Amid the hubbub of the last week’s Grammy Awards, many of the winners get brushed aside and go unmentioned. Among my circles on social media this usually manifests with celebrations and laments of the Grammy Awards for classical music (pop and classical do not compete against each other at the Grammys). However, even among the people proclaiming victories or lamenting the lack of press for classical music, almost no one has mentioned that this year John Cage was awarded a Trustee Award by the Recording Academy. Trustee Awards are given to “individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording.” The Recording Academy announced the award in a press release back in January:
John Cage was an avant-garde composer whose inventive works and unorthodox ideas profoundly influenced the entire music industry. His innovative ideas on composition and performance influenced a broad spectrum of artists including fellow musicians, dancers, choreographers, painters and more. Cage remained on the leading edge of both playful and profound experimentalism for the greater part of his career. One of Cage’s best-known and most sonically intriguing innovations, the prepared piano, has become an almost commonplace compositional resource.
I emailed Andie Cox, Senior Manager for Marketing Communications at The Recording Academy, to get more information about how the recipient of a Trustee Award is selected. She informed me that Cage was one of 81 persons submitted to the Recording Academy in consideration for the three Trustee Awards. Neither her nor the press release provide more specific examples about Cage’s contributions or how he “profoundly influenced the entire music industry,” but his approach to sound itself and his willingness to explore the sonic possibilities of nearly any object are certainly far reaching. Additionally, this award is indicative not only of the Recording Academy being more open to acknowledging the influence of 20th century American experimental composers and artists on the music industry (an album featuring the music of Harry Partch received an award last year), but also a wider embrace of Cage’s work and ideas.
Read and download the 1961 edition of John Cage’s lectures and writings, Silence, from the Internet Archive.