Not Another Kendrick Lamar Pulitzer Hot Take

Yesterday, Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize in Music, becoming the first artist working in a genre that isn’t classical or jazz to receive the coveted honor. He also may be the youngest winner of the prize, at 30; I don’t know when Caroline Shaw’s birthday is, but there’s a chance he’s some days or months younger than she was when she won for “Partita for 8 Voices.”

Dana Canedy, who with this awards cycle marks her first as Pulitzer administrator, said this about the selection:

I don’t know specifically what the piece was, but in this case they were considering a piece of music they felt had hip-hop influences and said, “Well if we’re considering a piece of music that has hip-hop influences, why aren’t we considering hip-hop?” And someone said, “That’s exactly what we should do.” And then someone said, “We should be considering Kendrick Lamar” and the group said “absolutely.” So then, right then, they decided to listen to the entire album and decided “This is it.”

For my first year at the Boston Globe, I only wrote about classical music. Now it’s about a sixty-forty balance of classical and non-classical. I’d never ask to review a Kendrick Lamar show or album because as a. a white woman and b. a very casual hip-hop listener, much of the commentary on black life in America would be lost on me, and I wouldn’t be comfortable critiquing it. But I do know this: If I had an hour, I’d probably rather listen to “DAMN.” than about 75% of the recordings I get sent as a classical music critic.

This win has quite unpredictably sent shockwaves through the conservatory-music corner of the internet. On the cliché side, there’s the old white men (why is it always all old white men?) lamenting the death of art, culture, music, etc. On a more nuanced note, some called attention to the fact that the Pulitzer Prize was one of the last remaining awards in the mainstream cultural consciousness that went to a work of new conservatory-music until yesterday. In 2004, then-administrator Sig Gissler announced that a score submission would no longer be necessary to win the prize, but the award kept going to operas, concertos, and in 2007 and 2016, jazz compositions.

In the world of such music, where success rides on reputation, commissions, and awards, this feels like hearing the gold medal for figure skating was just awarded to a snowboarder, and an amazing technical and artistic show of snowboarding will now and forever be eligible for the gold medal in figure skating.

But, as Dana Canedy pointed out, there’s no rule that says the Pulitzer must go to a work of classical or jazz music. The criteria for the award is: “For a distinguished musical composition of significant dimension by an American that has had its first performance in the United States during the year.” So “DAMN.” qualifies, and in my opinion, it deserves it and then some. It’s an astounding, touching, relevant work of art from a genre that has been disparaged as lowbrow, misogynistic, unworthy of serious consideration, and “not music” since its first stirrings. (When the classical music establishment calls ANYTHING misogynistic: pot, meet kettle.)

We’re living in a time of churn and change in music, and my overwhelming hope is that this shattered barrier will encourage young creators to create art that reflects their truth, academic constraints be damned.


home is where the heart is, and home studio is where the heart of “Joyride” is (IMO)

My latest: I reviewed Tinashe’s new album “Joyride” for the Boston Globe.

give your ears a treat with one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Stuck with Me.”

“It’s in the blood.”

“One can become an artist, but one must be born a griot.” – balafonist Fodé Lassana Diabaté

The members of Malian group Trio da Kali have known each other “like family” all their lives, but they hadn’t played together in a formal group until collaborating with Kronos Quartet for last year’s phenomenal album “Ladilikan.” The trio is currently touring the US, and making its Boston debut tonight in a solo show. I talked to Lassana Diabaté about griot families, religion and griots, and how Islamist extremist activity in Mali has impacted musical life.

Read over at the Globe!

My latest(s)

I’ve had two feature articles published this week in the Boston Globe. One is an interview with soprano Kelly Kaduce, who captured my attention after her performance as a remarkable down-to-earth Mimi in Boston Lyric Opera’s “La Bohème” two years ago. I caught her in a break between BLO “Threepenny Opera” rehearsals to chat with her about preparing for new roles, planning childcare when both parents are performing opera singers, and why it’s easier to play onstage lovers with a stranger than with her husband. Read it here!

The second has to be some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing a Globe article. I wrote a preview of Celebrity Series of Boston’s experimental new music series Stave Sessions, which runs for five night next week. I talked on the phone with Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond, a personal favorite of mine. (I’ve admired her ever since she sang the role of the imperious, terrifying Queen of the Forest on the Decemberists’ 2009 album “The Hazards of Love,” which came out when I was 15, during the height of my Decemberists fandom.) I also got to spend an hour observing the jawdroppingly impressive musicians of Boston experimental art rock sextet Bent Knee, and talk to them and their percussion mentor Samuel Solomon afterwards. I now know from experience that if you ask the six a question, you’ll get seven answers. You’ll probably also laugh. A lot. Read it here!

No, playing classical music for your babies doesn’t make them smarter. But I’m pretty jealous of this baby.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra music director and rapidly rising star conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla announced today that she is expecting a baby at the end of August, and will be taking parental leave starting in July and ending in November.

The myth that playing Mozart for babies makes them smarter has been pretty much debunked. But babies can hear in utero, and mini-Mirga will be attending an enviable slate of concerts from a front-row berth on the podium. According to Bachtrack, MGT’s conducting engagements before her leave include dates with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the MET Orchestra, Italy’s Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen as well as the CBSO. The repertoire includes Mahler 1, Beethoven 5, the Shostakovich violin concerto, Rudolf Buchbinder performing Schumann’s Piano Concerto No. 1, the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, a few Boulanger pieces paired with the Fauré Requiem, the Rite of Spring, and a plethora of Debussy including “La Mer” and “Pelleas et Mélisande.” And yes, Mozart as well.

What a lucky little nugget!



Sleeping On It

There’s an incredible power that comes from being able to name an experience. I felt tapped into that power when I discovered the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) community in freshman year of college, and found out that I wasn’t the only one who had shivery tingles ripple through their body when they heard a soothing voice or other specific sounds. And I felt it when my partner told me that the intense, half-lucid visions I had on the edge of sleep were called hypnagogic hallucinations.

A few weeks ago, I slept while listening to Robert Rich’s seven-hour piece “Somnium,” which is intended to provoke or intensify these hallucinations. In response, I was treated to one of the most labyrinthine dreams I can remember. Read more in VAN!

“I became the thorn in people’s side, and I’m proud of that. . . . I feel like I have a role to play here and I’m going to play it.”

I talked to composer Joan Tower for a profile in advance of her 80th birthday celebrations in Boston. This was one of those interviews that I thought was going to last 20 minutes and instead lasted over an hour. I probably could have written three articles with the material I had from her and Kati Agocs, a composer she mentored who also told stories about meeting Tower at a crazy dance party and benefiting from her “bullshit detector.”

Read Joan Tower’s thoughts on growing up in South America, writing for amateur orchestra, being the only woman in the room, and dancing, over at the Globe!