Slowly working my way through Grammy listening lists, the fact, which I already knew, that I am a musical outsider became steadily more apparent. I always enjoy voting during the 1st round, finding so many artists whose works were previously unknown to me creating albums that are unique, interesting and full of passion. Then, I get to the 2nd round, and discover that, with only a few exceptions, none of the albums I voted for in the 1st round made it to the nomination stage. This year, there were a number of categories in which I would normally cast a vote that I skipped entirely because I could not find a single one of the five nominations that struck me as worthy of the recognition of a Grammy award. Obviously, enough others thought they were worthwhile efforts – but there I was, scratching my head while listening, wondering what it could have been that impressed all the other voters. Proof once again, that my musical tastes run far from the mainstream.
When I first started composing, most other composers I met were still writing 12 tone music – something which has as little appeal to me now as it did back then. Then, minimalism became (and is still, to some extent) a rage – music which, if anything, I dislike even more than 12 tone music. Now, if the Grammy nominations are any indication, people have fallen for rhythmically driven music, often with repetitive riffs, that show (at least to my ear) little art.
The art of music is made up of distinct elements – melody, rhythm, counterpoint, harmony, tonality, structure, timbre – and it is the artful combination of all of these that allow music to be such an extraordinarily rich vehicle for expressing emotions and telling a story that makes you want to share its journey. In different ways than serial or minimalist music do, much of the music I heard in this year’s nominations abandon one or another of those basic elements, resulting in a far less rich musical landscape. The music, at least to my ear, avoids rather than prompts expressions of deep emotion, thus falling into the realm of entertainment, rather than art. Whether or not I personally succeed at the art I strive for when writing music, is another matter, but the music I heard, with some exceptions, didn’t appear to me to even try to get there.