One objection to Kendrick Lamar winning the Pulitzer Prize went like this (from Twitter):
Just help me come to grips with the fact that someone can be a good enough musician to win a Pulitzer Prize, but not qualified to gain entry into the undergraduate music ed program at my school.
I’m just shaking my head at that. First, how does this person even know Lamar couldn’t get into that program? Fascinating, maybe racist assumption — that someone who does hiphop couldn’t have conventional musical chops.
But way beyond that breathtaking assumption…
There are many ways to do music, many kinds of musical literacy. Could a great artist in Indian classical music get into that music ed program?
Once I was on a panel at the University of Missouri, and was asked what the future of musical literacy might be.
In reply, I first asked the questioner whether by musical literacy he meant reading and writing music, with western musical notation. He did. He wondered whether those skills were threatened.
So then I turned to a panelist sitting beside me, a musician in one of our most famous new music performing groups. She and I were friendly — and I knew she wasn’t wedded only to classical music — so I guessed she wouldn’t mind being used as an example.
Did she, I asked, know how to use delay software, used in pop music production to generate delayed repeats of musical notes and other sounds in a recording?
This software is endlessly subtle. You can change the sound of what you’re repeating, change its spatial position, change how loud each repeat is, change the number and speed of the repeats. Let them repeat in free rhythm, or tie the repeats to the tempo of the music.
That’s just some of what the software can do, and this is just one of the complex software tools used in album production.
And the cheerful answer was…
No! The terrific musician I turned to said she didn’t know anything about delay software.
And so I said, just as cheerfully, that despite her terrific classical music chops, in another important musical realm this musician wasn’t literate at all.
But in that realm, Kendrick Lamar very likely is superbly literate. He knows how albums are produced. And if you listen to his Pulitzer-winning album DAMN, it’s full of sonic complexities. Meaning that Lamar, on a pretty high level, knows things that graduates of that music ed program — and even people with DMAs in music from that school — most likely don’t know.