The Grammy Awards show provides moments every musician can get behind.“Music’s biggest night.” That’s how the Grammy Awards show bills itself. I always cringe a little when I see those promos. Much of the groundbreaking, innovative, and authentic music being recorded is honored at a ceremony earlier in the day without the glitz, glamour, and most importantly, the prime time network television coverage. The big show, “music’s biggest night,” features pop music almost exclusively. Could we just call it “pop music’s biggest night?”
No matter what faults we find with the Grammys (and there are critics on all sides), the size of the stage they have to reach the American public with music is unparalleled, and that alone is a reason to pay attention. As a working musician, I can’t bury my head in the sand and ignore what tens of millions of people are listening to every day. And so I, along with millions of other folks around the country, watched the 57th Grammy Awards last month to see and hear the best in pop music today.
I’m not exactly plugged in to pop music (I thought Imagine Dragons was the title of a children’s book), so I actually enjoy watching the Grammys if for nothing more than getting clued in to what’s going on in that scene. Every year, without fail, there is at least one moment (and usually several) that blows me away—a humble acceptance speech, a new artist whose talent is truly special, a song of the year nominee that you just know your kids and grandkids will be listening to—it is in anticipation of that moment that I watch the big show.
Sam Smith’s heartfelt acceptance speech for best pop vocal album provided one of those unforgettable moments. Clearly surprised and overwhelmed by the award, he said to the audience of pop music royalty, “Before I made this album, I was doing everything I could to get my music heard…it was only when I started to be myself that the music started to flow and people started to listen.” No matter what kind of music you play, the competition to be heard is fierce. Sam Smith, on the biggest musical stage in the world, on the biggest night of his life, shared this one simple truth that so many struggle with: being a successful musician means being authentic to who you are, because imitating other musicians only takes you away from where you need to be.
Deborah Henson-Conant delves into this subject in the second installment of her year-long series, Harpist Reinvented on pg. 18. In this issue, Henson-Conant examines one of her students as a case study on how to get to the heart of what you want to do as a musician. It’s a great read no matter what genre you play or where you are in your musical journey.
Just when I thought the Sam Smith moment would be the only take-away for the night, pop superstar Usher took the stage to sing Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic” accompanied by…wait for it…a harp. Yes, it was just Usher, 18-year-old L.A. harpist Melody Tai, and her harp. (Read our Q and A with Meloday Tai.) That’s it. No band, no back up dancers, no big production. It was just some good music. This is what always keeps me from writing off the Grammys: it seems that when a singer wants to craft a memorable Grammy performance, they strip away everything—the big electric band, the theatrical dance routine, the highly-produced act—and they just stand up there and sing. And they sing with acoustic instruments to make a lasting impression on the auto-tuned pop world.
Lynne Abbey-Lee shows us the universal musical lessons to be learned from pop music in “Make Your Teaching Pop.” Beyoncé and Beck may not exactly be Beethoven and Brahms, but that doesn’t mean they can’t teach us a few things. After all, even Beethoven and Brahms were pop musicians at one time. •
Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.