For the second year in a row, I’ve been asked — along of
course with many other people in the music business — to nominate candidates
for the Pulitzer Prize in music. Let me quickly note that this isn’t any great
distinction. Anyone can nominate somebody for the Pulitzer Prize. We can all
even nominate ourselves, and why not?
But for the past two years, they’ve been actively looking
for nominations, and I think that’s linked to the expansion of eligibility
rules that they announced a couple of years ago. And that expansion irks me no end.
The idea, as they explain in the material they sent, is to make sure that not
just classical music will be eligible to win, but also “jazz, opera, choral, musical
theater, movie scores and other forms of musical excellence.” Presumably even
pop albums are eligible — they certainly should be — because now “public
release of a recording is accepted as the equivalent of a premiere performance
of a work.” Or in other words, a work doesn’t have to be performed; it could
simply be recorded, an innovation underlined by another change in the
guidelines, which now say that scores don’t have to be submitted for nominated
works. Or — again to put this more clearly than I just put it, and also more
clearly than the Pulitzer people do — a nominated work
doesn’t have to be notated.
But the whole thing, not to mince words here, is half-assed.
They say, for instance, that “we will ‘strongly urge’ but no longer require the
submission of a score.” That sends a pretty clear message to people whose music
isn’t notated (which could include important jazz musicians, who are precisely –
or so it seems — the people the Pulitzer organization most strongly wants to encourage).
Scores aren’t required, but we like it better if you submit one. Translation:
classical works with notated scores are still our first priority. If that wasn’t
true, why didn’t they simply word the guidelines more or less like this?
The submission of a score is no
longer required. Thus, works without notated scores are eligible. If a work does
have a notated score, then we strongly urge that the score be submitted. [Or
they could even require it to be submitted, which would certainly make sense.]
Any jazz or pop musician reading that would know that they’d
get equal consideration.
And the apparent bias is evident elsewhere in the materials
they sent me. For instance, there’s a note to music critics. The nomination
form asks for a lot of mildly specialized information, including the date and
place of the entrant’s birth, and the entrant’s biography. To encourage music
critics to nominate music they like, the special note to critics says that some
of these requirements can be waived, and that “the following [information] will
1) Title of work and composer
2) Date and place of first
performance in the
3) Name of the work’s publisher, if
There’s nothing here about recordings being eligible. And
the stress on the publisher seems to imply that there’s going to be a notated
score. (Yes, I know that pop songs have publishers, but the function they serve
isn’t remotely like the function of a classical publisher, and — especially
since each pop musician forms his or her own publishing company — nobody considering
a pop song for an award would ever need to ask who published it.)
So there goes the back-to-classical reflex: The Pulitzer
people mean to expand their guidelines, but keep snapping back toward language that
reflects the old ones. They need to get their act together, which means that
they should (1) adopt guidelines that aren’t biased toward any one kind of
music, and (2) make sure they use consistently unbiased language in all
materials that they release.
A footnote. If I were going to
nominate anything this year, it’d probably be Bob Dylan’s album,
style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Modern Times. But — especially after an
exchange with Stephen Hartke some years ago about the
Pulitzers — I’m painfully aware that opening the prize to nonclassical
music is a double-edged change. On one hand, the former all-classical Pulitzers
couldn’t claim to recognize the best American music. They didn’t come close. So
if the prize been open all these years to nonclassical
music — and if people like Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman
and Duke Ellington and Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and Captain
class=SpellE>Beefheart(why not?) and Patti Smith and John Coltrane and
Stephen Sondheim had won — any award to a classical composer would really mean
something. It would really draw attention. It might make people who don’t
listen to classical music think the winning classical piece was worth
something. In the long run, that would be really good for classical music.
But in the shorter run, the old all-classical arrangement was
better for classical composers. Sure, nobody outside classical music was going
to pay much attention if you won, but inside classical music your career could
well have taken off. So I’d have been better off as a composer when the
Pulitzer was only for classical works, even though I’m urging that it shouldn’t
be. (Look how much faith I have, despite my criticisms — I’m using the past
tense, even though nobody knows whether the new guidelines will lead to any
surge of non-classical winners.)
I don’t have any record of my exchange with
class=SpellE>Hartke href="http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/2004/07/pulitzer_prizes.html">blog entry
class=SpellE>Hartke, but here’s my
entrythat set it off, in which you can read more of my Pulitzer opinions.