“You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!”

23 09 2010

or: How I Learned to Stop Crying and Love the Polaris (thanks to Mackie for that one)

Well, Polaris 2010 is in the books. I’m back home in Victoria at my desk here at Monday HQ and Montreal’s Karkwa took home the $20,000 prize for their album Les Chemins de Verre. And while I can’t comment on specifics of the events that occurred while the 11 of us deliberated and debated as to who would win Polaris, I can share a little bit about the process, my experience and the tears that were shed in the jury room—because they were mine.

First off, a bit about the selection process, because in the wake of the announcement of the winner it seems there’s a lot of assumptions and misconceptions about how the system works. At the beginning of the night, when the 11 jurors head into the deliberation room in the Masonic Temple (which one of my colleagues commented had a very Strangelovian feel to it, hence the post title), there are 10 albums up for the prize. Shortly after we begin, we vote and the bottom five albums are removed from contention. We discuss the remaining five, then vote again to get to three. Then we say what there is left to say about the last three albums, cast a final ballot and then join the party. The winner isn’t revealed until the end of the gala. So by the time we get down to the final three records, it’s not surprising things can get intense. A lot of people’s favourite records are out of the running and you’re left to debate the pros and cons of the excellent albums left in front of you.

Novelty cheque photo op!

Sitting there in that jury room, getting down to the wire of how to rank those last three records, was really overwhelming for me personally. I was torn as to which way to cast my vote. We’d been debating these records for two days. Everyone came to the table with passionate, heartfelt arguments. I’m by nature a pretty sensitive person, so yeah, I shed a couple tears (honestly, it wasn’t a total breakdown or freak out or anything). It wasn’t because people in the jury room were being disrespectful, or I was upset about the albums that didn’t make the cut or anything like that. As cheesy as it sounds, I, like the rest of the jurors in the room, just felt really strongly about making the best decision I could.

Why admit to something so embarrassing? I guess I just wanted to convey what an amazing, challenging experience this was for me—it was definitely a career highlight. Maybe part of the motivation was to dispel the misconception that the jury goes in there and has a big groupthink session about picking the record that will make the biggest statement or cause the most controversy or win someone who bet on the various odds that were floated in the leadup to the gala a whole lot of money or something like that. I can honestly say everything said in that room about the albums in question was about the music and their artistic merit.

So yeah, I’m an over-feeling, sappy wuss. Deal with it.

How do I feel about the final decisions? I’m stoked Karkwa won. As an English-speaker from Western Canada, I will fully admit I had barely heard of the band before their appearance on the long list, and upon delving into it as part of my jury duties, it really grew on me. It’s a beautiful, haunting record that can make your soul ache. I hope this win means other people connect to this record the way I did—and that they’ll maybe tour out our way sometime soon.

So thanks, Polaris. Thanks Steve Jordan and Liisa Ladouceur for inviting me to come out and have this experience. That was the most time I’ve ever spent in Toronto (embarrassing, I know!) and I had such a wonderful time. Thanks to my fellow jury members (Jenny, Leah, Rob, Marc, Francois, Andre, Del, Jonathan, Jian and Phillipe) for the great conversations, whether they were about the 10 records up for debate or just about our industry in general. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Now, back to reality—with a bit more of a spring in my step and inspiration in my day-to-day.

~Amanda

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