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.

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.

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.

Bringing the Past into the Present

Caroline Shaw was born in Greenville, North Carolina in the year 1982. She is an American composer, and an active violinist and vocalist. Through listening to her music, it is clear Shaw has developed a unique compositional voice that blends western classical traditions, folk hymns, world music, and her own unique compositional voice. Some characteristics of her music include the use of extended techniques, repetition and development of themes, and a sense of “simplicity” as the overall aesthetic of many of her compositions. This approach is different from many modern composers who try to push the envelope of musical expression to a new level. Caroline Shaw composes in a way that explores musicality in a manner that is accessible to a wide variety of audiences. One unique aspect surrounding some of Shaw’s works is the use of older pieces as compositional material and inspiration for her works.

In an interview with the Seattle Symphony about her piano concerto Watermark, Shaw talks about the process behind finding material for the piece. Shaw drew inspiration from different themes and motives found in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto and wanted to explore the essence of the piece. Shaw presents different musical ideas that she has written, different themes written by Beethoven that she has altered, and even direct quotes from Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. This results in a composition that shows clear ties to the past while showing a modern direction for new compositions. Another example of this process is how she wrote By and By.

By and By is based on different hymns that are taken from their original contexts. Shaw explores different tonalities, timbres, and musical combinations throughout this piece to dig into the meaning of the words. In Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown, there are moments where the strings are supporting the vocals with light accompaniment. At other points, the stings are playing unison staccato chords to provide a contrast in feel. She approaches I’ll Fly Away by taking the harmonic aspect of the hymn and trying to develop different ways it can be heard. This mixture of hymns and modern music creates a very unique composition that is very accessible to many listeners in the way it is presented. Caroline Shaw has incorporated non-western musics into many of her works. 

One in particular is Taxidermy, where Shaw has used inspiration from Balinese gamelan music to influence the instrumentation of the work. In the case of Taxidermy, she included flower pots as a melodic instrument. When played simultaneously, the instruments produce a timbre similar to the gamelan instruments. The instruments are traditionally slightly out of tune with one another, which creates a shimmering effect between each instrument. In Taxidermy, this is heard between the timbre of the flower pots and keyboard instruments. Shaw also explores other musical areas from gamelan style, including a cyclic form and musical development. Throughout the piece, a common theme is introduced for a moment. After a brief period, the theme is gradually elaborated upon until it takes on a completely new character. These are used throughout Taxidermyto continually give the piece forward motion and development.

Throughout these three compositions, there are many different influences from classical traditions, folk hymns, and world music that are present. Shaw is also able to take components of these musical areas, then put her own musical voice into the mix. The result are pieces that stand in many different musical arenas. Shaw is able to bring many aspects of the classical tradition into the modern age, and also move it in a new direction. Her pieces are unique, full of heritage, and can be viewed as compositions that serve the role as a multi-faceted musical work that can take a listener to any area of music they may want to hear. 

Trice Mayhall



“a: Gamelan ensembles and instrumentation.” Oxford Music Online.26 Apr. 2019.

Chacko, Rachel. 2014 “American gamelan.” Grove Music Online.26 Apr. 2019.

Harnish, David. 2013 “Gamelan.” Grove Music Online.26 Apr. 2019.

McGraw, Andrew C. 2014 “Balinese gamelan.” Grove Music Online.27 Apr. 2019.

McLEAN, EDWIN. “Understanding Contemporary Music.” American Music Teacher 27, no. 1 (1977): 17.

Wilhoite, Meg. 2015 “Shaw, Caroline.” Grove Music Online.26 Apr. 2019.


“At the Piano with Jonathan Biss and Caroline Shaw / Seattle Symphony”. YouTube Video, 13:46. Posted by “Seattle Symphony”, January 30, 2019.

Caroline Shaw

Many times the work of a composer is influenced by a certain musical style or compositional technique that makes them unique. Caroline Shaw is an American singer, violinist and composer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music and the youngest to win this award in music. Most of his pieces are musically easy to hear for the audience. Extensive harmonies, variety of timbres and textures are some characteristics that make her music accesible  to a wider public. But what composer or musical style can directly influence the work of this great composer?.

In an interview, Caroline Shaw explains that her favorite music is the music of the 17th and 18th century, due to the essential contributions to the choral and vocal repertoire. Among the characteristics that she mentions are the use of extended chords and vocal sounds, in addition to how the text enters correctly while the vocal lines stand out.

The music of the 17th century continues to stand out today for the performer and the composer. Cesar Garcia Alvarez, professor at the University of Leon (ULE), comments that the musicians of the 21st-century ¨are heirs¨ of the baroque musical forms. The clear example of this legacy is Caroline Shaw, besides expressing her favoritism for the music of the Baroque, it is also heard in her work. Her choral works are the best example of this. It is motion keeps, Partita for eight voices, and  Music in Common Time, are the best examples since they demonstrate vocal and choral qualities typical of the Baroque in combination with the extended techniques. Other characteristics that demonstrate the influence of what is the correct use of counterpoint, the use of children’s voices helps to recreate the timbres of the sacred music of the 16th and 17th centuries.

In addition to the 17th century, also within the work of Shaw are influences of 18th-century music, for example in her Entr’acte string quartet. It does not matter if this piece is not from the vocal repertoire since it demonstrates the clear example of the inheritance of the style in contemporary music. Entr’acte is inspired by the opus 77 no. 2 From Haydn. The composer sought to recreate the fundamental characteristics of the minuet and trio using modern technology, then make a transition to a trio in D flat major and then return to the minuet. It is merely interesting how it combines the musical forms of the 17th and 18th century with profound harmonic changes as well as using the extended techniques to add even more contrast in the music.

It does not stop being attractive as the material of past ages comes to influence composers in different ways. However, the influence of this music on Caroline Shaw is interesting. Reaching the characteristics of the 17th and 18th century in its purest form are possible by combining them with the modern technics of tonal music to create a unique voice in its type, reaching more variety of audience than other works.

Alejandro Carrillo Pastrana


Allen, David. ¨ A Composer Who Finds The Soft Sighs in Haydn.¨ ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (December 2015): pg. C4. (accessed April 29, 2019).

¨PBO SESSIONS: An Evening with Caroline Shaw.¨ Youtube video. 1:45:37. Posted by ¨Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale.¨ April 29, 2019.

¨What Influences Caroline Shaw?.¨ Youtube video. 1:11. Posted by ¨ MendelssohnClub.¨ April 29, 2019.

Nico Muhly’s Compositional Style in Relation to his Connection to an Audience: Modern Methods of Self-Promotion

When listening to the music of Nico Muhly, a composer whose compositional voice owes an enormous amount to his musical heroes, it

became apparent that Muhly does not prescribe to the idea that for new music to be “good” it must therefore be “different”. His music is firmly rooted in the Western tradition through its strong amount of influence from his predecessors. For example, in Muhly’s Cello Concerto, a formal concerto which does not stray from the traditional western f​ ast-slow-fast​ (Part One, Two and Three) structure, the overwhelming presence of Reich in “Part Three” coupled with the direct (self-proclaimed as “stolen”) quote from Dutilleux’s M​ etaboles​ in “Part One”, the concerto is overflowing with rehashed ideas and revisited concepts. However many influences can be directly found in Muhly’s music, Muhly’s own compositional voice shines through in the way which he combines seemingly disparate influences into a convincingly cohesive texture. What some may deem as unoriginal or stale in Muhly’s music is in reality what composers, artists, writers and filmmakers have done since the beginning; to take from the old and to synthesize their past experiences, influences and inspirations into a lifelong journey of expression that becomes something uniquely their own. What does stand out to me in Muhly’s music is the constant dialogue between minimalism and romanticism. For example, while Part Three of Muhly’s Cello Concerto begins firmly rooted in an insistent Reichian pulsation, it soon becomes overlayed, via the solo cello line, with a wash of lyricism reminiscent of Hollywood film composers such as Korngold or John Williams. These two musical styles in juxtaposition of each other create a unique voice that is enticing to the ear.

It seems like Muhly has found his compositional strength not in trying to do something “different” that would set him apart, but rather by composing sincere music that is most true to his own musical preferences. In fact, today’s American contemporary classical music scene contains many concert-goers, music students and composers alike who seem to hold a common misconception: it is a living composer’s job to do what has never been done before; to imagine a new type of music that breaks down every boundary and bends every rule to create a truly unparalleled musical experience. While it takes true innovators to move the Western musical language forward into the modern day, the novelty of being different has been the root of widespread alienation among concert audiences of contemporary classical music, leaving orchestras and chamber music presenters with no option other than to feature the Greats of the past. While living composers must not all simply become poor simulacra of their musical influences, it releases an enormous amount of pressure from composers life to realize that the most important thing is to focus on writing “good” music, not “different” music.

A graduate of Columbia University and Juilliard School of Music, Muhly is certainly no stranger to the academic world. But while some composers’ scholarly backgrounds have set them apart from popular culture, for Muhly, the opposite is the case. In fact, an area where


Muhly stands out among his contemporaries is his skill for writing anecdotal and relatable prose. Many of the articles found when researching his views on music are written by the composer himself, often describing a specific experience or viewpoint related to a specific musical event. Through his colloquial language skills, blog posts on his personal website, New York Times editorials, and writings on NPR, Muhly has constructed a public image for himself of a connection to academia, but an underlying “down-to-earth” mentality. Similarly, Muhly’s intuitive music stands firmly in this camp of the accessibility of modern classical music, in opposition to the 20th century music of composers like Arnold Schoenberg or Brian Ferneyhough that may present an impenetrable wall to most listeners due to its academic or cerebral qualities. Within an art form that has historically been produced by and for the upper classes of European society, Nico Muhly’s innovation within the classical music world lies in his ability to provide a himself as a companionable millennial figurehead for the world of contemporary classical music. In addition to the accessibility of his music, he has been able to use his relatable personality to attract wider audiences and ensuring the “relevance” of the Western classical tradition in the modern day.

Chris Beroes-Haigis


Muhly, Nico. “Nico Muhly’s ‘Mathematical, Organic And Achingly Beautiful’ Phillip Glass”, NPR Music, January 24th, 2017. ( ip-glass)

Muhly, Nico. “If You See Something, Say Something”, Nico Muhly, October 25th, 2016. (

Muhly, Nico. “Cello Concerto (2012)”, Music Sales Classical, Chester Music. (

Kings Place. “Nico Muhly Discusses Minimalism — Part One”, YouTube, January 19th, 2015. (

Muhly, Nico. “Nico Muhly on Why Choral Music Is Slow Food For The Soul”, The New York Times, April 1st, 2017. (

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

Create your website with
Get started