She Changed The Sound: Caroline Shaw

March 11, 2019

In the world of classical music, bricolage is the name of the game.

A French word and academic theory, bricolage refers to the “construction achieved by using whatever comes to hand.” Classical music has existed for hundreds of years and the exchange, blending, and reimagining of ideas is what drives the genre through its many evolutions. Beethoven borrowed from Mozart’s model for sonatas and string quartets, expanding on his stylings to launch the world into the Romantic era. Stravinsky and Copland borrowed from Russian and American folk music respectively, bringing a populist appeal to what was previously the music of the elite. For Greenville, N.C. native Caroline Shaw, everything from synth-pop to square-dancing have contributed to her sound.

“I don’t really call myself a composer,” she told the New York Times after becoming the youngest recipient of a Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2013. She prefers the title “musician,” which is appropriate given her prowess not only in composition but performing - both as a violinist and a vocalist with her group Roomful of Teeth. The open definition of her craft is what allows her to masterfully combine ideas, sounds and genres, made apparent in her Pulitzer-winning composition Partita for 8 Voices.

Opening the piece with a cacophony of spoken word commands taken straight from a square-dance and finally settling into one triumphant eight-voiced chord, Shaw set out to push the boundaries of what acapella music could be. Inspired equally by Philip Glass, throat singing, and the Baroque works she practiced under North Carolina Award winner Joanne Bath’s Suzuki method classes, Caroline Shaw stitched together a musical quilt that didn’t go unnoticed. She has since been commissioned by orchestras across the globe, scored films, and teamed up with the likes of Kanye West, the National, and tUnE-yArDs, lending her unique blend to the contemporary music world. From Carnegie to Kanye, Caroline Shaw has changed the sound.