Now that the discussion of the merit or lack of merit of the Pulitzer board’s choice of winners for this year is winding down, I’d like to turn your attention to something that you may have missed.

According to the “Plan of Award” document on the Pulitzer website, “Entries must be submitted in writing” and “All entries should include biographies and pictures of entrants and each entry in journalism, letters and music must be accompanied by a handling fee of $50 made payable to Columbia University/Pulitzer Prizes.”  This is a perfectly reasonable set of criteria–you can’t win if you don’t enter the competition, and in order to enter the competition you have to pay a modest fee.  There is some debate in our community as to whether charging entry fees for competitions is ethical, but there is clearly value to the management of the prize to setting a relatively low entry fee to ensure that the people who enter the competition think they have a shot at winning–that way you don’t have five thousand entries of whatever people could throw together just for the heck of entering.  And sure enough, the combination of the reputation of the prize as difficult to win and the entry fee keeps the number of applications down–this year there were 129 entries for the music prize.

But Ornette Coleman didn’t submit his album “Sound Grammar” for the award–apparently the jury was disappointed not to see it among the entries (and I’ve heard they were also disappointed by a lack of Jazz entries in general) and went out an picked up a copy themselves.  And as we know, they ultimately included “Sound Grammar” in their nominations to the Board, and the Board selected it for the prize.  Given the rules for consideration, this can mean only one of two things: either Coleman wasn’t in fact eligible for the award and thus technically didn’t win the prize, or the jury has just revoked the rules for submission.  If the former is true, I expect the Pulitzer board to take back Coleman’s award and either announce a new winner selected from among the eligible entries or declare that there is no winner for 2007.  But until such an announcement is made, we have no choice but to assume that the old submission rules have been repealed and that composers can now enter the competition without paying the fee.

So spread the word.  I want to hear next year that they got those five thousand applications.  The deadline (although it too has arguably been overturned) is January 15th, 2008. Mark your calendar, pick your best piece for the year, and send it in.  Tell your rock and jazz buddies, too, since the whole point of this exercise is to offer a truly representative sampling of American music.

12 Responses to “Pulitzer Shenanigans”
  1. Daniel Wolf says:

    At the very least, all composers who paid an entry fee should now demand a refund.

  2. Nathan Brock says:

    If you look closely at the Plan of Award, you’ll see that Article #7 basically gives the Pulitzer Board, and by extension the jury, carte blanche to alter or throw out rules at will. And – though I’m in no way sure of this – I believe that this has happened in the past, that is, that previous music Pulitzers have been awarded to pieces that were not nominated. So I don’t think that there’s a legal leg to stand on here. I seriously doubt the board will throw out the entry fee, for the very reasons you state here.

  3. DJA says:

    It sounds like paying the entry fee is effectively a guarantee that your piece will be considered, but the jury is not limited to choosing from amongst those who have officially submitted — and I don’t think they should be, either.

    Given the history of the Pulitzer, It shouldn’t be surprising that virtually no jazz artists officially submit. What were jazz composers supposed to do for the years and years for which we were technically eligible but effectively shut out? Keep paying the $50 every year and hope that eventually you won’t be automatically dismissed out of hand?

    Plus — and I’m sure this sounds absurdly naive to all of you — I had no frickin’ idea that there even was a formal application process for a composer be considered for a Pulitzer. I had assumed it was, the like MacArthur, a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” type of situation.

  4. Rob Deemer says:

    I’m with you on your last point, Darcy – I think most musicians assume the Pulitzer Prize is one that’s chosen through nomination, not through a formal application. Galen’s idea of a large number of composers simply applying to the award like any other award (whether or not you decide to pay the fee) is an interesting one – at least the jury couldn’t say they had enough applicants and had to run out to the nearest CD store to find their next winner :-)

  5. I had seen article 7, and my thinking is that whenever one of the “rules” is “we don’t have to follow the rules,” that means that there are in fact no rules. Before the jury and the board decided to violate this particular “rule” it was still appropriate to assume it was in effect, but at this point we know that it was a sham. I’m not really proposing a “legal” argument, so much as a rational and ethical one–I don’t seriously expect the board to revoke Coleman’s award (nor do I want them to) or to officially abolish the submission fee.

    But at this point there is an established precedent that would make it unethical for the jury to deliberately ignore submissions that were made with no fee. And since one of the (I assume unintended) consequences of the old fee-based system was to artificially limit, through self-selection, the applicant pool to the conservative-good-old-boy/established-famous-composers network this seems like a good opportunity to send a message that we want genuine inclusivity.

    If 5,000 composers of all stripes submit their best piece from this year, the next jury will have a choice — they can be unethical hypocrites and only accept the applications that came with a fee, or they can rise to the occasion an take a real look at the true spectrum of contemporary American music. I believe that if enough people submit work the jury will do the right thing, and that would be wonderful.

  6. Matthew says:

    I like it—the jury will get whatever I manage to cobble together a performance of this year. But I’m not expecting much—remember, it’s an award administered by an academic institution, and what academia is good at is finding reasons to reject you. They probably categorically dismiss entries just because they don’t like the way a CV’s been formatted. There’s also a bias towards actually being printed: historically, the greatest gatekeeper to the Pulitzers has been not the entry fee, but publication—I don’t think an unpublished or self-published composition has ever won. (A few have been finalists, but even those had distribution arrangements with one of the big houses.)

  7. Daniel says:

    A feature that I like about the Grawemeyer is being able to research the past entries, even though there is no indication as to who places or shows. Take a look:

  8. Jay Batzner says:

    Daniel: who places or shows? You can tell you live in a horse-racin’ town…

  9. Daniel says:

    And this is the big race week :)

  10. DJA says:

    I don’t think an unpublished or self-published composition has ever won.

    Until this year, you mean. (Even the album was self-released, on Ornette’s own label.)

  11. Matthew says:

    Yes… yes… that’s EXACTLY what I meant. (Thanks for the correction—I hadn’t actually checked.)

  12. Doug Palmer says:

    Note to all composers; there is no need whatsoever to enter, there is no need whatsoever to spend the money. It doesn’t make any difference.