HomeBlogsdavecharliebrown's blogThe Value of Awards

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It's that time of year again.  The CARA nominees were recently announced right here on casa.org, the Grammys were presented Sunday night, and we're in the midst of the ICCA/ICHSA season as well.  Awards and competitions abound!

And it's not just music that's being critiqued -- the celebrities' clothes are under scrutiny as well.  No doubt while I pen this blog entry, a myriad of other fingers are tickling the keys at magazine offices creating lists of Best Dressed and Worst Dressed.  (By the way, what was that bird outfit Paula Abdul was wearing?  Wearing '70s clothes only reminds us that her relevance is in the past.)

As my mind has been swirling over all the awards and competitions happening, a RARB forum post by a former SympVibes member known only as "milkpan" got me thinking.  He commented how much he liked the album A Little Bite of Everything, the most recent release from the tastefully named Orphan Sporks at Rutgers University.  His post expressed puzzlement over why the album was so good, and yet it received no CARA nomination.

I loved the O Sporks' album -- I gave it a nomination vote myself.  I likewise furrowed my brow when I didn't see Jessica Drennon from the UVA New Dominions on the Best Mixed Soloist list.  And how could Fork's "Leave Me Alone" not get a nod for best pop/rock song?  That song punches me in the gut.

I'll tell you the answer to all these questions.  It all comes down to TASTE.  Different people like different things.

Olympics judges have it easy -- how hard is it to determine who runs the fastest or jumps the highest?  Numbers do all the work for you.  If you've got a stopwatch and some measuring tape, you're golden.

But judging art isn't at all comparable to that.  How can you have a freaking tournament to decide who's the best at an art form?  It's not March Madness, people. (Although John Walters at NBC Sports sees a connection -- read this and this.)

Every audience member has a different opinion, just as every CARA nominator does too.  The only ways to quantify the judging process are to (1) increase the number of judges and go for the consensus, and (2) break down the performance into categories with point values.  The former de-values the opinion of outliers (like milkpan and me), and the latter loses some of the overall, natural, human, gut attraction we have to artistic expression.

Feeling this frustration, many throw up their hands and walk away from the awards world (like Chris Brown fleeing the scene of his "domestic altercation" before the police could arrive).  They say art is art, it can't be compared, live and let live.  Which is understandable.  Any system that rewards the Jonas Brothers deserves to be questioned.

But.  I say: awards have their place! They honor things that are popular, and often things that are truly excellent.  Does the lack of an award mean lack of quality?  Not necessarily.  Jessica Drennon's yummy un-nominated solo voice is evidence of that.  But notably, any artist or group that can repeatedly earn multiple awards is often worthy of laud and praise... or at least worth a listen.  Awards can serve as a proxy, saying "Look, a lot of people like this, so you should check it out."  I don't really like Off the Beat, but their repeated CARA nominations and wins means that they're worth a lot to someone.

Perhaps most importantly, awards make us strive to do our personal best in the competition against ourselves.  Although the competitions pit us against each other and compare us to our colleagues, they do force us to keep rehearsing even when we're tired, and to keep editing and mixing until we get it just right.  Catherine Papworth in Provo, Utah, is sick as a dog right now because she has put so many hours into mixing Noteworthy's sophomore album that her body is shutting down.  She won't settle for mediocrity, and her striving for excellence ultimately benefits all of us.  No doubt many of my readers can relate to late nights polishing a cappella work.

Point is: we can't scrap the system just because it's flawed.  Yes, we should recognize that awards are not the end-all be-all.  Yes, Diaz and I will continue to disagree on Mosaic's Vecchia Zimmarra remix.  But the important thing is that awards recognize excellence, make us step up our game, and at least get the discussion going!

Frankly, I hope we'll all continue to disagree.  It means diversity of thought and opinion.  It means a healthy debate.  It means we won't all be sucked into the Miley Cyrus black hole.  Until that day comes, I nominate Bill Hare for Best Dressed.


Um, I don't know what you're

Um, I don't know what you're talking about --- the Jonas Brothers are SO cute.

Christopher M. Diaz | ICCA & CARA Judge | FSU ANY '08 | Mouth Off! co-founder/host

What does it look like?

Hi! Just out of curiosity - what exactly does a CARA award look like? I see from the category and submission info that certificates and stickers will be sent to the winners. Could you post an image of them so we get to know your symbols of ultimate accomplishment? Is there a physical trophy as well, or just the certificate?

Sindre Saebo
Oslo, Norway

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