In completing my responsibilities as a voting NARAS member (the Recording Academy), I was recently dismayed to discover a downturn in the moral content (and in some respects, musical quality) among the top five contenders for this year’s Record of the Year category. Without mentioning any names, all five songs being considered for the prized Grammy award contain lyrics that are highly objectionable, to say the least, and not only to those with traditional, conservative values. Any parent or teacher conscientious about protecting their children/students from filling their ears and minds with downright destructive, obscene, inappropriate-for-any-age messages should be concerned about this trend. So I endeavor now to urge not only those that have the honor (I’m beginning to wonder about that, too… it’s a responsibility, to be sure) of deliberating over Grammy awards, but everyone in the listening public, to ramp up their standards of quality, and not to simply tolerate listening to less-than-excellent music any longer.
Before I get too many objections related to this post, please hear me out. I do not mean to impose my own standards on anyone. On the contrary–what I am asking is that you challenge the music you find yourself listening to and ask yourself a few questions: Do the lyrics of this song mesh with my moral and ethical principles? Does the music itself meet my standards for artistic quality (whatever those standards may be)? Is this the best music I can find to saturate my mind, or could I find something of better quality than this? Are there ways this music raises my artistic ears to new heights, or inspires me in a positive way, or improves my mood, or makes me a better person? Do the music’s lyrics and overall theme resonate with that which is important to me, or do they contradict it? Do the artists/songwriters succeed in adding beauty or value to the world in some way by putting this song into our world and consciousness? These are worthy questions in a world 1) that seems to value destruction more and more, and 2) that is moving away from optimism, unity and tolerance among cultures and races. We as the listening public have the power to reward the finest examples of music in each category (and to shape the future of music) by simply being decisive about what we will and won’t listen to. That which is worthwhile art is well worth the effort, my friends! We can transform the quality of music that is lifted up for our children (and world) to hear by purchasing, playing, and supporting live performances of music that represents only the best we can access. There are several ways to proactively become involved in this effort: Attend local concerts by children and youth and show your support of school music programs. Give alternate styles a chance and purchase tickets to local symphony, jazz, classical, and quality pop, bluegrass, and country performances in your community. Make the effort to learn about art and culture, and work to support and cherish it. Children emulate those they respect, so your efforts to clean up your listening environment won’t fall on deaf ears.
In light of the recent Grammy deliberation process, I have decided to no longer allow any music I feel doesn’t represent something valuable (worth sharing) to flow into my ears. I can and have set boundaries. While I am still committed to being aware of prevailing trends and to the quality level of songs achieving award status, I refuse to condone the wave of mediocrity, baseness, and less-than-deserving music which has crept onto the popular consumer’s plate. I will not acclimate and I will not lower my standards while I have music in me (and while other composers/artists have worthy music in them) which strives to elevate the human condition, and works to improve the world around those who listen. We can all make the decision to live on a higher cultural plane, as there are millions of choices today regarding what we allow into our ears, and into our brains… these stimuli eventually find their way back out to the world through our mouths and actions, as it has been shown that our lives and words reflect what we allow into our minds. Our responsibility as listeners has never been greater: to be discriminating about what we allow into our ears, and to not underestimate the influence our choices of music have upon our behaviors and belief systems. The responsibility of artists continues to be, and has always been, to enhance the lives of those we serve, and to improve the world around us, influencing society for good. Grammy-contender recording artists and songwriters, those who listen to our art deserve better.