Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Introducing the chief justice of music...

In the Herald Journal (local Cache Valley newspaper) today, there was an article about reactions by those who attended a broadcast of President Obama's inauguration on the Utah State University campus yesterday. The second paragraph of the article by Kim Burgess, reporter extraordinaire is as follows:

After Supreme Court Chief Justice John Williams administered the oath of office, loud applause and cheers rose from the crowd.

Oh. So John Williams as the Chief Justice now? I figured he'd be too busy writing the music that was played at the inauguration as well as the music for about 100 movies over the past 40 years to have time to serve on the Supreme Court. Perhaps that's why his friend John Roberts is serving as the Chief Justice right now.

You expect small-time newspapers to make mistakes here and there, but confusing the names of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court with arguably the best and most well-known composer in our lifetimes? The names are similar: John Roberts, John Williams. Did the reporter just write down John Williams' name when it was announced that he wrote the music that was played by Yo-Yo Ma and whoever those other three people were that played with him and then did not pay attention or check her facts when writing the story?

It is interesting how easily obvious errors pass by undetected by an uneducated public. When I teach ethics in my class, for example, I usually mention Bill Clinton's impeachment and the loss of his license to practice law as an example of what happens when one breaks a professional code of ethics. When I ask students if they remember what the unethical act was that he did, they usually answer that he had an affair. Well, the problem was not that he had an affair but that he lied in court under oath about having an affair. Maybe to some that is not a big difference, but it actually is a big difference that many people do not understand. Only two of our presidents have ever been impeached. You would think people would know more about why and how the most recent one happened. Then again, you might think a newspaper reporter would do a quick fact-check before publishing a story, too.

Back to John Williams, of course, I was joking, and I know who the people were that played the song at the inauguration. I'm just saying that it was obvious from the crowd reaction that Yo-Yo Ma was the only one that anyone had heard of. "Air and Simple Gifts" was performed by Itzhak Perlman on the violin, Yo-Yo Ma on the cello, Gabriela Montero on the piano, and Anthony McGill on the clarinet.

Here is a copy of the song as performed at the inauguration. By posting this here, I'm going off the understanding that this performance is public domain, since it was part of the presidential inauguration. Thus, it is free of all copyright and may be copied and used in any way without permission by anyone.

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