A photoshopped image of a bunch of Grammy awards in the middle of a forest
Can’t See the Trees for the Forest at the 2015 Grammys

Can’t See the Trees for the Forest at the 2015 Grammys

A photoshopped image of a bunch of Grammy awards in the middle of a forest

It’s been a few days since the 2015 Grammy Awards were given out. Since then, in the wake of the televised broadcast, the web has been all aflutter with debates over whether Beck or Beyoncé has greater artistry, whether a domestic abuse PSA by the President of the United States projected on a video screen during the awards will have positive or negative political impact, or if Paul McCartney should have sat down or continued to dance when the cameras landed on him. I’m more concerned about who the cameras didn’t land on and what that ultimately means about these awards and their significance in the mainstream of our culture.

Normally we feature a Grammy wrap up on this site but since information travels virtually at the speed of light on the internet these days, we figured that anyone reading us would already know who all the winners are. Then again, folks who clicked on Rolling Stone magazine’s “The Complete Winners List” or the coverage on two of the three major television network websites—NBC (which simply lifted their info from Rolling Stone) and ABC—were left completely in the dark about many of the awards that we would have been particularly concerned about. Admittedly CBS (the network that aired the broadcast which only featured the awards in categories fitting some executive’s rubric for what could be classified as mainstream pop music), has a complete list of the awards on their page, and CNN offers a list of “the awards you didn’t see” (though not on their main article about the Grammys).

If the Recording Academy feels that certain awards they give are not worthy of exposure on network television (which ultimately are the awards that wind up getting reported on in most of the media outlets and therefore the ones that most people are aware actually of), why give the awards in the first place? Aren’t these not-ready-for-prime-time awards ultimately those trees that are falling silently in the forest since no TV broadcast is there to record them for us to hear? Or does the fact that these awards were live streamed on the internet earlier in the day mean that a television broadcast is ultimately irrelevant since the time folks spend online now trumps the amount of time spent watching TV? In the true confessions department, rather than staying glued in front of a TV set at home, I followed the awards on my smartphone via Twitter at a restaurant where the big screen TV broadcasting the ceremony was drowned out by a live DJ.

The Recording Academy clearly has a problem with how to acknowledge diversity. Tons of pundits are now claiming that Beck and Beyoncé’s albums are so different from each other and that to lump them together is not fair to either of them. But what about albums (all 2015 Grammy winners) that are even more different than either of those—such as Cantaloupe’s recording of the Seattle Symphony’s performance of John Luther Adams’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning Become Ocean, Nonesuch’s recording of the St. Louis Symphony’s performances of two recent works by that other John Adams, Chick Corea’s jazz trio album Trilogy (which fetched him two awards), violinist Hilary Hahn’s compendium of encores newly composed for her (In 27 Pieces), a disc devoted to the 43-tone just intonation music of Harry Partch, or Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s The Offense of the Drum (which won for best Latin jazz album, a category the Academy tried to eliminate a few years back)? Are these albums served by the Grammys they’ve received if most folks don’t actually know they received them?

What would have happened if those albums were allowed to compete in the “Record of the Year” category? Would Kanye West have attempted to bum rush the show if Hilary Hahn or JLA got the nod? (That’s something that would have increased everyone’s awareness of those two extraordinary albums, and I say this as someone who is a huge fan of both Beck and Kanye.)

Some folks in our community are bent out of shape that the Grammy folks couldn’t properly say the name Pierre Bou-LEZ (since his lifetime achievement award did make it onto prime time). For me, it’s indicative of a much larger issue at stake here. If the general public is not made aware of the achievements of folks in all kinds of music, how can we expect anyone to know what anyone’s names are?

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

14 thoughts on “Can’t See the Trees for the Forest at the 2015 Grammys

  1. Allan J. Cronin

    I agree, I think there is a strong push to mediocrity by featuring only those artists who will keep people watching. No taking chances, no surprises really. The Grammys have for years now been primarily pop awards in the worst sense of that term. I would love to see the academy and the broadcasters take some risks and represent the less popular, the more adventurous, to attempt to expand horizons but I’m afraid they are stuck on the glitz and viewer drawing glamour or controversy. There’s a lot of great and interesting music being produced which doesn’t fit their narrow definitions. I haven’t watched the Grammys in some years now and I doubt I will again any time soon. Sad to say.

  2. Daniel Felsenfeld

    Which is why it is my fondest hope that we can see these big-box award shows for what they are, which is the prolongation of a certain extremely narrow version of how cultural things ought to go. Of course Boulez’s lifetime achievement award wasn’t broadcast, because the broadcast is expensive and dependent on advertising dollars, which means it is RUN by said dollars. I think all but the few to whom these awards matter ought to simply view them as another nice, expensive and slick commercial enterprise (with which I have no problem) and not bemoan the absences. Because Kanye vs. Beck is a pretty slim dichotomy of choice, and the best thing about music (or any art) is that there really is something for everyone.

    1. Frank J. Oteri Post author

      But they did announce during the telecast that Pierre Bou-LAY received a lifetime achievement award along with the Bee Gees, Buddy Guy, George Harrison, Flaco Jiménez, the Louvin Brothers, and Wayne Shorter which, I must say, is a pretty extraordinary list. I am the proud and happy owner of recordings by all of these folks. A list like that is ideally the kind of range that the Grammys should show throughout their telecast.

      I’m particularly tickled that the Louvin Brothers and Pierre Boulez were honored in the same year since, though I wasn’t yet born and therefore have no personal memory of it, nothing sums up the zero hour zeitgeist of the 1950s for me better than listening back to back to “The Great Atomic Power” and Le marteau sans maître which were only composed 2 years apart from each other. Imagine the kinds of discoveries people might be allowed to make if they had the opportunity to hear this music presented together this way throughout an entire telecast of the Grammys!

  3. Lauren

    Great blog post. I agree with Allan and would love to see the academy to represent more diverse artists to expand horizons. All we can do is just keep getting our music out there. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Bob McCauley

    Rene Marie, a nominee in the Jazz Vocal Category, posted to her fans the link for the internet link and time for the screening of the non-network televised categories over the internet. I was able to see the jazz, classical, and other Grammys awarded. Basically, the only 4 percent of classical nominees were there because of the lack of night time coverage. More insultingly, the person reading the classical names was a Gospel performer who continually mispronounced the names of those nominated – finally referring to the nominees by album title so he wouldn’t be troubled. Classical music was disrespected in this non-telecast screening.

  5. Phil Fried

    There has always been a disconnect in this particular award and real, authentic, achievement. At its heart its always been a popularity contest. The problem in the past was that what was popular with the voters had nothing to do with that years currant music. Some years ago there was an attempt made to aligned the interests of the current listener/consumer with the the voters themselves. The classical music category was perhaps a little different but I remember reading that for a time the Atlanta symphony had a lock on those Grammy awards. Anyway the question is; what is this award for?

  6. Marc Ostrow

    Totally lost in the Grammy glitz was the Copyright Office’s release of its comprehensive music licensing report, “Copyright and the Music Marketplace.” Anyone who writes or records music should read it, or at least the 11-page executive summary for an overview and analysis of the music business. If that’s too much, I please read and feel free to share my even shorter plain English summary and analysis.


  7. John

    I should begin by disclosing that I have never watched a Grammy broadcast. That said, I’ve always been a bit perplexed by classical music’s inclusion in an event which is so focused on ‘popular music’ (whatever that means). The ultimate winners in the classical category don’t always seem to reflect the best or greatest among the possible entrants. Gramophone Magazine’s annual awards seem a much better measuring stick of the best that classical music has to offer, inasmuch as the awards are given across a whole range of categories, something that would never be possible in the Grammys. Rightly or wrongly, as a strong lover of classical music, I respect Gramophone’s picks far more than any awards given at the Grammys, where classical music is treated as some kind of afterthought, or an unwanted guest at the party.

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  9. C R

    The Grammy Awards have always been about popularity and they mirror the tastes of current society. Anyone who loves classical music and musicians is frustrated by declining attendance and interest in this art form and it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a major network is only going to focus on what might appeal to the vast majority of its viewers. Grammys are voted on by people who actually perform and produce music and who pay the yearly dues to belong to NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences). Having been a member of NARAS for several decades I know that there are many more members from the popular music genres than there are from the classical realm and the only time artists and projects from this world are highlighted on the telecast is when they cross over into mainstream consciousness. That’s just the reality.

  10. john mclaughlin williams

    If your impression of classical music’s place in the Grammys is based solely upon what you see on the show, you’re getting a woefully incomplete picture. While it’s true that CBS execs are deathly afraid of someone changing the channel, the structure of the the show completely belies the huge activity occurring in the classical categories. There are always far more entries in the classical genres than there are in all of the other genres, and the Academy takes pains to ensure that the voting process is as fair is humanly possible. In that way smaller independents actually have a shot against their big label competitors. None of that is reflected in the tv show, and as long as those who control broadcast content have the cultural taste of an average teenager, the public face of classical music at the Grammys will remain recondite.

  11. BPJ

    Maybe the best way forward is a separate award ceremony and broadcast on PBS, for classical, jazz, and other categories which are otherwise not acknowledged on the commercial broadcast. That’s a Grammy broadcast I would find worth watching.

  12. Robert Conrad

    One way to resolve the Classical Grammy’s situation is for American Public Media, or one of the other public program distributors, to broadcast the classical presentations, with classical stations having the right to air it live or delayed.
    Robert Conrad, WCLV, Cleveland

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