I did some posts not long ago about the belief in classical music superiority — and how damaging it can be. Here’s one last approach to that. (Well, last for now. Previous posts:
Think of the prestigious Pulitzer prizes, and how the people who run them decided that the music prize should be open not just to classical music, but also to jazz. And, I guess, even to pop, because this year they gave an special award to Hank Williams (senior, of course), and in 2008 they gave one to Bob Dylan. Which — with admiration — I’d think opens the door to all music.
(Though why Dylan shouldn’t win a normal Pulitzer is beyond me.)
Clearly, though, this isn’t working. Go here to see a list of winners and finalists in music over the past many years. Granted, award shows (which, for all their high-church dignity, are what the Pulitzers at bottom are) are faulty. Won’t always give their awards to the best people.
But the music list! From 2000 to 2010, 11 winners, of whom only one — Ornette Coleman, who won in 2007 — isn’t classical. Worse still, not one of the 22 finalists (the second- and third-place finishers) comes from outside classical music.
So the prizes are, despite the purported change in direction — which began as far back as 1997, when Wynton Marsalis won — still overwhelmingly biased toward classical music. Nobody with a full understanding of current culture can look at these names (the winners and finalists since 2000), and say they represent the best in American music.
I say this with all respect for the classical composers involved, some of whom are friends, and most of whom I respect and admire. But what I’m saying is true. Much (if not most) of the best music in America for quite a while now hasn’t been classical, and it’s just not showing up in the Pulitzer Prize judgments.
Why is this? What can be done to fix it? (Assuming that the Pulitzer directorate wants it fixed, which — despite expressions of good will that have reached me — I’m not sure I fully believe.)