As performed at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009.
It was during this performance that Barack H. Obama became the 44th President of the United States -- precisely at 12 noon.
Martin Steinberg wrote:
It was written by an iconic American movie composer and performed by a quartet direct from central casting -- in front of a worldwide audience of millions.
It was a simple gift from composer John Williams.
The Oscar-winning composer of "Star Wars," "Jaws" and "Schindler's List" pulled together this five-minute piece to commemorate the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president.
The quartet played what Williams calls "Air and Simple Gifts" immediately before Obama was sworn in. In fact, the musicians were still playing when, according to the Constitution, Obama officially became president -- at the stroke of noon Tuesday.
The composition arranged by Williams begins with a soft introduction, played by Venezuelan-American pianist Gabriela Montero and Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Moments later, the violin, played by the Israeli-American Itzhak Perlman, enters with a sweet, pensive theme gliding over the lower voices. The cello then takes off and engages the violin in a lovely duet.
This warm melodic air -- evoking a musical image of bald eagles soaring over America's terrain -- cut through the chill of the 28-degree temperature that forced Montero to wear gloves.
Then, the clarinet, played by the African-American musician Anthony McGill of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, interjects with a familiar tune. It's "Simple Gifts," written in the mid-1800s by a Shaker composer and popularized by Aaron Copland in his 1944 ballet "Appalachian Spring."
In the face of the awesome tasks facing Obama, Williams' arrangement of the song conveys a joyous romp filled with confidence and hope. And the unsung lyrics bear this out:
"'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
"'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
"And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
"'Twill be in the valley of love and delight."
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