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The search for the perfect 'Remember Me' guitar for the Oscars orchestra




A still from the animated movie
A still from the animated movie "Coco."
Courtesy of Pixar

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Sunday's 90th Academy Awards has a lot of moving parts. Directors, stage managers and producers all work behind the scenes to make the show run as smoothly as possible. That includes a live orchestra playing into commercials, out of speeches, weaving the show together. 

One of the Oscar-nominated songs that will be performed live during the awards show calls for a very special instrument. It's a unique and hard-to-find guitar that sent guitarist Greg Porée on a search all over L.A. 

One of two guitarists in the Academy Awards orchestra, Porée has played six of its awards shows. He says it's a massive undertaking that involves playing live music for almost every aspect of the telecast, including the opening and ending credits, when presenters go on stage, when honorees leave the stage, etc. Porée estimates he has to learn tens of thousands of notes for the entire three-hour program.

But one nominated song this year is so sweet, it can't just be played on any guitar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImutnoiBixY

"Remember Me" — from Disney and Pixar's "Coco" —called for a vihuela.

The Mexican vihuela, I believe it started in the 1800s, and it became very popular in mariachi bands because it's very loud and it's almost a percussive type of instrument where you strum it. It speaks very loudly. It cuts through all the singing and cuts through all the playing....

Porée describes the sound of the vihuela as a cross between a ukulele and a banjo because "...it has the sweetness and the charm of a ukulele and the loudness of a banjo."

With such a large Mexican population in L.A., it would be logical to think finding an affordable vihuela would not be difficult. But Porée quickly discovered that was not the case. 

What was frustrating is that I called all the major guitar shops like Guitar Center and Sam Ash... Between friends and shops, I'd say there were about five different places that were like, the places, but when I called them, nothing was in stock.

And just when he was about to give up, he remembered, his youngest son was in the band Ozomatli.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKCOvXDgST8

They use a lot of music that's Latin influenced and hip-hop and music that's indigenous of Mexico and so forth...So, I called Raul the guitarist and I said, 'Raul do you have one of these things?' and he said 'yeah Greg, come on by and get it.'

Problem solved.

I don't have enough words in my vocabulary to convey the admiration and the respect I have for all the people that have to make the music work for this event. My journey with this instrument was just a microcosm of what we have to go through.

The 90th Academy Awards will air Sunday, March 4th on ABC at 5:00 pm PST.