Caroline Shaw

Carlos Barba


Caroline Shaw is the youngest composer to have won the Pulitzer Prize since its inception in 1943. She is a violinist, singer, composer, and producer who is based in New York and is active in a variety of projects including the Grammy Award-winning Roomful of Teeth and the internationally-acclaimed Attacca Quartet. She has collaborated, produced, and commissioned for world renowned musicians and ensembles such as Kanye West, Renee Fleming, Dover Quartet, Baltimore Symphony, Anne Sofie Von Otter, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Julliard 415, and many more[1]. I strongly believe Caroline Shaw is the epitome of what a musician should strive to be.

The majority of the great composers that are admired and idolized from the Baroque, Renaissance, and Romantic periods, were well-rounded performers, composers, educators, arrangers, and orchestrators. This common trait was lost during the 21st century as musicians became more specialized in specific areas, such as performing or composing. Modern classical composers, such as Kevin Puts, started their professional careers as both performers and composers but eventually stopped performing live and focused on their compositional output[2]. Caroline Shaw is somewhat younger than Puts, but she shows no signs of slowing down her performing career. She is constantly performing internationally with a variety of orchestras and ensembles, as well as with her own projects.

Shaw defines, or presents herself as a musician. She believes this umbrella term is a good representation of all the activities she does on a regular basis. “I like the implications that it has in the music world; it’s just a very inclusive word that could mean the performers, composers, writers, improvisers.”[3] I think it is great that she generally does not place more importance in one area of music over the other, at least when she is labeling herself. In that same interview she mentions that improvisation is also an important part of her life. She usually does not improvise in a live performance but there is definitely some improvisation when she composes or when she rehearses with certain ensembles.        

Composers such as Chopin, Bach, and Mozart, among others, are well known for having been great improvisers. I know there are people around the world who improvise within the classical tradition, but it is definitely a rare thing to witness. I wish improvising and composing were part of the standard classical music education alongside performing and teaching. Learning these skills will yield generations of better, more versatile musicians that can do a variety of things. Some musicians I’ve spoken to in the past fear that focusing on several areas will take time away from their main skill or concentration. This is true to a certain degree, but Caroline Shaw is a great example and living proof that exceling in several areas within music is possible. It takes a lot more time and devotion to stand out in multiple areas but I definitely look forward to being a more complete and versatile musician such as Caroline Shaw.


Opera America. “Salon Series | An Evening with Kevin Puts.” YouTube, YouTube, 15 Jan. 2013,

Caroline Shaw. “Caroline Shaw.” (accessed April 20, 2019).

“Composer, Singer Caroline Shaw Wins 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music.” Choral Director 10, no. 3 (May 2013): 4.

Martin, Katherine. “DePauw’s School of Music: Interview with Caroline Shaw.” YouTube, YouTube, 29 Sept. 2014,

[1] “Composer, Singer Caroline Shaw Wins 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music.”

[2] Opera America. “Salon Series | An Evening with Kevin Puts.”

[3] Martin, Katherine. “DePauw’s School of Music: Interview with Caroline Shaw.”

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