Who is Caroline Shaw?

Her work has spread across multiple genres, winning her a Pulitzer prize along the way, but who is Caroline Shaw? How would you describe her music? Here is everything you need to know about the American composer and performer

Published: June 28, 2022 at 1:27 pm

Who is Caroline Shaw?

Caroline Shaw is an American composer, singer and violinist , who, at 30, became the youngest ever musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music (in 2013) for her a cappella piece Partita for 8 Voices.

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When and where was she born?

Shaw was born on 1 August 1982 in Greenville, North Carolina

What is her work like?

What isn't it like?! If there's one thing you could say about Shaw's artistic approach is that it's all-inclusive. Her Pulitzer-prize-winning Partita stops at nothing to demonstrate exactly what a mouth and pair of lungs are capable of, with whispers, speech, wordless melodies, sighs, a touch of Inuit throat singing - and that's just the start. Over the years she has collaborated with rappers Kanye West and Nas, soprano Renée Fleming, mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, pianist Jonathan Biss. And she'll cheerfully take just about anything from any genre that takes her fancy, with bonus sounds from ceramics, plucked piano strings, flowerpots, you name it.

How did she get into music?

She started playing the violin with the Suzuki method when she was two years old. Her first violin teacher was her mother, who was also a singer. But she was soon tempted by other opportunities for music-making. She joined the choir at her family's local Episcopal church and started experimenting with composition at summer music camps.

Where did she train?

Initially at Houston's Rice University and the Yale School of Music – for degrees in violin performance. But she remained passionate about writing music of her own. So, despite having no formal training in composition, she managed to win a fellowship that allowed her to practise writing string quartets in England. Later, on moving to New York, she immersed herself in the world of 'indie-classical', inhabited by the likes of Nico Muhly and Missy Mazzoli, whose preference for writing tonal, approachable contemporary classical music, and presenting it with a band-like attitude, chimed with her own. In 2010, she entered Princeton University as a student on the PhD programme in composition.

Who has performed her music?

Roomful of Teeth, Sō Percussion, American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), the Mark Morris Dance Group Ensemble, Bretano Quartet and many others. She often sings songs that she has written herself.

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Where should I start with her music?

Probably with her 2017 album 'Narrow Sea', an exploration of folk songs written for Sō Percussion, Dawn Upshaw and Gilbert Kalish; and her 2019 album of string quartet pieces, 'Orange', performed by the Attacca Quartet.

Authors

Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.

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