So Greg Sandow in a series of recent posts (here’s the first) wants to know why the Pulitzer prize never goes to pop music, fending off arguments by saying you aren’t on the same planet as he if you don’t think, for example, Bob Dylan represents some of the best in American music. Personally, I hardly think of Bob Dylan as a musician at all, but that’s my bias. When I set aside that bias for a moment, I, of course, recognize Dylan, and all the other folks Sandow mentions, as terrifically important figures who are the very best at what they do, and I love the work of some of them. But what they do is too different from what classical musicians do to throw them all into the same pool. To invoke the cliche, we really are talking about apples and oranges here, or maybe apples and pine trees. How could you possibly pick between, say, Lucinda Williams and Peter Lieberson? You don’t make the swimmers and the marathon runners compete against each other at the Olympics, right? To really give a broader spectrum of music its due we would need more than one award. How to divide it up? Notated and non-notated? (with jazz on either side of the fence?) Best score and best recording?
With one prize, the consequence of including pop will be to make the prize reflect the marginal place of classical music in the wider culture. Exactly why is that a good thing?
By the way, Sandow is not quite right about none of the finalists in recent years coming from outside the classical realm. Don Byron (2009) is best known as a jazz musician, John Zorn (2000) is beyond category, but is certainly not part of the classical world the way other finalists are, and it could be argued that Elliot Goldenthal (2007) is better known as a composer of film scores than for his classical pieces.