Thoughts on Shaw’s Accessibility.

Chris Beroes-Haigis

Caroline Shaw is a living composer who stands apart from many of her predecessors with her accessibility to a wide audience, her clear communication of musical ideas, and her clean musical textures. Caroline Shaw’s compositional values, in fact, point towards music’s ability to communicate. In particular, she revels in the fact that music communicates things that cannot be expressed with words. While some of her music does have lyrics, her music communicates clearly and succinctly to a listener what spoken language cannot. Shaw evokes instrumental and harmonic colors particularly reminiscent of Philip Glass or Arvo Pärt, mixed with a clear nod towards Appalachian or Nordic folk traditions in terms of character and texture. Her recent album, Orange, recorded by the Attacca Quartet, quickly reminded me of another album, Last Leaf, an album of Nordic folk tunes arranged and recorded by the Danish String Quartet. Her chord voicings are more than often quite transparent. Her main musical material is kept present throughout a given piece, without too many added layers moving simultaneously, so it is quite easy to hear how each element of her music interacts. When she “shifts gears”, or moves to a new section, it is done in a readily understandable way that has a polished narrative. Overall, the affect of her music is delightful, lighthearted, and agreeable to the ear.

It is not a surprise then, that her music is decidedly “accessible” to a wide audience. She is widely recognized as a rising star in both the contemporary, classical and pop music spheres. She won a Grammy Award with her group Roomful of Teeth, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize (one of the most coveted classical music honors) for her composition Partita for 8 Voices, and has been involved in numerous collaborations with the famed Hip-Hop artist, Kanye West. Shaw’s ability to attract a wide audience is rooted in the way she values a clear communication of musical ideas. While her compositions range in complexity, intensity and intended audience, Shaw mostly stands in contrast to the academic or cerebral nature of some traditional Western composers of the 20th century. In some cases, such as with Roger Sessions, Elliott Carter, Charles Ives, or Charles Wuorinen, she actually shares the honor of winning a Pulitzer, but Shaw’s music could not be any more different. While the Pulitzer could be considered an elitist organization — perhaps more so in the past than in the present — Shaw is actually the perfect example of a composer who counters the entitled, snobby, unapproachable, and isolated reputation that the traditional Western classical music world often holds. When describing the compositional process for her Pulitzer Award winning piece Partita for 8 Voices, she recalled: “I’d just spent a year playing all this thorny contemporary music. And I remember thinking, ‘All I want to hear is just one chord.’ So that was the beginning of the piece, how to make that one thing I wanted to hear.”

After listening to a number of examples of Shaw’s music, I noticed that transitions and “gear changes” are Shaw’s definite strong points. She is acutely perceptive of the passage of time in her music, especially during moments of tension and release. She explained, when speaking on tension and release in her music: “To get there, you have to sort of lead into it with a particular kind of energy so that shift has meaning. It wasn’t just random. There’s something that’s been built up and stretched, and then there’s this real tension. If you just pull it just enough, it’s so amazing. And then you’re like: ‘Boom!” I think that this very quote sums up Shaw’s effervescent musical personality. She brings an almost a Mozartian joy to her music and does not seem to take her occupation too seriously. In the context of many of the heady, cerebral, and inaccessible composers of the 20th century, Caroline Shaw is a beautiful breath of fresh air. It is a perfect entry point for those who will want to learn which pieces Shaw quotes unapologetically in her music such as Ravel’s String Quartet in F major in the middle of Plan & Elevation or Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion in Punctum. For many, Caroline Shaw’s music is a wide open invitation to the classical world that makes no harsh judgements, requires no acquired tastes, and treats everyone’s intellects equally.


Anderson, Stacey. “Is Caroline Shaw Really the Future of Music?” The Guardian, June 9th, 2016, New York.

New Music USA, “Shaw: Yes, a Composer, but Perhaps not a Baker!” YouTube, March 2nd, 2015.

Woolfe, Zachary. “With Pulitzer, She Became a Composer”, The New York Times, April 17th, 2013, New York.

Barone, Joshua. “Three Composers on the Necessity and Pitfalls of Political Music”, The  New York Times, Nov. 10th, 2017, New York.

North Carolina Symphony. “Five Questions with Composer and Musician Caroline Shaw”, YouTube, March 15th, 2017.

Red Scare Sketchbook

Leroy Medina 3/3/2019

David T. Little

Red Scare Sketchbook (2005)

For Baritone Saxophone and Percussion

Having no prior knowledge of who David Little is or what his music is like, I was immediately taken back by the gun-like bang from the bass drum as a first note. The bass drum continues to be the only voice present at the beginning, setting a tempo for the piece. The next voice that enters caught me by surprise because the baritone sax aggressively enters with multiphoinics. These overtone-filled multiphoincs act as the melody of the piece. Throughout the music, percussion is used to create different colors by mixing the timbres of metal instruments such as the triangle and symbols with the baritone sax overtones. Additionally, Little includes the bass drum in the background as a way to keep time, allowing the listener to follow the music more clearly.

The second movement is filled with extended techniques for both the baritone sax and percussion. First, the percussion begins the piece with, what sounds like, a typewriter. The typewriter begins at a brisk tempo with dotted sixteenth and sixteenth note rhythms. Then, the baritone sax enters with an extended technique called slap tonguing. This technique is used to create a popping sound with a hint of the pitch of the note the player may be fingering while executing this technique. The picture this moment first creates for me is of someone rushing around at work. More specifically, a journalist office full of fast typing employees. Little’s orchestration is much larger in this movement compared to the first. He uses a marimba, bass drum, a harmonica, and other metallic instrument that create different colors. However, Little continues to use the bass drum, serving its main purpose of keeping the time.

This work is what some listeners might call contemporary because of its lack of tonality. However, there are more connections to the past than one might think. Little incorporates different percussion instruments that are used in common western practices. For example, in the last movement of this work a marimba is used played with traditional techniques instead of a typewriter. Although slap tonguing is not a conventional technique of classical Western practices, there is a melody and a sense of tonality with the sounds that instrument was creating. As for the form, there is an ABA form in the second movement that is apparent. After the start of the slap tongue section or the A’ section, a new section is introduced with multiphonics making this the B’ section. Finally, the melody with the slap tonguing returns making this the A’ section.

All in all, even though David Little composes music that takes time to understand, there are hints of the past to keep you rooted to Western classical compositions.

Vesper Sparrow

Missy Mazzoly

Vesper Sparrow (2012)

For chamber choir

            At the first moment I heard Missy Mazzoly’s Vesper Sparrow, I was immediately attracted by the way the voices evoked the sounds of nature. As its title suggests, the purpose of this piece is to represent the vesper sparrow´s song. The bird sings from the top of a bush, or another high place to demarcate its territory. Its song begins with two pairs of repeated notes and ends with a series of guttural trills. This pattern can be heard throughout most of the piece.

            The texture is polyphonic most of the time, but there are homophonic moments in the beginning, middle, and closing sections. This variety of textures, plus the timbres and colors created by the combination of syllables and vowel shapes in different voices, envelops the listener in a relaxing and satisfying sonic environment. Each section of the choir has a role. The melody is primarily carried by the sopranos, who introduce a rhythmic motive that is later echoed by the other sections. The bass section acts as an accompaniment, forming chords in imitation of the bird’s guttural sounds during climactic moments of the piece. The alto section acts as harmonic and melodic support for the soprano and bass. The tenors have the same role as the altos, in addition to taking over the melody from the sopranos in certain sections of the piece.

            It is difficult to establish the style of this piece because its structure isn’t obvious. When I heard the music for the first time, it gave me the impression that there was no tonal center, or that these were changes between tonal centers. However, as it developed further, it was easy to identify a tonal center and harmonic functions.

Talking about the elaborate choral voicing is essential. Having listened to the work several times I only find two possibilities: SSAATTBB or SSAATBBB. I arrived at these formations by taking into account the colors and timbres present in the work. I am inclined to hear it as an SSAATBBB arrangement, due to the predominance of the bass in the male voice, which serves as accompaniment to the melody carried by the sopranos and tenors. Although this formation (SSAATBBB) is not typical in traditional choral arrangements (since it can cause balance and blend issues between choir sections), in this piece there is a perfect balance between sections. Several points help to identify a choir with perfect balance. The shape of the vowels, the onset of the notes, and the number of members in the choir are in my opinion the essential points for a good balance and blend. Other important points are the coordination of breaths and the use of consonants, among others.

            I do not find this piece strongly connected with western music traditions. However, there are specific characteristics, such as the pursuit of a tonal center and functional harmonies which are related to the practices of western music. The use of the tenor and alto voices as support and as harmonic connectors, the bass as an accompaniment, and the soprano as the main melody are directly related to the traditional practices of western music. These characteristics reminds me some on Johannes Brahms´ works. The use of baroque era practices but adding new compositional techniques gives  Missy Mazzoli’s work the best of both sides, old and new.

Alejandro Carrillo Pastrana

Nico Muhly and the Anglican music tradition

Nico Muhly has grown as a composer and has gained fame in the world of contemporary music in recent years. He has received commissions from the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, St. Paul’s Cathedral, among others. Nico Muhly is an active collaborator in the choral tradition of the Anglican church writing works such as Bright mass with canons, Looking Up, among others. His collaboration with the church has given it  an update on the sacred music composition method without breaking its stricter rules.

Sacred choral music is initially designed for the service of the church, with simple musical form and language so that the people can sing in the service. Nico Muhly uses minimalist ideas to change sacred music. However, without breaking the essence of sacred music, he manages to create a work for service and performance following the norms of the Sacrosanctum Concilium. ¨When I compose, I find myself returning to this tradition, particularly as it relates to creating musical drama without a Romantic sense of ebb and flow leading to a climactic moment. You can have a thrilling 90 seconds with roller-coaster harmonies focusing on two words only, followed by a single line of plainchant, followed by counterpoint outlining harmonies entirely at variance with what we would understand to be the rules. “[1]Muhly clearly expresses respect and the understanding of the rules, but what is mentioned again is the precise combination of new ideas with the old traditions. This idea reveals THE influence oF romantic composers like Brahms, who created works returning to the traditions of the folk music, a good example on that are Brahms´ 49 Volkslieder.

A clear example of this is in his Bright Mass with Canons. Muhly uses influences from composers such as Byrd and Weelkes in his work in addition to using his method in the creation of this work. The composer uses minimalist canons in combination with the structure of the sacred liturgy to create a spatial and perfect work for the service. However, also ideal for performance, becoming part of the standard repertoire of professional choirs, because it can be perfromed in concert at the Cathedrals or any space that shares the same acoustic.

A Good Understanding is aspecialized work for performance that respects  the use of the biblical text. Based on two psalms of the Bible, Muhly mentions that this is a work that evokes the reward for obeying the rules — composed initially to share the program for children’s mass. This piece Follows the form of the psalm in the mass. Divided into two halves, this work help the people to understand the norms of the church, and to thank for the good things obtained thanks on how it is structured and also because it is easy for th audience to hear.

No doubt Nico Muhly is not only one of the highest representatives of contemporary classical music, but also of Anglican music. Like other composers of his time, it will not be known if Muhly’s versatility will have any limits.

Alejandro Carrillo Pastrana


Muhly Nico. ¨A Good Understanding.¨ The web site of nico Muhly. (accessed April 16, 2019).

Muhly Nico. ¨Bright Mass with Canons.¨ The web site of Nico Muhly. (accessed April 15, 2019).

Muhly Nico. ¨Biography.¨ The web site of Nico Muhly.

(accessed April 15, 2019).

Muhly Nico. ¨Nico Muhly on Why Choral Music Is Slow Food for the Soul.¨ New York Times, April 1, 2017.

Muhly Nico. ¨Nico Muhly: the Power of Taverner´s soul music.¨ The Guardian.

(accessed April 14, 2019).

[1] Muhly Nico, ¨Nico Muhly on Why Choral Music Is Slow Food for the Soul,¨ New York Times, April 1, 2017.

Dress in magic amulets, dark, from My feet

Alejandro Carrillo Pastrana

Dress in magic amulets, dark, from My feet (2016)

Choir and chamber orchestra

Dress in magic amulets, dark, from My feet, is a piece of music in which meditation space drew all my attention. The piece is saturated with dissonances and unisons, and shows a good number of contrasting timbres. During the piece, it is easy to identify general layers in terms of which ensembles are present. I heard two layers: Orchestra and Choir. When the two layers split into more specific ones, like orchestral and choral sections, it is almost impossible to identify those sections. Because of the split, the choir remains in a unison That is present in the first part of the piece, while the orchestra plays stable long notes in the background before it starts to play a duet along with the choir.

A very important characteristic of the entire piece is how these organic and artificial timbral combinations create a homophonic texture. In order to make those characteristic timbres, the composer uses electronic instruments like electric guitar and keyboard in combination with the orchestra. This use of electric instruments represents a common characteristic of this composer. There are some moments when the dynamics in the choir create different phrase shapes in order to enhance the harmonic tension. Those climax points create a deeper connection with the text. Another characteristic is the lack of rhythm.  Regarding rhythm, the lack of rhythmic patterns helps to maintain the homophonic texture, but there are moments in the climax points when the percussion creates a contrasting polyphonic texture with a contrapuntual mix of rhythms.

As a singer and choral conductor, I found it interesting how the choir keeps the balance and blend perfectly to sound as one voice, even when there are constant changes of colors. There is an evident connection between dynamics and vowel contrast. Every time that the dynamics rise, the vowel shape starts to become wider and open and it goes back to being more closed and taller when it goes soft. Something important that I realized is that sometimes I cannot identify what the text means. This is because the choir took out the vibrato and connects each vowel by just touching the consonants to maintain the texture. After I realized that, I decided to look at the text. It is written in the libretto format. I discovered that the text is not long. This challenges the performer to express the meaning of it and make the diction clear to the listener.

I found this piece not fully representative of the classical western choral tradition. The use of unusual orchestration it is not part of the classical western music traditions. But the repetitive change of vowel shape, and the lack of clarity in the text put it in another stream of the choral repertoire which it can be related to the western choral tradition. It is necessary to add that the use of non-vibrato is a common tool in the contemporary and classical choral repertoire. I was impressed by the beauty and complexity of this work. This inspires me in to look and learn more about this really talented composer.

Bridging the g a p.

Violinist, vocalist and composer Caroline Shaw has made quite a name for herself in the classical music world as well as in pop music. Her music has been in the spotlight since she won the Pulitzer Prize for her Partita for Eight Voices in 2013. Her achievement drew much attention from prominent musicians and music critics, as she was the youngest ever Pulitzer Prize winner in the music category. She has been called a “modern Mozart” for her skills as a vocalist and violinist, as well as her style of composition, which has a connection to the old classical tradition. In another sense, she is being called “the future of music.” Her early fame has caught the attention of artists in the popular genre. One of these artists, Kanye West, has become a collaborator with Shaw, combining the elements of her music with his to create a completely new sound.

After her Pulitzer was awarded to her, West reached out to her to create a remix of his 2008 song Say You Will, from the album 808s and Heartbreaks. During the Democratic National Committee Fundraiser, Kanye West was scheduled to perform. Shaw appeared on the stage before him, as a sort of surprise for the audience. After she began performing, West then joined her on stage. This was the first public performance of the two together. The composer states that she was excited to work with West because of his artistic approach to music making and his unpredictability. She stated that he likes to try different ideas together and keeps tweaking them until he creates something new and unique.

This first collaboration led to many more. They have now been working together for multiple years, collaborating on both older tracks and creating remixes to create new tracks. Shaw’s arrangements have also been used in live performances. Her vocal writing style is prominent in their collaborations and adds drama to some of his live performances. This has also allowed his audience to be exposed to a new type of classical style, one that is not as traditional but is still smart, creative, and innovative. Her style adds new sounds and textures and helps create a whole new atmosphere for pop artists.

Through these collaborations, Caroline Shaw is bridging a gap between those who enjoy pop music and those who enjoy classical music. Through my own personal experience, I have noticed that once I find something online that interests me, it usually guides me to further research in the topic, or it is recommended to me by other websites based on my interests. Because of these recommendations, Shaw’s music has the ability to expose those who enjoy pop music to the classical world. Her new classical style could be the gate to combining the two genres together.

-Michelle Shaheen

Works cited:
Allen, David. “A Composer Who Finds the Soft Sighs in Haydn.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Dec 08, 2015, (accessed April 29, 2019).

Anderson, Stacey. “Is Caroline Shaw Really the Future of Music?” The Guardian. June 09, 2016. (accessed April 30, 2019).

Articulate. “Caroline Shaw: Of Carnegie and Kanye.” Articulate. April 10, 2018. (accessed April 29, 2019).

Martin, Katherine. “DePauw’s School of Music: Interview with Caroline Shaw.” Youtube, September 29, 2014. (accessed April 29, 2019).

Tommasini, Anthony. “The Pulitzer Prize was Nice and all, but a Work is Finally Fully Heard.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Nov 06, 2013, (accessed April 30, 2019).

Tsioulcas, Anastasia. “Caroline Shaw, 30, Wins Pulitzer For Music.” NPR. April 15, 2013. (accessed April 30, 2019).

Euphonious Amalgamation

From Kevin Puts to Nico Muhly, the once unexplored musical territories of the 21st century have finally been heard with mindful ears and has led me to a growing appreciation of this music these past months. Previously, I had the expectation that all 21st century music (contemporary music) had to consist of unfamiliar timbres and out-of-the-ordinary musical structures that challenged classical music from the 19th-century. The fixation on the stark differences that distinguished traditional classical music from contemporary music piqued my interest, however. I should have not just targeted the contrasts of character and style between musical eras, but rather find the similarities between them as well. Caroline Shaw’s compositions, though considered “tamer” than other 21st-century compositions, allows for the past and present to blend together in a manner that effectively grabs people’s attention. From using a range of vocal timbres, cluster chords, and classical forms, Shaw embraces the qualities of traditional classical styles while creating her own voice which can be seen in her work Partita for 8 Voices.

To clarify musical era styles, traditional classical music is identified as Western music that spans from the Medieval Era of Gregorian chant to the last, dramatic breaths of the Romantic Era. On the other hand, contemporary classical music is current music that tends to have influences of traditional Western styles and modernized (eclectic) styles that create a fusion of familiar, yet distinct sounds. During the 20th century, composers and musicians began to break the traditional harmonies and structures of classical music. Tonality in the 20th-century began to shift into the atonal realm, polyrhythms were more common, and instrumentation could include electronics and simple, everyday objects for their timbre and usage. In the 21st-century, I assert that music eventually met half way between the experimental, modern phase, and traditions of the past to create what we now know as “contemporary music” which can be found in Shaw’s compositions.

Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices is a four-movement work named after Baroque dances, yet most listeners will be surprised during their first hearing of this unique composition. Since there is an expectation for the work to reference Baroque dances, it is a bit confusing to hear the movement “Allemande” beginning with voices that rhythmically speak about directions until it bursts into chords. Throughout the work, we are introduced to a variety of vocal timbres as Shaw makes use of as many sounds that can be created by the oral cavity. While we may have expected only clear vocals and chords, Shaw has the performers sing in different vocal timbres such as grunts, Tuvan throat singing, rhythmically recited words, gurgles, sighs, and heavily panted breaths. While the work is rather eclectic in nature, Shaw does make references to Baroque dances as the “Allemande” movement is in 4/4 time and has a characteristic “allemande rhythm” of two pick-up 16th notes that lead into a measure (found within the recited voices in the beginning of the piece). Although the work may have a mix of unusual timbres, there are vocals that are based off traditional classical music. Overall, Shaw allows for the listener to experience a wonderful amalgamation of sounds and “extended techniques” that carry classical music references and traditions.

– Ashley Venegas


“20th Century and Beyond.” Classic FM. (accessed April 29, 2019).

“Caroline Shaw Partita for 8 Voices.” YouTube Video, 25:40. Posted by “Chris Edwards,” February 22, 2014. (accessed April 30, 2019).

“Music of the 20th Century.” Lumen. (accessed April 29, 2019).

Revelle Team. “Contemporary Classical Music Genres.” Connolly Music. (accessed April 29, 2019).

“Suite.” Lumen. (accessed April 30, 2019).

Mclean, Edwin. “Understanding Contemporary Music.” American Music Teacher 27, no. 1 (1977): 17. (accessed April 29, 2019).

Murphy, Howard A. “Judgment Values for Contemporary Music.” Music Educators Journal 37, no. 4 (1951): 34-36. (accessed April 29, 2019).

Nicholas, Jeremy. “A Brief History of Classical Music.” Gramophone. (accessed April 29, 2019).

Pàmies, Joan Arnau. “New Music is Not (Necessarily) Contemporary Music.” NMBX. (accessed April 29, 2019).

Pogue, David and Speck, Scott. “Exploring the Classical Music of the 21st Century.” Dummies. (accessed April 29, 2019).

Tsioulcas, Ana. “Caroline Saw, 30, Wins Pulitzer For Music.” NPR. (accessed April 29, 2019).


Amy Miller

The 21st century composers I have researched this semester all tend to share one factor in their music; cultural relevancy. The questions that surround relevancy in music are:  1) How does a composer keep his or her music relevant amidst the ever-changing music tastes of our society?  2) Can one compose in a musically relevant manner while simultaneously making the music likable, relatable, and up-to-date with the current times and events taking place around us?  Caroline Shaw has answered those questions through the newly released album, Orange (April 2019) featuring the Attacca Quartet, which is devoted to her single-movement string quartets. Caroline Shaw uses the string quartet to re-connect with the classical tradition while innovating and developing the genre to make classical music more accessible and appealing to a broader audience.

Caroline Shaw was classically trained in Greenville, South Carolina. She began playing violin at the age of two, studying with her mother. In high school, Shaw formed the Atticus Quartet, where she played violin and occasionally composed music for the group. As Shaw’s recognition as a composer progressed, her writing style became more distant from the classical tradition. After winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2019, Shaw received numerous commissions for both traditional and unorthodox instrumentations and settings. Nevertheless, she kept going back to the string quartet format to keep herself grounded in the classical tradition. “It’s like a check-in point for me, something that I always have cooking on the stove. Writing quartets is the thing I come back to after my other projects take me in different directions.”

The album Orange represents a new partnership between the Nonesuch and New Amsterdam labels. This partnership serves as a platform for contemporary composers to share and promote their works. This album featured the Attacca Quartet playing a collection of Caroline Shaw’s un-commissioned string quartets in an effort to shed light on works written by a living composer. These works sound fresh and unlike any other string quartets from the standard repertoire. Caroline Shaw sometimes uses traditional forms, such as minuet and trio, while incorporating extended techniques, odd meters, contemporary harmonies, unusual textures, and a variety of timbres and colors. Within all of this complexity, her music is very consonant and easy to listen to. Her tasteful use of old and new concepts has successfully appealed to a wide range of audiences. Shaw’s music on the album Orange has spread her success as an established contemporary composer and created a new face to the traditional string quartet ensemble, bringing awareness to those who don’t normally listen to classical music.

In conclusion, Caroline Shaw’s music is inventive and creative, it can be enjoyed by musically trained people as well as non-musically trained people. It is easy to listen to, complex, and fun. Her colorful textures are vivid in the sense that they evoke many emotions and it gives the listener a sense of a story line, making her one of the great contemporary composers of today’s world.


Changing the Mold of Contemporary Classical Music

Caroline Shaw, a 36 year old Pulitzer Prize winner, has taken the classical music world by storm. Shaw is a vocalist, violinist and composer whose music reflects the past, Western art classical tradition, while keeping up with the expectations and trends of today. Most importantly, one does not need “to have a PhD in Ligeti to understand her language.”[1] Shaw strives for simplicity and beauty above all, creating aurally pleasing music the audience can relate to. What enhances this connection between Shaw and the audience are her collaborations with notable indie-rock and hip hop artists, such as Arcade Fire and Kanye West.[2] These projects have put her in the spotlight of the music scene, pushing her away from the idea of genre labeling and towards the image of a well-rounded, diverse artist she truly is. Shaw’s success lies in her “complete disinterest in musical boundaries”,[3] as well as the aura of approachability and familiarity she transcends, whether through her music or personality. People tend to naturally gravitate towards what is pleasant and enjoyable. Shaw is fulfilling those familiar desires by stepping away from the expectations of what contemporary classical music should be and creating music that the “common man” can enjoy.

In the modern world, there is a constant push for progress and the creation of a completely original product, resulting in ever-increasing complexity. In music however, these values do not always apply. People have a tendency to be drawn toward the aesthetic: the beautiful, the pleasing, the consonant, creating the theory that “a preference for simple tonality is wired into the human brain.”[4] Even though Shaw does occasionally provide short snippets of the “avant-garde”, she does so gracefully. For the most part, her writing style reflects the Classical era of music with its simple form, phrasing and an incredibly transparent texture. By employing a “Mozart-like” sense of craft and melodic line[5], Shaw fulfills this desire for lyricism and comprehension, resulting in an enjoyable atmosphere for the common listener to connect to. By stepping away from the somewhat frequent ambiguity that captures a majority of the contemporary classical music world, Shaw is gaining popularity and serves as proof that one does not need to compose incredibly complex works in order to be acknowledged and recognized.

Much of Shaw’s success lies not only in how well she incorporates different eras of classical music in her writing, but also in how brilliantly she merges the worlds of popular music, whether folk, indie rock or hip hop, with her classically trained background. Shaw states “that she writes for performers who share her love of music, not to satisfy scholastic norms.”[6] With this complete push away from genre labeling, she utilizes the freedom to experiment with artists who have different attitudes toward music, doing away with the misconception of what 21st century classical music should be. With these collaborations, Shaw is creating music that is accessible to all, and is serving as a protagonist of what the future might hold for classical music.

In order for classical music to stay relevant, it needs to become “ordinary and accessible to everyone.”[7], whether through composing in a similar fashion to the “Greats” and reiterating the already familiar ideas to the audience, or by merging classical music with other popular genres. Caroline Shaw is leading this charge by removing the elitism and complexity tied to the conception of classical music, proving that one does not need to produce the most perplexing, intricate works to be successful. Sometimes, simplicity is the key. With a focus on this, Caroline Shaw is helping to redefine classical music by creating pleasant and indiscriminate works to be enjoyed by all.

Ivana Biliskov


Anderson, Stacey. “Is Caroline Shaw Really the Future of Music?” The Guardian. June 09, 2016.

Accessed April 30, 2019.

Greene, Jayson. “Meet Composer Caroline Shaw, Kanye West’s New Pulitzer

Prize-Winning Collaborator.” Pitchfork. October 20, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Hambrick, Jennifer. “A Conversation with Pulitzer Prize-Winning Composer Caroline Shaw, Part

2.” WOSU Radio. March 29, 2018. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Ross, Alex. “Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music? | Alex Ross.” The Guardian. November

28, 2010. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Schiavo, Paul. “Caroline Shaw: A Pulitzer Prize Is Just the Beginning.” Seattle Symphony.

January 28, 2019. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Wang, Juan. “Classical Music: A Norm of “Common” Culture Embedded in Cultural

Consumption and Cultural Diversity.” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 47, no. 2 (2016): 195-205.

[1] Stacey Anderson, “Is Caroline Shaw Really the Future of Music?” The Guardian, June 09, 2016, Accessed April 30, 2019,  

[2] Jayson Greene,  “Meet Composer Caroline Shaw, Kanye West’s New Pulitzer Prize-Winning Collaborator,” Pitchfork, October 20, 2015, Accessed April 30, 2019,

[3] Paul Schiavo, “Caroline Shaw: A Pulitzer Prize Is Just the Beginning,” Seattle Symphony,

January 28, 2019,  Accessed April 30, 2019,

[4] Alex Ross, “Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music? | Alex Ross,” The Guardian, November 28, 2010,  Accessed April 30, 2019,

[5] Jennifer Hambrick,  “A Conversation with Pulitzer Prize-Winning Composer Caroline Shaw, Part 2,” WOSU Radio, March 29, 2018, Accessed April 30, 2019,

[6] Schiavo, “Caroline Shaw: A Pulitzer Prize Is Just the Beginning,”.

[7] Juan Wang, “Classical Music: A Norm of “Common” Culture Embedded in Cultural

Consumption and Cultural Diversity,” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 47, no. 2 (2016): 203,

Just a Musician

Caroline Shaw is a musician of many talents, she is a violinist, composer, singer and producer. However, she doesn’t see herself as all of these things separately, she sees herself as “just a musician.” She believes that labeling herself as just a musician is best because it implies that she is capable of being all of these things in the classical world and pop world. It is clear that her intentions are to serve a higher purpose as a musician by remaining true to her western practices as she includes herself in the composition of pop.

Shaw was born in North Carolina and began playing violin when she was two years old. At the age of ten she began writing music by imitating music of Mozart and Brahms. Later, she was accepted into Rice University, where she earned her Bachelors of Music in violin performance. She was then accepted into Yale University for her Master’s Degree again for violin performance. As for her Ph.D., she was accepted into Princeton University for composition. Her career rapidly became a success afterwards . At the age of thirty, she became the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her work Partita for 8 Voices. Aside from being a classical composer and violinist, she is also a vocalist. She performs regularly with the ensemble Roomful of Teeth, who she recorded Partita for 8 Voices with. The musician also performs with several other ensembles such as: the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, the Trinity Wall Street Choir, Alarm Will Sound, Wordless Music orchestra and more. After being recognized as a talented musician her journey continued through her composition of pop.

One of Shaw’s most interesting career paths is her collaborations with pop artists. She has sung in harmony with Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds at the Kennedy Center. The musician also contributed to records by The National and Arcade Fire. One of her more popular achievement in collaborations with pop artist has been with famous rap artist Kanye West. In 2015 Caroline Shaw appeared on stage alone at a Democratic National Committee Fundraiser that Kanye was scheduled to perform for. Then, Kanye emerged and continued his performance of Power with Caroline Shaw. Kanye was so enchanted by her work that he continued to collaborate with her outside of the stage. Their work together resulted in a reworked version of Kanye’s songs: “Say You will” from the album 808s and Heartbreaks, “FML” and “Wolves” from The Life of Pablo, “No Mistakes” from Ye, and “Everything” from the album Nasir by Nas which featured both Kanye and Shaw.

Caroline Shaw has a vast verity of work that she does as a composer/performer. Her success as a musician, (which she considers herself to be rather than composer, vocalist, and etcetera) has opened up many opportunities for her in several realms of music. From a Pulitzer Prize winner as a classical composer to a supporting artist with famous artists such as Sara Bareilles and Kanye West, Shaw has proven herself to be a modern Mozart.

Leroy Medina

Wilhoite, Meg. 2015 “Shaw, Caroline.” Grove Music Online. 30 Apr. 2019.

Greene, Jayson, and Jayson Greene. “Meet Composer Caroline Shaw, Kanye West’s New Pulitzer Prize-Winning Collaborator.” Pitchfork. October 20, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Shaw, Caroline. CAROLINE SHAW. Accessed April 30, 2019.

“DePauw’s School of Music: Interview with Caroline Shaw.” YouTube. September 29, 2014. Accessed April 30, 2019.

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