What’s in a prize? The Pulitzer Prize for Music?

Pulitzer Prize Medal
Pulitzer Prize Medal

The Pulitzer prize for music is an award that started out as a way to recognize an American composer in the later half of the 20th century who was composing “excellent” music in the tradition of Classical European music. The Wikipedia article on the music Pulitzer prize reveals its  challenged American journey to figure out exactly what is “excellent American serious music” (my quotations). Please read the article.  In this blog, we take the most recent two years of Pulitzer prize winners and finalists  in music and discuss if it means anything to be a winner, the best, the acclaimed composer, the selected work.  Please look at the entire list and see if you know one of the pieces!?  Certainly it is an honor to be recognized, yet as with all criticism in art, for every aspect that has been considered  there are many that are overlooked.  For example, jazz was excluded for many years, African-American composers were recognized extremely late in the game, highly experimental music is barely recognized and on and on we could go.  Yet, each of the pieces for 2016 and 2015 have much to recommend them.  They truly are serious, well-composed works that have moved the hearts and minds (might this be the definition of serious?) of the committee and others.  Listen to either the three works from 2016 or the three from 2015 (see links below) and develop your criteria on how a significant work of music should be evaluated.  What makes a piece of music an important contribution to its current culture?  Keep your list brief, explain your list  and then apply a few (say three) of your criteria to either year.  Discuss the finalists compared to the winners.  If a work is particularly long, then listen to it over several sessions, keep some notes and be fearlessly honest. In the end, we all, each of us must decide what we listen to, shouldn’t we have our own reasons?   Enter a reply and then later come back and make four comments to replies already entered.  Before listening and writing do a bit of research on the composer and piece.


In for Penny, In for a Pound

The Blind Banister


Anthracite Fields 

The Aristos

Memories of Xiaoziang (for tape and Saxophone instead of orchestra and Saxophone)


121 thoughts on “What’s in a prize? The Pulitzer Prize for Music?

  1. Regarding the Pulitzer for music. I liked 1974 winner Donald Martino’s quote, “If you write music long enough, sooner or later, someone is going to give you the damn thing.” After reading the article I have the feeling that it’s a hallow award. It’s a tradition that’s lost its story. I was taken aback that it excluded Jazz for so long. Jazz is America’s music. It was born, raised, and matured here. For a national committee to exclude it’s own invention for so many years is disheartening. It extends past music into a social comment on how slow we are as a nation to open our hearts and end discrimination.

    If the award were mine to give I would look at candidates from a couple angles. First, does the composition push the boundaries of whatever genre it comes from? Or, is it just a regurgitation of past ideas? Second, are there musical ideas present? Is there a theoretical basis for the music? Or, is it just a bunch of noise with no direction or substance?

    I listened to this year’s winner, “In for a Penny, in for a Pound.” I found it extremely challenging to listen to, but that’s why I liked it. It definitely pushes the Jazz borders. It borrows from the avant garde, Free Jazz sound, but also has a solid, rich harmonic structure. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s free and structured. I feel it stretched the ear more than the finalists. “Six From the Shop Floor” sounded like a recapitulation of music that came before it. There wasn’t anything that stood out to me. I did enjoy “The Blind Banister,” but I felt “In for a Penny” pushed the envelope more.

    1. I found that interesting too. Jazz is such a prevalent style of music in America that shaped many styles of music today. I was also surprised to see that it wasn’t critiqued until much later. It isn’t fair to sort one category of music out because of its style. All music should be critiqued on whether or not it represents what today is about.

    2. I agree with your comment about Jazz’ being America’s music. It’s a style of art formed and created by the cultures that exist here. I think Jazz music being excluded from the prize is what makes the prize “hallow” as it is committing certain types of music from winning despite them being acceptable for the award. I think music needs to tell a story and jazz does exactly that; jazz tells the stories of America’s past.

    3. I like how you say that one of the angles of looking at the award is whether the music has substance or direction because a lot of music sometimes just sounds like notes and sound but others just keep moving forward and reall connect with you

    4. I really appreciate your thoughts here. I agree that the prize should go to whomever pushes past the borders of their respective genres. I did not like “In for a Penny, in for a Pound” for the very reason you stated in your post: it was difficult to follow. I understand why it won, it is different from most music today, and I respect the piece for its originality. I am not going to say that I enjoyed it, but I am glad that composers who are trying to redefine the definition of music are being recognized in this world of the pop machine, where almost every piece of popular music is contrived from the same formula. Maybe if winners like “In for a Penny..” continue to be recognized the Pulitzer Prize can regain it prestigious past.

    5. I really enjoy the fact that you would base the award off of how challenging the music is. I also agree with your statement that “Jazz is American Music.” Jazz wasn’t created anywhere else, so for it to be excluded in the award ceremony until now, is mind blowing.

    6. I thought that was an interesting quote. I had never heard that before.
      I agree with you that jazz is America’s music and that it’s boundaries were pushed by these works.

  2. In for a Penny, in for a Pound was a very messy, sporadic, jazz tune that won the Pulitzer Prize for this year. To me, there was not much direction in the song. It seemed randomly put together with a smooth saxophone and percussion background noise underneath a squeaky flute overtone. Once the flute finally cuts out, it sounded much to me like the piece went on as an improvisation and then slowly died out. On the other hand, The Blind Banister includes a number of ascending and descending scales within the piece. It starts out very mysterious then moves into a more joyful passage. It is less upbeat, but still paints a colorful picture, rather than a dark picture.It is a moving piece that continues on like a journey. The final piece for 2016, Six from the Shop Floor, was much more fun and cheerful. It included a lot of staccato and short accents that kept the beat striking. The piece would lead into a more intense section and then quickly would come back out into the fun jitter it began with. To end, it again switched moods back into more intense and fast pace sequence that ended the piece almost seemingly out of breath.
    These three pieces are all quite different. It seems to me that one major component to the finalists of the Pulitzer Prize is uniqueness. Each piece differs drastically from the other. One is random and jazzy. The other, while slightly slower, is still cheerful and contains many “happy” notes. And finally, short, cheerful, and intense. I think these three types of music were chosen because even though they are all different, they are all still upbeat which represents America. This kind of music is important to our culture because America is so different. Everyone here is from somewhere else and that means our country is a wide array of different cultures. So, the fact that our music is so upbeat yet different portrays the characteristics of our culture. Besides being unique, the music seems to be more lively than other culture’s music.

    1. I appreciate your point on how diversity in musical compositions is very important to our American culture. After all, generations of our society as well as around the world have been built on musical achievements. I agree that having musical creativity and diversity should be a key element in winning such an esteemed prize. Great article!

    2. I like how you found a commonality between the three. Uniqueness is a good summary of what all three pieces embodied. I also agree with you that there wasn’t much direction in the piece that won. It almost seemed like it was kind of all mashed together in a way.

    3. Definitely agree with the idea of each one being unique- although they have some similar aspects, each has it’s own “voice”, or story. They have their own arrangement of sounds and chords, and each has its own personality. Uniqueness and complexity in structure certainly plays a role in all of these arrangements.

    4. Thank you for agreeing that 2016’s winner was honestly not that good! I’m still shocked that it won..The music just sounds like noise to me because nothing seemed to be written to fit together and was rather just a few talented musicians playing notes in a recording studio hoping to get something cool out of it.

    5. Hey Mary Pat, I really liked how you talked about the uniqueness of a piece being able to represent America because of all of the different cultures we have here. I did not think of this when writing my response, but completely agree with the idea. I found it interesting that you called the end of ‘In for a Penny, In for a pound” an improvisation. I did not view it that way but I think that it being a improvisation would simply add to the performance rather than take anything away from it. Great job!

    6. Mary, I like your view on what In for a Penny, In for a Pound sounded like to you. I think the fact that it was so Open and free of metric constriction was the reason it won. The song had some kind of control to it, or else it wouldn’t have ended. I see what you mean by the point you stated where it sounds like improvisation and there is a point to it. But, I think that was a part of the artistic direction that helps it stylize itself as “Free Jazz” or “Ambient Jazz.”

  3. A prize is something awarded to a piece of work which, when compared to other pieces of work of the same type, has excelled in certain preordained criteria. The difficulty in awarding any prize is specifying these criteria. In general, these criteria must somewhat correlate to the rules and requirements to make the piece of work, and when the rules are more specific, the criteria for the prize will be more strict and easier to judge. Unfortunately, while music theory is an incredibly deep and complex field, the rules and requirements for making a piece of music are somewhat vague and extremely subjective. There are some things that can be considered universally bad in songwriting, but it is very difficult to specify what makes a piece of music good. As a result, specifying criteria for a prize in music is extremely difficult.

    Having listened to the winner and finalists from 2015, the thing I was most struck by was how unsettling they were. They were certainly unique, but I was left feeling disquieted by them. At first, I was going to say that I just didn’t like them, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized what an interesting quality this was. All three of these pieces had conveyed their own set of emotions which moved me. It might not have been a direction I was tremendously comfortable going, but it moved me nonetheless. In keeping with this, I realized that there was really only one criteria I could come up with that could capture what it meant to be a truly good, significant song. For a song to be good, it must capture and convey a set of emotions to the listener, and for it to be culturally significant, the emotions conveyed must in some way match or reveal those of the culture at large.

    This rule is not specific, and it is not easy to judge. I’m not sure whether I believe the Pulitzer Prize for Music completely follows this rule. Still, I think that this is the best measure available to us.

    1. Music has to have it’s own emotional plea. If not it’s just noise. If music doesn’t invoke a response from our senses why listen to it?

    2. I agree that they were very unsettling and differed much from each other. They are hard to “like” when you first listen to them, but after you think about it, they are easier to enjoy.

    3. Hi Sam, I think you are on to something with showing the rules of music. I think this can be better described as Music Theory- kind of the guidelines that a song can follow to impress our ears, and what works and what doesn’t work.

    4. It’s not easy to judge, and that calls into question the validity of the prize itself. Music is subjective, and I’m 100% sure that if judged by a completely different panel of judges with the same qualifications that the results would have been different.

    5. I like how you found the songs unsettling over you saying you just flat out didn’t like the songs. But, do you think your one piece of criteria for the judging is a little too broad? I feel as if there are too many musicians and artists who can enter into the contest with a piece that has emotion implemented into their music, it would be too hard to evaluate.

    6. I think your comment “For a song to be good, it must capture and convey a set of emotions to the listener, and for it to be culturally significant, the emotions conveyed must in some way match or reveal those of the culture at large” is an interesting one. I agree with you that a work of music might reveal something about the ‘culture at large’ to be significant.

  4. I chose to look at the pieces from 2016.
    Although different in style and rhythm, each piece represented very well a range of colors and highlighted more prominent parts of the piece. I think that in order to evaluate these pieces one must be able to hear a layering of sounds and rich textures throughout the piece. This doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be loud and romantic, but there must be a sense of complexity and depth to it. Each piece establishes this in its own way by having multiple instruments and a layering of melody and harmony within the group. A piece should also add something to the listener- perhaps another musical perspective, or something that we might not have thought of before we listened to the arrangement. Perhaps a new rhythm group, or mix of sounds or instruments: the list goes on and on. When it comes to improvisation, this point is heavily emphasized. Improvisation allows the musician to take bits and pieces of another work and make it into something more than when they heard it the first time, so they pair it with another section of another piece and put in some of their own musical “thoughts” on it, like adding their own dynamic marking, or perhaps making it legato or staccato, etc. A piece of music must also reflect a certain story: either fictional, or non-fictional, although many fictional works are derived from real life thoughts. A piece can be a romanticized account of the story, but this story allows the piece to hold true to its backbone and written out plan. There is a beginning, an exposition, and an ending, with lots of little things in between. Each one of these pieces has a very established sense of authority and richness. In the Blind Banister and the Mechanics, and even In for a Penny, In for a Pound, it can be difficult to tell what key the piece is in. There is a complex overlay of notes in all parts and a complicated arrangement of intervals, but each piece has its own thing to offer. Perhaps it is showing the complexity and variety of our modern day society where nothing is black and white, and how there is much room for improvisation and creativity.

    1. I agree with your point on musical improvisation. I believe many musicians today rarely use their own creative skills to revert music and add different but at the same time complimentary elements to create even better sounds. What we learn in Music Theory expands our musical capacities so that we can apply techniques like rhythm, dynamics, etc. to improve compositions. I really enjoyed reading your blog! Great job!

    2. I agree that one must be able to hear the different layering of sounds that each piece played, otherwise it can be hard to enjoy them at all. There must be something more to the notes and the sounds that are made in order for it to be a good work.

    3. I’m not entirely sure I agree that a piece of music must reflect a story. It certainly can reflect a story, and there’s an argument to be made that having a story element makes a piece of music better, but I don’t think it’s a necessity. Music used for ambiance and atmosphere, for example, are used to set a mood and bring the listener to a certain state of mind, and don’t necessarily need a concrete story.

      1. I think once you’re diving that in-depth, ANY piece of music can tell a story. Unless it’s a vocal piece, there is no “right answer” for how the music speaks to you (textually). Without lyrics, the human mind only processes the music that connects to it personally. I completely agree, though, with your comment about ambience music needing no concrete story.

    4. Nice response Caroline! I liked how you talked about each piece requiring a certain level of depth and complexity in order to be eligible for this award. I hadn’t really thought about that in my response, but I could not agree more with you! Good job

    5. I think you were spot on about the story thing actually. I mean sure, music exists where theres just humming and there’s not much to take away, including a narrative. But seeing as music is and only is what is heard by the listener, interpretation is completely open for assumption as far as what story, or piece of a story, plays in your head when you hear the music. And the rest of your response was super good too.

    6. I agree with your comment that music doesn’t have to be loud and spectacular to be emotional and engaging. There are so many elements to music and so many different ways to use and combine them. Even slow, quiet, and low-pitched pieces can be as interesting and captivating as loud and upbeat songs.

    7. I agree that the pieces’ complexity is what made them so noteworthy. They stimulated the sense to a great degree and enhanced the listening experience with the amount of sounds brought forth. “In for a Penny” is what struck me as different and new. This piece added a lot to my experience simply because I hadn’t heard anything like it before. I suppose that means this piece accomplished what it was supposed to,

  5. I decided to listen to the three works from 2016. I gathered a small list of similarities in each piece and decided these must be part of the judges criteria. 1. Unexpectedness 2. Various instruments 3. Emotional connection. In each piece I found myself hearing something totally unexpected and almost chaotic to my ear. I thought maybe it was just “In for a Penny, in for a Pound,” but then I heard the same in “The Blind Banister” and even the third piece. For number 2, I said various instruments because they had not only two or three but three or more instruments that I wouldn’t expect to be paired together. And thirdly, somewhere in each piece, a feeling or memory came to my mind and heart. I think that is the main purpose I enjoy certain music styles, so for me this is the most important characteristic a judge should use. However, that can be hard to judge. I enjoyed the winners pieces for the most part, but honestly, I really enjoyed The Mechanics: Six from the Shop Floor, by Carter Pann the best. Even though it was only a finalist, to me it was a beautiful piece that evoked way more connection and emotion then any of the winners. There was something in this piece that made my whole body feel the song, I began actually moving my head and shoulders because it was so good to listen to.

    1. Hi Amelia, I also listened to the three pieces from 2016. I noticed the emotions in this piece. I think emotion is a huge requirement. I agree how there are many instruments. I liked how it sounded. Thanks for your post!

    2. Amelia, you have a good point. However, I don’t think that all pieces should have to have a certain amount of instruments to even have to be considered for a Pulitzer Prize. It should be based on quality not quantity.

    3. I like your idea of unexpectedness being part of the criteria. Music is music, but it is certainly more interesting to listen to when we can’t depict what’s next, just like life- it’s more adventurous when you don’t know what’s coming up next. I believe this feeds into your other criteria about the emotional aspect. Not knowing where a piece is leading you at all times can take you for a ride of emotions, and you can experience many things if you just sit back and enjoy it.

    4. I like how you described the uniqueness as “unexpectedness.” These pieces weren’t at all what I thought they would be. They were very sporadic and I was expecting a more classical tone.

    5. I largely agree with 1 and 3, but I think with 2 you might be falling into the trap of believing correlation implies causation. That is to say, while it’s true that all the finalists had interesting and varied instruments, that probably wasn’t actually a criteria for them becoming finalists. It would just place too much restriction on the composers.

    6. I like what you said about enjoying one of the pieces that was a finalist; it’s funny, in some ways I think that music is more enjoyable to listen to then some of the pieces that actually won the prize. It makes me wonder what kind of place appeal plays when it comes to deciding winners within the selection process. If it plays no part, couldn’t any random use of notes, if well thought out, be considered music? Or does it half to have some sort of structure?

    7. Hi Amelia, I was going to say the same thing about the use of those three factors that decide what makes the song unique and worthy of a pulitzer prize. Emotion, unexpectedness, and a wide variety of instruments all play a major part in defining a piece as an intelligently written work of art!

    8. The chaos made it kind of hard for me to latch on to anything musically, emotionally or otherwise; but maybe that’s because I wasn’t trying very hard in the first place.

    9. It’s interesting that you disagree with the choice of winners for this year. Even though there are certain criteria that you can argue are necessary to be qualified for consideration, at the end of the day, music and musical taste is largely objective.

    10. I listened to the 2016 pieces as well and I agree that they all evoked some form of emotion. It was interesting how compositions that were unlike anything I had heard before were still able to connect to me in its own way.

    11. I like that you tried to rationalize these pieces even though I’m guessing that the in rational nature of them is one of the criteria in itself. Innovative things in a fundamental sense cannot be rational because we rationalize what we know. So that leaves you to think. Is that the point to begin with?

  6. 1.) Music needs to express and reach into a deeper aspect of human emotion: in this way, the piece of music should be able to extend to listeners a sense of emotion, whether it be one specific feeling (i.e. grief, joy, anger, or excitement), or a combination of several. That way, the song can also send a message, perhaps to ignite a passion for a particular cause or simply remind people of the everyday goodness of life.
    2.) Include actual instruments: the reason behind this requirement is very self-explanatory. I believe that in order for a piece of music to qualify for a prize of such high esteem and expectations, it should include authentic musical instruments. While as a vocalist, I enjoy listening to songs created specifically for singers, I appreciate the scores that are designed for a variety of instruments.
    Although those are only two reasons, they carry great weight in relation to what makes a piece of music worthy of a prize. The prize itself should be a desirable goal that should instill determination in musicians to put forth their best efforts to create moving music. I enjoyed listening to the music composed in the year 2015. The shrill contrast between string instruments and woodwind instruments felt compelling and thrilling. In particular, I thought the piece entitled, “Memories of Xiaoziang” was the most intricate and mysteriously beautiful. I believed it was challenging for the musicians to play, which gave it musical depth and showed the composer’s hard work in creating it.
    This, of course, is merely my own opinion of how music should be critiqued. I am very anxious to read other people’s opinions on the music chosen for us to analyze.

    1. Hi Natalie,
      I agree that Emotion is in these pieces. I also noticed that there are real instruments too! Great post!

    2. I think the way you explained that even though you are a vocalist, you like listening to instruments is very cool. As an instrumentalist, I also love listening to choirs and singers. I totally agree on the emotional aspect and need in the winning pieces.

      1. I was going to say the same thing! I love to listen to all of the aspects of music, and all of the types, and listening to the different parts that are in the music is always a good way to train your ear too- listening to the different instruments and voices and being able to tell which sound is which instrument and such.

    3. To kind of be a devil’s advocate, I think I disagree with your statement in number 1. You say it should provoke either one or multiple feelings but I find the best pieces of music I have ever heard provoke many feelings. They do not just make you feel sad or happy or mad. They make you feel sophisticated emotions that are expressed with words longer than four letters long. They make you feel melancholy, enraged, suspenseful. You get what I am saying? It shouldn’t just be sad.

    4. I agree that music needs to express and reach into a deeper aspect of human emotion,. In doing so music can express the different sense and emotions one feels in life. Like you stated, I believe that aspects of the Pulitzer Prize pieces send a message through how they’re expressed, relating to people and conveying their messages through emotion. Overall good blog post!

    5. Natalie,
      I totally agree! One of the most interesting things about music is how it effects us all emotionally, which should defiantly play a part in how we rate high level music. However, it’s interesting since we don’t actually have a way of exactly measuring emotion. Maybe science will come up with something…

    6. Hey Natalie, I really liked how you thought music had to be able to connect with deeper human emotion, I thought the same when making my blog post. I was just curious what you would qualify as an actual musical instrument. because I feel like we have the ability to make music with almost anything, so I was just curious what you meant by it being an ‘actual’ instrument. Really great response though, good work!

  7. 2015
    Anthracite Fields – Winner 
    The Aristos
    Memories of Xiaoziang

    Before I begin my reflection, let me just say to anyone who has not yet listened to the 2015 finalists that you should not, I repeat, SHOULD NOT listen to it alone in your dorm room at 10:30pm at night. It will make you feel like you’re in a horror movie. With that being said, even though this music scared the living daylight out of me, the fact that I had such a strong emotional reaction to each individual piece did help me to develop my criteria for how a significant work of music should be evaluated. They are as followed:

    1. How does a piece effect a person emotionally? As you could tell from my little rant above, I was quite emotionally impacted by all three of these works. However, I think that “Memories of Xiaoziang” (which is about the emotions of a grieving widow), really taped into how it would actually feel to lose someone you love through its long instrumental wails.
    2. How effectively does the musician translate the message he/she is trying to get across through music? For example, in the case of “Anthracite Fields”, where the composer is trying to portray the emotions felt by northeaster Pennsylvanian coal miners and their families, the composer uses sharp changes in volume and rhythm to demonstrate the unpredictable highs and lows of their lives.
    3. How well does the piece reflect upon society or the nature of the universe as a whole? Using “The Aristos” (which is meant to demonstrate the constantly changing thoughts and emotions of the mind) as an example, you could gain a greater understanding on how the unpredictability of the mind as an individual effects the relationships people have with each other within a society.

    If a piece of music is masterfully crafted in these three aspects listed above, then the piece has been successful in impacting a person emotionally, mentally, and (possibly) even physically. Truly great pieces of art will be an important contribution to any culture, not just the one that exists currently.

    While all three of these pieces were fantastically written, I think the reason that “Anthracite Fields” ended up taking the prize was due to how the composer (Julia Wolfe) was able to masterfully relate the emotions felt by coal miners to the rest of us, who have never been in the same position. Like the lives of coal miners and their families, the work that they have to do is tedious, grueling, and often unpredictable. By using music and sound to recreate those same emotions in the listeners, the composer is not only creating an emotional response, but is also providing a means for people who are not in a coal miners situation to empathize with what they have to deal with in their lives.

    1. The fact that the music made you feel afraid speaks volumes. Music should make us feel. It should move us and put us in the place the composer wants us to be.I’d say mission accomplished.

    2. First of all, I totally agree with you on not listening to the music alone. It certainly gave me an unsettling feeling both internally and externally; that only shows how impactful these pieces can be. Also, your writings was very thorough and impressive, and I like you wrote that music should be able to tie into the culture surrounding the composer. How music reflects society is a crucial element to how powerful music is. Again, fascinating article, and great job writing it.

    3. I really enjoyed your comment about not listening to the music alone at night- it goes on to show how music can evoke emotion and influence us even depending on the environment we are in. I certainly agree, however, because I listened to it late at night and experienced the same feeling as you, but it was full of mystery and adrenaline- I wanted to keep listening to it to find out what was going to happen! This is why music tells a story. There is often a beginning, a plot and complications, and the conclusion. Music is art.

    4. Gosh, 2015 really was scary in it’s finalists! I was unsettled by each one that I heard and even turned one of them off before it finished because it was so uncomfortable (“Memories of Xiaoziang”). I’m glad that it provoked emotion (which I think inherently makes it music) and I can appreciate that power of it but that by no means says that I liked it or that I would listen to it again. A lot of these pieces just sound like noise to me…even if I felt something from them! I really did enjoy “Anthracite Fields”, though!

    5. I agree the music for the 2015 finalists were scary. However they blatantly express their meanings by driving such an emotional response out of one person. I believe that by creating this emotion, the pieces become prize worthy. This emotion is what makes the piece convey a message or relate to a theme. For example, Julia Wolfe’s piece expresses the suddenness of death and connects with those who have experienced a sudden loss on a personal level. I believe these ideas and the other factors are what make a prize “worthy” .

    6. You clearly did a lot of research on the pieces and what the composers were going for, and your criteria make a lot of sense. The only thing that I feel is left out is what the composer didn’t intend. There’s more to be gained from a song than just what the composer was trying to say.

    7. Interesting that your post was driven by the emotion you got out of the pieces, and I was left with apathy for all the pieces. Does that mean I’m just an idiot? Or maybe I wasn’t listening close enough? I think it might’ve been because I wasn’t taking the assignment very seriously to begin with.

    8. Claire, I will definitely take your advise into consideration! I agree with the three criteria that you listed for the evaluation of a piece of music. I believe that a composer has a goal in mind when writing music, whether it be to make the listener laugh, cry, or burst with joy, they must accomplish this goal one way or another. If they cannot make the listener to feel this emotion then the piece has failed. I good piece of music should evoke an emotion that people today, and a hundred years from now, can relate to. I think the evaluation of these criteria are imperative to deciding whether or not a piece has succeeded in what it was written for.

  8. There are multiple criteria that I would argue are necessary to make a piece worthy of recognition. It should speak to the people of the time. The values of society shift and change as time progresses. What was meaningful 50 years ago may not be now. Music should be contemporary, shifting and changing with the ways of the people who listen to it. Music should instill emotions in the people. When they hear it, it should have an effect. It could make them feel haunted, nostalgic, peaceful, sad or hopeful. But if music does not make its listeners feel something, it is not what it is supposed to be. It should appeal to the masses while at the same meeting the requirements of quality music as seen through the eyes of knowledgeable musicians. It can’t be so technical that someone who doesn’t have a degree in music can’t appreciate it, but it must be advanced enough in quality that those who are educated can appreciate it. Lastly, it should be innovative, something new that and creative that has not been seen before. The 2015 Pulitzer nominees, “Anthracite Fields”, The Aristos” and “Memories of Xiaoxiang” all arguably meet these criteria. “The Aristos” was a very unusual sounding piece. As it does not have a constant rhythm, or a melody that we can follow, it forces us to listen to the music in a new way, finding music in unconventional technique. It is very emotional, making the listener feel suspense and wonder. The sound and structure of the piece is almost so technical that it is hard at first for the listener to appreciate it, as it is not what you would normally look for in a piece of music. However, it may be a sort of acquired taste. The more you listen to it, the more engaging it becomes. “Memories of Xiaoxiang” is also a very unconventional piece. It sounds very experimental. One might say that it is more a composition of interesting noises than a piece of music. However, it causes us to wonder about what makes something music. Perhaps music can be found in non-melodic sounds. This piece may not invoke emotion so much as thought. These two pieces are new and creative. They show us different ways that music can be approached and understood. It is music like this that has meaning, that affects the world by its new ideas. This is why they gained recognition as nominees for the Pulitzer Prize. However, while many of the same qualities are found in all three pieces, they are perhaps most powerful and pronounced in “Anthracite Fields”. In this piece we hear the story of workers of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Coal Region. Each of the movements is very emotional. In the first we hear the haunting chants of the many men of the coal mines who have died in mining accidents. We hear the busy and almost frightening noise of the second movement, commemorating the experience of the Breaker Boys. Each movement clearly instills emotion in the listener, while at the same time reminding the people of today of the importance for a safe work environment, something that many people must do without. There are many new and creative elements to this piece as well. The chanting of the names of the victims, the non-musical noises used among the musical sounds. It shows us a new approach to listening to music, connecting with it. This piece, while being engaging and creative, discusses important issues of today in a way that reaches people. It is very effective, even to those who don’t know the story of the coal mines, and it is because of the strong message it has for today’s society that it was qualified to win the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.

    1. I agree that the criteria should be ever changing to stay current with the growth of music. Music is a living thing that continues to grow and change, so should the baseline it is judged by.

    2. Your response is thorough and well-thought out. I appreciate how in depth you went in describing the details of “Anthracite Fields.” I agree that the music was very engaging and dramatic, properly representing the coal mines. Your description created a more clear understanding of the important events the song entails. Simply listening to the song sometimes is not enough for one person to realize the message behind the music. Great job!

    3. Mary Kate, you never fail to disappoint with your reflections on music! I like what you said about about how the more you listen to a piece, the more engaging it becomes. Great pieces of art should require multiple viewings to get their entire message; you can’t expect to understand every reference in Shakespeare right away, and good music is the same way.

      1. After listening to both pieces of music, I believed that both pieces of music were outstanding. Much credit should be given to those composers, musicians, and producers of the music for the hard work and effort that they put into it.

    4. I like how you said music should instill emotion because I think hearing a song and it actually having effect on you is what makes music an art form rather then just something to do

  9. I believe that the criteria that makes a piece of music important to today’s culture is its innovative quality and how it differs/stands out from the rest of the popular music of the time. This is important because this difference spurs new ideas and thoughts, leading to a deeper ingenuity in future music composition. The Pulitzer Prize winner “In for a Penny, in for a Pound” shows just how unique and winning piece of music has to be. While I personally did not enjoy it, this piece did open my mind to what music can be and how it can change someone’s views on the standard of composition. The other two pieces were more enjoyable to me but they did not make me consider the broad boundaries that music can push.

    1. Yea I’m glad you separated the idea of music you like and music you think would push the boundary. Theres not a person in the world that hasn’t heard a song that they like and been like “This is best song you could possibly make” when really it’s just a matter of preference. Good stuff.

    2. Interesting! Why specifically do you think that it must be different from everything else to stand out? In my opinion, it is not so much the mechanical aspects of a piece that might make it innovative, but the message can be something that has never been communicated in music before.

    3. This is a good point. I feel that the point of this award is to honor those who have put their reputations on the line to do what has never been done before these pieces may not sound quite right to your ear but the artist did what he wanted to do in this piece and was able to draw out the emotions he targeted.

  10. The relevancy of the piece to the day and age in which it is written is very important. Personally though, I think an argument can be made that we make the music fit our picture of society. The less form it has, the more malleable it is to be whatever we subconsciously want it to be.

    To be an important contribution to culture, I feel that a piece of music has to be moving to a large, modern audience. People have to be able to relate to it. Another quality it must have is cohesion. It has to, I feel, have an agenda of its own to convey certain emotions, if not telling a complete narrative. It also must be written for a purpose. Music for music’s sake tends to be drier than music fueled by emotion and current events, in my opinion.

    To be completely honest, I have no idea objectively why Anthracite Fields won the Pulitzer Prize over the other two pieces; all three of the pieces were very confusing to me. Maybe if I knew why they were written and what they were trying to convey, I’d have a better picture, but as it stands I have no idea.

    1. I agree that some of the pieces were confusing and I am also interested if that view would change if I knew the meaning and reason for the way it was written. And your point on the type and size of the audience that music should be moving to sounds about right and probably what these artists tried to write for.

    2. My thoughts exactly. I found the music to be boring, for the most part. Many of them even failed to make me feel an emotion, which I think is integral. Not a very fun assignment because the I found that the music didn’t fit my taste.

    3. Whats up josh, I think this is all well said. You give a personification to music that seems to say that music is alive and can manipulate us, and I totally agree. Music deals a lot with how we feel and our influences.

    4. I also had a hard time understanding some of the pieces. It’s hard to relate to a piece that is mostly creative noises independent of rhythm and melody, at least to our ear. I think that these are some things that we expect to hear when we listen to music. That’s why this kind of music is hard to connect with.

    5. I agree the pieces are confusing and I don’t know why anthracite fields won but I do believe that the unique but weird sounds that came from the piece did win this award because no one expected it

  11. I think that to be a winner of this award it takes a distinct sound, a unique layering involving a lot of dissonance, and making the expected become the unexpected. In the songs, I heard a lot of sounds that randomly showed up but were repetitive throughout each songs. An example was in the Anthracite Fields, throughout the song there was a chanting that sounded very strange that was layered on top of chords. Some of the songs put fourth a lot of dissonance that also make it unique in the sounds and the dissonance was very repetitive but you still did not expect it. What I mean by saying I “making the expected the unexpected” is that you expect certain chords to occur but they turn out to be in a completely different part. The song that won stood out because it had all the parts I listed above.

    1. Hey Kyle, I couldn’t agree more with your response. I talked about the need for a song to be original and unique in my response as well. I also liked how you talked about making the expected the unexpected. I didn’t really think about it while listening to the music but I can definitely see where you’re coming from. Good work! .

    2. This again examines whether these songs are meant to be harmonically correct or whether they are trailblazing a new era of music that lives in 12 tone music without a key. We could live in a day musically where we abolish key signatures and just write what we want and what sounds good in the ear. Freeform composition is already starting to dominate.

    3. I like your analysis of how there were lots of random sounds throughout each piece. This is really a definitive mark of contemporary music; each piece has an element of the unexpected at its core.

  12. Since its creation, the Pulitzer Prize has been awarded to those who compose and produce the most prestigious music of the year. However, within the last years changes have been made for the Prizes’ criteria. Beginning in the late 20th century, the focus of musical pieces changed to award those composed in American standard rather than European styled music. With their recent development, prices have been given to many composers with completely differing styles. For example, Jazz composers, who in the early 20th century would not be recognized, now are such as Wynton Marsalis. Furthermore, the 2015 winner of the prize, Julia Wolfe, created a completely unusual piece based on American history. Her work consists of choral voices singing the names of men who died in mining accidents. Overall, these pieces are greatly creative. But are they Pulitzer Prize worthy? There is controversy supporting the pieces’ success because of their unusual sounds and styles. Some believe, the more traditional styles of music should be the pieces awarded the prize. The compositions’ history and themes are what contribute to culture, telling the tales of American past, but the styles cause controversy. However despite these oppositions, I believe these works are deserving of the prize. The themes they produce and their expression directly display American style and help improve what is to be perceived as Americanized music.

    1. I love what you about the controversy over whether or not these should be praised because of their unusual sounds and styles, and I totally agree that they are in fact worthy of the prize. Just because a song is communicated in a different way, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t portray a worthwhile message.

      1. Yea, I agree with Claire, anytime someone looks at some event through the cultural eye that vividly, it really makes you think. And thinking is what I did after reading that, I never thought about the pulitzer prize as being just wrong in who they give it to. However it’s pretty important to take everything into account when analyzing this subject, thank’s for staying woke.

  13. My criteria:
    Impact on American society
    Excellent musicianship/composition
    Defined purpose (story, message)

    I’m torn on this subject. On one hand, I’m a fan of classically based music, but on the other, I feel that there is so much more groundbreaking, culture-affecting music from 2016 that doesn’t fit into the categories Pulitzer Prize voters built. I’m not saying Hamilton should have been recognized, but also why couldn’t it be? It’s clever, well-written and it made quite the impact on American society as well as the study of it’s history! What makes this jazz album more important? Not that some meaningful Justin Bieber song deserves a Pulitzer, but maybe it does if it is new, bold and makes Americans think differently or at least speaks on some kind of broader level. The credit would have to go to the composer, not Justin Bieber, in the case, but why should the genre exclude music from being on the spectrum? Music is music. I’m especially passionate about the fact that movie soundtracks should be considered more…Only one has been honored in the past (I think!) and I feel that there is a lot out there being looked over!

    But onto the actual discussion prompt…I was really underwhelmed listening to the 2016 winner. I thought it was maybe an 8 in composition and it did have a message I think, but all the same it lacked something for me. The winner from 2015 however was an entirely different case. I thought it was provoking and beautiful…10/10 on everything. Just as well as “Becoming Ocean” from 2014. Still, I can’t find a direct connection to impact on society. Perhaps it’s just because it’s my personal criteria, but I think it’s very important and would like to see it noticed!

    I guess my bottom line is that I think the horizons should be widened for what is allowed to be considered for the prize. I think it would be wonderful to see music that the general populous consistently recognizes, not just some odds and ends that only elites know. Of course, then the question remains that if the horizons do broaden, will quality classical and jazz (although only recently recognized) be forgotten? This is why I’m torn!

    1. I agree that including more modern or pop music should be acknowledged. The committee once excluded Jazz. Keeping an open mind and ear about music is imperative.

      1. It is difficult to say which piece of music should receive a Pulitzer, There is a lot of quality music from different genres that could qualify for the Pulitzer. Jazz composers that are top quality and produce top quality should be recognized along with other pop and sacred performers.

    2. Rianna, I agree with you that I think the “horizons should be widened for what is allowed to reprise worthy.” I believe that all the pieces were creative and expressed a message. However, I believed some lacked musical intonation and traditional style, which also conveys beauty. I fee as if with the recent winner, the music is elaborate and could be more simplistic in style to show beauty, emotion, and creativity. Overall, I agree with your post.

    3. It’s kind of hard to decide to include, because then what does the criteria become? Not necessarily disagreeing, but I just wonder what sort of rubric the judges would follow if all types of music were given the chance to compete.

  14. I believe a work of music should be evaluated based upon the emotional impact it makes on not only experienced composers and their fancy selves, but also the general public. A piece of art should be able to affect all audiences, not just audiences with so called “taste”. It would need to be pleasing enough to the ear that you would be able to listen to the whole composition rather than just stop in the middle and want to leave. I believe a composition is considered an important contribution to society when it is relevant to the society and the people in that time. If it is influenced by a thing that has happened in our time that will be a historical moment that many will know about or even may just be something that is common for a person to go through, that is an influential piece. Honestly, for both years, I am not going to lie. I did not like one piece that was a finalist or a winner. They were all so clashy and dissonant and some didn’t even sound like true music to my ears (even though it is music to others). I just found the expression to be different in each piece and each was trying to convey a different message. I don’t know what else to say. All in all, I suppose this is the music of today and whether people end up liking it and making it our representation of society today rather than the music we truly listen to as a society and that most people would feel is truly influential, so be it. However, I feel this music does not truly represent our society as it should be represented.

    1. Hey Violet,
      I agree with your post. I think that piece of art should be able to affect all audiences too! Just like you said! Great post!

    2. I’m happy that you hit on the idea of “taste”- I believe that taste is something that everyone has, and that one’s taste in something does not deserve to be held higher than another’s. Same goes for music- anything with effort and complexity put in can be called music. I also agree on not particularly liking any of these pieces at first- but the more I listened to it, I could hear the complexity of thought and arrangement put into every measure of the music, and I could tell that there were some brilliant makers of this music. Perhaps it just didn’t appeal to our specific “taste”, but each work has a very neat structure in itself.

    3. I really like how you said music should affect all audiences and not just those with a certain taste because music is very influential like you said and I think it’s important to see how all audiences react to music

  15. For this assignment, I decided to listen to the winner and finalists from 2016. Upon listening to the pieces, I made a list of what I felt should be the standards of quality music for today’s culture. The first, and probably the most important is that the music has to of course be original writing, but it also needs an original sound. Often during Renaissance and Baroque music, artists often “borrowed” music from one another, and even though the pieces composed were still great, there were not always the composers original ideas. I believe that in order for music to be important in today’s culture , it needs to have it’s own unique sound unlike anything that has really been heard before. Another requirement necessary is that the music needs to evoke some sort of emotion within the listener. The whole purpose of music is to somehow make a connection with the audience, and it seems almost obvious that that be required for a piece to win this prestigious prize. Another requirement should be that the music has been well received by the public. Just because a piece of music is well liked by the committee choosing the prize winner, does not mean that everyone else responds well to it. Now, the music does not need to be liked by everyone, but the general public needs to show that the composer has a way of appealing to everyone, not just the select few choosing the winner. When looking at Henry Threadgill’s album, “In for a Penny, In for a Pound,” I think that his music meets all three of these requirements. Upon listening to the piece, it did have a very original sound to me, and it was not a sound that I heard often. I think this was largely due to the flute which carried the song. Hearing flute music is not the most common form of entertainment these days, but Threadgill uses it in a way that attracts attention from the audience. I also think this music pulls on emotion within the listener, I I think that is why this album won over the other works. In total honesty, I don’t even know what kind of emotion I completely found while listening, but I was able to connect with this music on a deeper level compared to the other pieces. Finally, the reception from those outside of the committee is also important when choosing a winner. Upon researching Threadgill’s work, I found that numerous newspaper critics praised the music for its “warm” melodies and “fast-moving details.” This proves that this piece was in fact received well by audiences.

    1. But I wonder what kind of music there is that hasn’t already been done (try to fathom all the music written by humans…it’s nuts!). Just an interesting thing to think about. I often wonder what will be the next new punk rock when I’m a parent…But I will say after listening to many modern classical and instrumental works, it more and more becomes the purposeful clashing of sounds just to prove this “uniqueness” to the point where it is no longer unique compared to all the other modern pieces following the same guidelines.

    2. I agree that music should appeal to the large amounts of people in order to be qualified to win a prize. Yes it’s important that it be respected as a composition by other educated musicians, but emotion is such an important part of music, and this is something that anyone can feel, no matter how much they know about composing. If a piece appeals to professors at Juilliard but no one else, it’s definitely missing something important

      1. But then to play devil’s advocate; Aren’t those Julliard professors teaching there for a reason? Sounds to me like you’re throwing their credibility out the window.

  16. I decided to listen to the finalists from the year of 2016. I made a list of how I felt in these pieces. I think that music should be original but it seems that people tend to “steal” the music. It seems that they didn’t take all of their ideas. They would only take what they want. It seems that this tends to be a theme. People take what they want and then they make their pieces better by adding their own ideas. A huge requirement of music is emotion and how a person feels. The reason why is because the musician should make a connection to the audience. IF the performer does this then this what a great performance is! My favorite piece that I listened to for this assignment is “In for a Penny, In for a Pound,” because it meets the requirements. I felt emotion and the sound was rather different. It was rather interesting. I felt a lot of emotion when I was listening to this piece.

    1. I found your idea on “stealing” music interesting. I also agree on the emotional aspect of the requirements. I think that is really one of the requirements that each song has.

    2. Maria, it is very difficult to create an original piece of music nowadays. Many artists wish they could write a song with an original chord progression but it is usually found in another piece somewhere out in the music world somewhere. Some people think that musicians are stealing other people’s work when truly it is just them trying to create their own music.

      1. Violet, good note. There are billions of people on this world today as well as trillions and gazillions of people before us, many of whom write/wrote music. It’s safe to say that just about everything has already been done. Every chord, every melody… and a lot of composers don’t even know it! That’s why its always a bit funny when some off beat band from some small town tries to sue an artist for “stealing” from them when their both probably stealing from one of Bach’s overtures or whatever. I don’t like the word stealing in the case of music and I’m glad you thought so, too!

    3. Maria, I like what you said about the place that originality should play in music; it’s so easy to just change the key of a piece and add a new melody and call it music (at least in the popular sphere) but creativity and skill need to be combined in order to make a piece of music truly great.

      1. Origniality is very important in music along with creativity. I believe that quality time and effort that goes into creating, and performing a piece of music is very important.

    4. I would have to disagree that they “steal” their music. I look at it as they took bits and pieces of inspiration and meshed them together into something that is playable and sounds like contemporary music.

  17. A piece of music is an important contribution to its current culture if it consciously or unconsciously develops key themes in its genre’s history. For instance, if a piece of jazz music develops what sounds to the unlearned ear as rhythmic nonsense, then that piece is an important contribution to the current jazz culture. I think the criteria should be as follows:

    Unique sound and character
    Technical virtuosity
    Variety of themes and thematic motives
    Contemporary style
    Rhythmic inventiveness
    Historical contribution

    Unique sound and character and rhythmic inventiveness simply designate the new piece as a fresh invention, not something that was completely inspired by previous composers or musical works. Technical virtuosity is exactly what it sounds like—music worth professional musicians. A variety of themes and thematic motives can be as large-scale or as micro as the style of the music dictates, but either way requires that the piece include musical variety. A contemporary style and historical contribution exist together in these criteria: the piece needs to be written in a modern style and just so that it exceeds and contributes to the genre of contemporary music.
    The first piece in 2016 integrated rhythmic inventiveness enough that it sounded like rhythmic nonsense compared to the other pieces. However, that and the instrumentation gave it enough unique sound and character. The variety of themes was progressed through overlapping instrument motives.
    The second piece, The Blind Banister, also progressed through a series of themes between different instruments. The rhythmic inventiveness presented itself in a repeating pattern, at least at the beginning. Finally, the unique sound and character was obvious through the atonality and instrumentation.
    The third piece, the winner, was themed after a floor of mechanics, and sounds exactly like it. This gives the piece significant sound and character. The piece acts as a mini theme-and-variations, developing the sound through added notes and dynamics. The rhythmic variety becomes much more intense through the piece, and is another factor into the complexity at the end. Overall, this piece was much more dynamic and representative of the scene of mechanics.

    1. Overall, I completely agree. I love your bullet points above and that’s what I’m going to dig into right now.

      I agree that a piece needs to be unique and shouldn’t continue on the same four chords the entire piece, which is what we see in almost all modern pop music today. Of course, there are many exceptions, and that is all narrowed down by personal preference. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “technical virtuosity” or “historical contribution.” Care to expand on that?

  18. I very much appreciated this post. The music from 2916 are particularly my favorites. They inclusion of Jazz and Jazz influenced music to such a prestigious award is, to me, a great thing. I think that a definite part of the criteria should include overall rhythm and rhythm manipulation. How artist(s) and the performers can modulate the time and rhythm in their piece. Along with that, I think should be Use of Melodic and Harmonic creativity. I definitely heard odd and abstract chords and small melodic parts throughout the pieces. Many music throughout the selection process were great and very creative and had many different aspects of what the spectrum of music can expand to. The 2016 year exceed the expectations of my criteria, in my opinion. “In for Penny, In for a Pound” is definitely one of my favorite pieces out of the three. The different ways it manipulates Jazz chords and the rhythm it construed and conformed. It also seemed as if the piece told a story, as if it took you on a journey through the song, beginning to end.

    1. I agree that the inclusion of jazz music is essential to their goal of recognizing the most prestigious, current musical works. Excluding an entire genre wouldn’t be fair to those composers.

  19. To answer this question accurately, I will have to answer this in segments. 1) What makes piece of music important? This is difficult to quantify and to qualify. I believe there are several including a) The conception of the music, b) the time and development of the music including vocals, musicians, and time management. In addition, there is c) the audience listening to it, their reaction after listening to such a piece is very important . If they like it, they will buy the album, song, and recommend it. If not, they”ll downgrade it. 2) listened to the finalist of 2016 Pulitzers, I conclude that they should be considered to receive the pulitizer prize. Both piece were complex, original, musically sound . The songwriters, composer, musicians worked very hard to produce top quality pieces; this was prevalent throught each piece. 3) After listening each piece, I felt I was introduce to something that was almost heavenly. There was improvisation, major 7th scales in the music. Lastly in terms of listening, It is important that each individual decide what they want to listen to and why they want to. It is the individual who create their own criteria as to what and why they listen to each recording or live performance.

  20. I agree that “In for Penny, In for a Pound” is an outstanding piece of instrumental jazz. It had the complexities and improvasations and yet , it was very moving as well.

  21. Music heard on the radio today can be very underwhelming instrumentally. Some of the greatest songs have been simple, but to win the pulitzer prize, pieces must have a certain dignity in the instrumental aspect that encourages the use of multiple instruments. The three things that really dignify a piece are 1. the use of complex instrumentals, 2. emotion and connection and 3. originality. The 2016 pieces definitely showed a proper use of all three combined, and sounded dignified because of that reason. The use of complex instrumentals in the pieces doesn’t mean that they necessarily have to be hard to play, but just that they use interesting combinations of instrumentals. An interesting combination of instruments or vocal techniques really can introduce new sounds to the world, and I think that also ties into my point that originality is part of the process as well. That original sound is what a song needs to be noticed, but after that point, it becomes about the emotions. How does the song make me feel? A song that has the power to make me feel an emotion strongly has the power to rule my emotions. This is a connection that the music makes to me, and if that connection is strong enough with all of the people deciding what song should win the pulitzer prize, the song will win that prize. Since music on its own has the power to change emotions, it makes sense that there would be a pulitzer prize for it.

  22. I listened to the 2016 selections and Y’Know? I had a pretty good time. I think the music is intellectually pushing the boundary for pretty much any new music. I often find myself thinking “What would it be like if Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was making music today? Would he still be as popular and innovative? Maybe he’d be even more popular because of the way new media spreads.” But the average response to that thought is “Well if he existed now and not then, music would be totally different.” …which is true, but c’mon this is hypothetical. Anyway, my point is, if you listen to In for penny In for Pound, I think that’s the kind of sound you’d get from mozart if his creative genius was thrown into 2016. And for a song with such a simple instrumentation, I jammed pretty well with it, the beat got me tapping my pencil and the rhythm of the flute bobbed around in my head for a little while after giving it a play. It’s clear that this is a piece worthy of award, and I’m glad I was able to give it a listen.

    1. The selections were very creative starting with In for a Penny In for a Pound. This is an interesting take on Mozart and other greats being thrown into our time period. In theory we talked about how Bach’s baroque music lends itself so well to jazz. For all we know Bach could have written some pretty cool jazz in our time.

  23. For music to be important, in my opinion, it must meet certain criteria. It must be entertaining. A piece of music might need to be pleasing to the ear and something that people want to listen to in order to get any attention. It must also be emotional. For something to be important, it must have meaning. Humans often associate meaning with things that evoke certain feelings. This feeling could be happy, very somber, or dizzy. Thirdly, an important piece of music must be insightful. Music has the power to keep records of history by preserving stories of everyday life or momentous events. Music can also act as a critical mirror for society. This means that, like other works of art, music can depict the current state of society in such a way that it makes the audience think about if this ‘current state’ is where or how we want to be. Finally, most importantly, for a piece of music to be truly great, it might make an observation and then make a claim. Like a thesis, for a piece of music to be an important contribution to its current culture, it must present an idea that is revolutionary. This could be a solution to a problem in society or a call to action communicated through the piece.

    I listened to the 2016 finalists and winner. I thought The Blind Banister illustrated a falling sensation in the music. It was very hard to follow and not melodic at all. The arrangement of the notes seemed random. The work is chaotic and then comes to a calm section, but not necessarily a resolution that is pleasing to the ear. I wasn’t sure if there was any intentional meaning to the piece or not. The second finalist, The Mechanics: Six from the Shop Floor, is also a bit chaotic with different voices intertwined and overlapped. To me it paints a picture of a busy city street. The music is busy and speeding up before coming to a halt. Then the music resumes at the same speed but a little more organized. This segment ends with a few harmonies at the end. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize struck me the most. This jazz composition has a few voices overlapped with a flute screaming out over the top. The Pulitzer organization described this as “a highly original work in which notated music and improvisation mesh in a sonic tapestry that seems the very expression of modern American life”. I think I agree with this considering the chaotic state of the country and the world. I (personally) didn’t hear a new claim conveyed in the short clip of the work. However, I think this work was deserving of the Pulitzer Prize for it meeting the criteria that I outlined before. It is entertaining, emotional, and insightful.

    1. Very insightful perspective on your choices of music. Were there any other pieces from this year nominated for the Pulitzer where you had the same thoughts?

  24. Upon listening to these selections of music from 2016. I think it comes down to what these make you feel in your soul. I noticed that this music makes me feel very uncomfortable and confused which does bring forward feelings of incompleteness and it really makes your long for a resolution and it makes you look introspectively on your life and where the incompleteness you have there. The parts of you which are seeking completion come out of the woodwork and fill through the music and it really come into themselves through the music. I think for this award my criteria would be to examine the background of the music what sit was composed for. As well as the creativeness and new ways this composer looked at the music. This award should first and foremost be a celebration of the new and trailblazers of music who dedicate their life to revolutionizing music as whole. This award should be for those who strive to change the fabric of music history forever.

    1. Which pieces did you listen to? What musical techniques does Shaw utilize? Would not the feeling of uncomfortable be related to the music techniques employed in the music? What were these techniques?

  25. I would have to disagree that it all comes down to what you feel. I believe there are many technical aspects that the judges take into consideration, but they also take into consideration the type of feelings that the piece elicits.

    1. How inventive and/or creative was the music you listened to? Was their anything in particular that drew you to music nominated for the Pulitzer from 2016?

  26. I believe the Pulitzer Prize in Music should be presented to those who are always finding new and inventive ways to write music. After listening to Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields a few weeks back, I realized it was perhaps the most inventive contemporary piece I have heard yet. It possesses a very inventive orchestration, including electric guitar and a very broad array of percussion. Vocal lines have hints of folk music, rock, and perhaps some modern jazz in the way they underpin the instrumental harmonies. Even though there is an air of repetitiveness throughout all 4 movements of the work. It was through Wolfe’s ability to convey such vivid emotions that the Pulitzer Prize in Music was justly awarded to her. This applies to any past composer who has won it.

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