The Music of the Inauguration

20 01 2009

I notice that many of my favorite bloggers are posting their thoughts about this morning’s inauguration, so I don’t want to throw more of the same, tired thoughts into the mix.

I do, however, want to remark on an aspect of today’s historic event on which I haven’t heard much discussion, and that is the music of the inauguration.

First, the United States Marine Band. They played the music preceding and following the inauguration and during the various arrivals. Traditional and appropriate to the occasion, each song was very well executed. The “house” band often gets overlooked, but there was something today about seeing the men with their long trumpets that put me in mind of the way that music has heralded the arrival of rulers for so much of history.

Next, Aretha Franklin. I have come across a few comments that were critical of her performance of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” or at least critical of her extremely large hat. I have nothing negative to say. The woman is almost 70 years old and can hardly be expected to belt it out like she used to. I think she was there more as a symbol than as an entertainer. If anyone has earned the honor of singing at this event, it is she. With a legacy of music that has impacted generations, and given her status as an African-American musical icon, it seemed quite appropriate for her to sing at this inauguration of the first black president. As for the gigantic hat, I know enough about elderly, black church ladies and their affinity for hats to know that you just don’t go there.

The United States Navy band “Sea Chanters” sang the national anthem, and it was a very appropriate, classic rendition of this piece. Call me a traditionalist, but I strongly dislike when someone at a professional sports event (or worse, at a high school) comes along with the audacity to think they can dazzle us with their talent to make The Star-Spangled Banner better than the original. This is not just any patriotic song open to modern interpretation; it is the country’s national anthem and is best performed the normal way. Today’s performance by Sea Chanters fit the bill nicely.

And then there was the showstopper in the middle. I can’t believe I haven’t heard more discussion about this. An instrumental quartet performed an arrangement by composer John Williams. And what a quartet to assemble: Itzhak Perlman, perhaps the best violinist of our modern day, the legendary Yo Yo Ma playing the cello,  Anthony McGill of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra on clarinet, and Gabriela Montero, the excellent pianist to whose concert I took my piano students last year. I had not expected to have something in the inauguration move me to tears, but this piece did. It was so incredibly beautiful.

In case you missed it, here’s the video. You probably won’t hear it in tonight’s highlights on the news, but it was the highlight of the entire inauguration for me.




6 responses

20 01 2009

You are right. Thinking about it, I normally would have at least commented on the music on my blog, but there is just so much to say about the whole thing! I love John Williams, though, and those musicians were spectacular. I’m not a big Aretha Franklin fan, but it did seem to fit having her there. I’m more for instrumental music, myself. Then again, I didn’t really watch much except for the John Williams music and the inauguration speech.

21 01 2009

The inauguration ceremony // after party looked like quite a get-together — i’m sorry i missed it

21 01 2009
micah d.l.

Two things:
1. I loved Aretha’s hat and thought she did a fine job on the song…it was beautiful!

2. I’m with you on the Anthem…why do so many feel it necessary to “screw” with it? It’s fine the way it is…sigh. I didn’t hear the one yesterday but am glad to know that it was done properly!

21 01 2009

I also loved the instrumental piece in the middle. It was beautiful, well arranged and masterfully executed. And I’m with Micah, I thought Aretha’s hat was absolutely fabulous!

21 01 2009
Emily Straw

Wow I didn’t watch any of it yesterday because of other stuff going on but I did watch the video link you posted and WOW I’m wondering if there is a way to get a recording of that. I especially the passion from all those musicians, especially Yo-Yo Ma, who enjoys just playing. Yeah technique and all that stuff is important and great, but I love seeing musicians who enjoy playing simply for the sake of playing. Great blog! Hope to see more soon!!

22 01 2009

Considering her age, how cold it was, technical factors, etc. thrown in, Aretha Franklin ‘still got it’! And I could never have pulled it off, but that hat looked fantastic on her. It was the instrumental piece that stuck in my mind from the morning also. And don’t even get me started on the military choirs singing patriotic songs: Did you hear them sing Battle Hymn of the Repblic at the 9-11 site the last time the Pope was here?? Fabulous! They make me cry almost every time….maybe because I’ve got those close to my heart in the military. That kind of imagery is very evocative to begin with.

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