Herbie Hancock, the Muppets, and You

I realize that the Grammys have been over for more than a week now, but I wanted to put a few final thoughts down for the 50th Annual Grammy Awards and, in particular, the kids music field...

I've already shared with you Buck Howdy's thoughts on his trip to the awards, but Buck wasn't the only one visiting. Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer paid a visit, too. The duo has won Grammys before, and Cathy was a nominee this year for Best Traditional Folk Album, with Banjo Talkin'. They attended a number of events and took a bunch of photos. I don't think I ever quite appreciated how much like a convention the Grammys are for the music industry.

And my friend Joel Rinsema, executive director for the Phoenix Bach Choir, nominated for five Grammys along with the Kansas City Choir, did win one award, sort of -- Best Engineered Album, Classical, which goes to the engineer. Still, that's a "Grammy Winner!" sticker they can slap on the CD. "We are thrilled," says Joel, who goes on to say...

"We had an absolute blast at the Grammys. The whole thing was surreal; from the Biltmore Hotel, to the pre-telecast and telecast award ceremonies and of course the post-Grammy bash (the bash looked more like the set from the movie Caligula, to be honest!). It was especially exciting sitting with 80 other people who were there for our nominations. I can definitely say that people knew which disc we were pulling for, especially when the winner was announced for best engineered classical album. I don't think John Newton, our engineer on "Passion Week" expected the eruption that happened when his name was called as the winner. It was a thrilling ride to be on, but to be honest it feels good to have it all behind us. Some have said "congratulations and condolences" (we didn't take home the REAL big awards - Best Classical or Choral Performance). My response is "are you crazy!? We are THRILLED that our disc won a Grammy!" It truly was an honor and we look forward to the next time our hard work is recognized in this manner. It is not the reason we do what we do, but it certainly is gratifying to be recognized for making the right decisions and producing high-quality art."

But you can't talk about this year's Grammys without talking about Herbie Hancock's stunning Album of the Year win for River: The Joni Letters, beating contenders such as Kanye West and saving Amy Winehouse from winning the Christopher Cross slate (AOTY, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best New Artist). Most of the criticism of the win seemed to be along the lines of, "not popular enough, from an artist way past their artistic peak."

Sound familiar? Yeah, I had the same thought many of you may have had when I read who won Sunday afternoon for best children's music recording -- the Muppets? Not to mention a Christmas album? You've got to be kidding me.
I then reconsidered, for a number of reasons. First, and primarily, I haven't actually heard the album. I've heard the other four nominees, but not that one. So criticizing the selection does seem a little... hollow on my part.

Having said that, I've always thought that Grammy awards should either be critically recognized or achieve sizable popularity through sales. Common Sense Media reviewed the album well, but it's unclear if anybody else did. And I have no idea how well it sold. But then again, it may very well have sold better than everything else.

And, really, in the end, it all comes down -- in this election season especially -- to the voting rules. The rules on the Grammy website are a little vague, but it basically comes down to, no, a whole bunch of people who know nothing about kids music are not voting on the categories. Voters are required to limit the categories they vote on to 8 or 9 out of the 31 currently available (the two awards comprising kid audio make up one of those 31 categories). It's possible that some people are taking a lark, but how much can that differ from somebody who votes in the Polka category for kicks?

No, I think it basically comes down to who's voting, and who's getting CDs, with a touch of special affinity. To the extent that Disney has a number of staff who, through production credits or other ways, become members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, they can vote in a block. And, frankly, it probably doesn't take much of a block to get them to win. And, to the extent that Disney can send out promo CDs to a much broader range of listeners than, say, an indie like Buck Howdy can, that makes their job easier.

It's for these two reasons that I figured that Peter Himmelman had a decent shot at winning. Meaning, he recorded My Green Kite for Rounder, a label which is not unfamiliar with this process, and he probably had a lot of fans who might not have otherwise voted in the kids' category.

But speaking of green objects, it's hard to compete with Kermit the Frog. I saw Jim Henson's Fantastic World this weekend, an exhibit the Smithsonian is helping to put on and taking across the country, and it's fascinating to me how, even nearly 20 years after his death, Henson's creations have this amazing hold on the American psyche. (It's a very good exhibit, worth attending when it swings by your city.) Even if A Green and Red Christmas is a pale imitation of what came 20 or 30 years before (and, again, I have no idea), it's not totally surprising in retrospect that enough people voted for the album to give it the victory.

The solution, if you don't like the end result, is pretty simple. Sign up to become a voting member of NARAS and do as much lobbying as possible once you get nominated.

Of course, actually implementing that solution might not be quite so simple...

Thoughts, anyone?