As we approach the 38th O2 Silver Clef Awards in aid of music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins, it got me thinking about how we celebrate music.
My friend Jerry is a music teacher in New York City. He just got nominated for a Grammy Award. Did you know that there is a Grammy for Best Music Educator? Neither did I. But my buddy got himself on the short list. As the list of awardable musical achievements expands to include teaching, it's only a matter of time before social change becomes a regular category for music awards too. It makes me wonder, who would I nominate for that award? And why?
Maybe the unfairly handsome Gustavo Dudamel, Musical Director of the Simón Bolivar Orchestra might be worth a mention, for his extraordinary gifts of engaging and inspiring young people in economic and social hardship. Barenboim and the late Edward Said also spring to mind when we think about how music can bring people together. And if I can twang over to the other end of the spectrum, I start to think that the glorious high camp of Eurovision must have had some social impact, beyond the hysterical joy that ravishing Romanian countertenor gave us this year.
I'm not wondering which musicians give most to charity, or bring most exposure to good causes (although some, like Annie Lennox are just genius at it - which was recognized by Nordoff Robbins with a Silver Clef Award in 2011) but which musicians have used music itself to act out new ways of living or seeing things. There were times in our history when songs, festivals or events seemed to change the world. Our cultural landscape wasn't the same after Band Aid, which in fact truly was the first record I ever bought, and probably the first concert I ever saw.
Beck might deserve an award, for - like Radiohead in years gone by - imaginatively side-stepping industrial expectations and liberating his music in a brilliant and beautiful way in Song Reader. And of the many viral examples, who on youtube would you celebrate for sheer game-changing social omnipresence?
In my own personal music awards I would give a gong to Glastonbury's Michael Eavis, but for his year off - not because I have anything against Glastonbury but because silence also is golden, and I love the idea of musical fallow time. I'd award the telephone engineer who arranged for Paul Robeson to talk to those Welsh miners from his exile in New York, and to the spokesman of the miners who organized for him to sing over the phone at their Eistedfodd, and for them to sing with their trumpetingly choral male voices back to him (if you don't know that story, check it out. It's amazing).
And thinking of choirs, I'd celebrate every community choir leader in the UK, en masse, and maybe get them all to make an acceptance speech at the same time. Community choirs, despite being literally all the rage, are the musical equivalent of allotments. They feel like a luxury, but they grow something we actually can't live without. I would arrange awards to be privately delivered, fanfare-free perhaps, to those tireless music therapists, like those from Nordoff Robbins, who bring music to women in prisons, to children living with cancer, to families dealing with dementia, to teenagers coping with homophobia and bullying and lots more people.
We all use music to help us get through life, and to enhance its good bits. What music therapists are good at is bringing that power of music to people who - for many reasons - can't claim it for themselves. Nordoff Robbins might deserve celebrating too, for growing this use of music, protecting it, and perhaps for reminding us what music is really there for.
Finally, thinking about my mate Jerry, I want to nominate my music therapy teacher too. She taught me that music is a whole world of experience, and that when you offer someone music, you can transform their life. That feels like something really worth celebrating.
The O2 Silver Clef Awards, raising funds for Nordoff Robbins takes place on Friday 28 June 2013. For more information visit nordoff-robbins.org.uk