Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lip-Synching: Everybody's Doing It!

For some reason there is a big fuss about the news that Beyoncé lip-synched her performance of the "Star-Spangled Banner" at the Presidential Inauguration on Monday. The New York Post is in high dudgeon. But classical musicians Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill did the very same thing four years ago at the 2008 Inauguration as discussed here. UPDATE: I should have said 2009 Inauguration!

What is lip-synching? Typically, a musical performance is recorded in a studio specifically designed for sound recording. This is so the best quality sound is recorded. Then, at a later event, which might be outside or in some other context where good sound or a precise performance is difficult, the performer mimes the performance to a playback of the recording. Here, let's let Beyoncé show us how it's done:

The reasons for lip-synching an outdoor performance in January in Washington, DC are obvious. As Yo-Yo Ma said, it is standard procedure when you can't afford a mishap. Cold outdoor weather is not kind to delicate musical instruments and even less so to delicate vocal cords!

But if the authenticity of the performance is more important than the perfection of the performance, sometimes you might see performers playing outside, on a windy roof, in January:


Anonymous said...

I think the issue is why have Beyonce on stage then? There's clearly a desire to deceive. How do we know Obama gave his speech? Perhaps it was all canned. You see the problem? People can do whatever they want but they need to be honest about it. Deception is never acceptable.

Bryan Townsend said...

I see your point. I'm looking at it from a musician's viewpoint. It has long been the practice in broadcast performances to separate the performance of the audio track from the visual performance. This is to ensure the best quality for both. When you see musicians performing in a video it is widely understood that the audio track was previously recorded. Sometimes musicians kid around with the miming because this is widely understood.

But the situation here is that the performing tradition is knocking up against a different tradition, that of the witnessing of an important event in the physical world. Therefore, the musical performance should have been authentic--even with possible mishaps! Yes, perhaps. But here is something else to notice: this important event was not important because the actual oath of office, the actual inauguration happened privately the day before!

So the whole thing was just theater, the musical performances and the speech!