a youtube video of her taking a HUGE spill coming down a flight of stairs during one of her concerts, the vocal does stop, and then it’s like, BAM! She’s back up and singing. Later, it was revealed that she had opened up a huge gash in her leg that required stitches. I’ve talked to a couple of session singers who’ve worked with her and they say she’s just a total monster, vocally. I can’t get the MTV link to open, but I’d bet dollars to pesos that she lost her voice or something catastrophic, and they went with the demo vocal.

    2. Ashlee Simpson was caught lip synching as the frontwoman for what is essentially a rock song. If you can’t sing a pop rock tune standing still on the SNL stage, just go home. The Simpson girls cannot sing. They’re really, really bad.

    And snarky does look pretty good on Sharolyn.

  30. sharolyn

    Here is more of the snarky. I finished the Oscars on Tivo last night. Queen Latifah phoned it in, too. You know, during the “Dead People’s Popularity Contest”. Either that, or she had auto-tune implanted in her throat, which I would ethically have less problem with, because then she would actually still be singing at a “live show”.

    It caused me to appreciate Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway all the more, and the foreign magician (during a speech), who were willing and able to deliver a live performance during a live broadcast.

  31. michael lee Post author

    Good, oh so good.

    Monster meaning so good she’s inhuman, like some sort of genetically modified freak of science, developed in a lab for the soul purpose (get it?) of delivering tasty vocal goodness.

  32. aly hawkins

    Shar – I think they were running a teensy bit of auto-tune on Queen Latifah. She sure sounded live to me. But then again, I have a high capacity for suspending disbelief.

  33. sharolyn

    So, you mean auto-tune live? That could very well be the case. I noticed the auto-tune, not any acoustical difference or errors in lip-syncing. I didn’t even know there could be auto-tune live until someone posted the Billy Joel clip, and honestly I had forgotten about live auto-tune.

    Also, I was just having fun being snarky, because it’s very not me. :)

  34. michael Post author

    Just came back around to this lecture again in Sr. Sem. Nothing new to add, other than the fact that every semester, at least one person in my class gets their heart broken when they learn about this.

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