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.

 

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My New Year’s Resolution…

…well, I’ve got a few, like this being the year I stop being scared of personal finance, biking to work once Boston ceases to be a salt-stained frozen waste, and updating this blog more!

But one resolution I have every year is to dive deeper into the endless musical kaleidoscope that is Bandcamp. For some of the most adventurous, thrilling music and alive music writing that the Internet has to offer, look no further.

Today I’m exploring this list, featuring a ton of excellent music I missed (and you probably missed as well) in 2017. Sites like Bandcamp are one reason why I never believe best songs/albums lists can be truly adequate snapshots of a time period’s music. There’s just so much more out there that you’re going to discover in a year, or two years, etcetera and so forth. (My best songs of 2017 list is still coming, though. Not to worry.)

If you’re already on Bandcamp, find me here.   If you’re not, sign up, start collecting, and find me there!

Tomorrow’s Globe today: it’s wabbit season at Symphony Hall!

When playing the music live, there’s no room to fall out of synch, Daugherty said. “The sound effects were designed to absolutely be synchronous with the music. We have to be exactly to the frame with it. And it’s fast, it’s very fast, and it’s wall to wall. We have an expression; there’s no slow movements in Looney Tunes.”

But it’s also a fun concert, he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I look into the orchestra — and I’m talking about the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic,” Daugherty said, “I see musicians mouthing the words “Oh Bwunnhilde, you’re so wuvwy. . .”

 

Read more here.

Storytelling

Colin Currie’s knack for storytelling was evident even before he stepped onstage Wednesday night. The Scottish percussionist included his own engaging, poetic notes in the program for his solo recital at Longy School of Music’s Edward J. Pickman Hall, presented as part of of Celebrity Series of Boston’s 2016 Debut Series. Many program notes are either laundry lists of facts or needlessly flowery, but Currie’s writing struck a satisfying balance of informative, colorful, and personal, with numerous striking turns of phrase (“magnificently murky marimba bath”). His words set expectations high, and his performance exceeded them.

For the Boston Globe.

Dreaming

“These ear-footfalls came to mind Tuesday night at the Goethe-Institut, where Dutch pianist Reinier Van Houdt performed Michael Pisaro’s “Green Hour, Gray Future” in an intimate salon, presented by the Boston new-music series Non-Event. Pisaro is perhaps the most notable American representative of the Wandelweiser Group, an international collective and ensemble known for creating atmospheric, expansive music that unfolds slowly and weaves silence into its scores. For some, such music is more effective than NyQuil for drifting off to dreamland. For others, it invites the listener into an untethered state of hypersensitive listening, where time becomes amorphous and the entire body tunes in to a piece’s sound world plus whatever ambient noise may slip in. The creak of doors elsewhere in the building, the whoosh of cars on Beacon Street, and the breathing of fellow concertgoers mingled with Pisaro’s hazy landscape.”

Reinier Van Houdt plays Michael Pisaro, Dec. 7 2016. For the Boston Globe. The off-periods of the BSO (which must be reviewed every week) sometimes allow me to venture further afield in what I write about.