Caroline Shaw

imagesHow many women composers of serious music do you know?  For centuries the Classical music scene was dominated by male composers and then further promoted by male authors of music history books that took little notice of any woman composer. “A woman must not desire to compose – not one has been able to do it, and why should I expect to?” wrote Clara Schumann, a very significant 19th century German composer.  It is very important that we are all informed about gender in our work and professional music production and creation is no exception. Read brief introductory histories about 10 other “famous” women composers to get a sense of the scope of the issue.  Note that this week the Metropolitan Opera in NYC is performing an opera written by a woman (KAIJA SAARIAHO-have you heard of her?; click the link for an awesome trailer!).  This is the first time in over 100 years since the Met has performed an opera by a woman.  Why?   At Xavier University we offer a course, MUSC 116 – Women in Music, taught by Dr. Jewel Smith that focuses exclusively on women composers, all music majors should elect to study this history, as it is truly fills in for the hidden half of our social and cultural creative works that few are aware of and that society continues to hide from us.

In this blog, we focus on Caroline Shaw, a living composer of today.  Her experiences are primarily in the 21st century not the 19th century.  What does this mean for her?  You will find a few of her works are now widely available. Research a bit about her, inform yourself briefly about the marginalization of serious women composers throughout history and then listen to parts of several works by Caroline Shaw.  Pick two works to review.  In your review, critically evaluate her music.  Use terminology and concepts learned in Music Theory I (take a look through all the terms at the end of each chapter and as appropriate use these to guide your reply).  Is her music based on a scale or a mode?  How chromatic is her music?  What type of rhythmic features characterize the work?  Discuss the timbre of her music.  To what extent are 16th century musical lines and techniques employed?  Are there traditional melodies present?  Finally, comment on gender in music from your personal perspective. Do you perform any music by women composers?  Can you name one?

Enter one reply to this post and then later respond to four other replies from other writers.


104 thoughts on “Caroline Shaw

  1. Thank you, Dr. Skeirk! I love teaching this class. We begin with Hildegard von Bingen, who died in 1179 and end with discussing women composing and performing today. What a fun class and a great way to show what women have accomplished and are still doing.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed Caroline Shaw’s music. It blends the classical and modern styles very well. She has developed her own musical voice by taking her roots and homogenizing it with her generation. I didn’t know about her until this assignment. I can honestly say I’m not familiar with many female composers. This doesn’t come from a sexist attitude, I just haven’t studied to learn about them. I know of a few in the genre of Jazz. Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Fields to name two.
    The two Caroline Shaw compositions I chose are “Entrace” and “Manu Tuas.”
    “Entracte” is a composition written for a string quartet in 2011. It was inspired by Haydn’s Op. 77 No. 2.
    It begins with a classical sounding riff that is repeated. It brings a sense of joy, in spite of starting in a minor key. The piece moves through several time and key signatures. Ms. Shaw’s use of dissonance is mesmerizing. You can hear each of the four parts clearly. They each have their own unique voice. The parts are written with craft. The composition returns to the opening riff. Throughout the piece it travels from consonance and dissonance with ease.
    The second composition I chose is, “Manus Tuas.” This solo piece is based on 16th century motet by Thomas Tallis. It is a hauntingly beautiful piece for cello. The minor key helps to create this mood. The cello opens with sparse intervals and enters into an alberti bass. Although the bass line moves there isn’t an overwhelming sense of forward motion. Again in this piece Shaw uses dissonance to her advantage. Just when the ear begins to be overwhelmed she resolves the dissonance and places the listener at ease.
    Both pieces are a testament to a woman’s right and place in the musical realm. If we exclude solely on sex we are the ones that will miss the beautiful music to be created.

    1. You bring up an excellent point, Shaw uses 16th and 18th century concepts to base her music on. These are the same concepts that Theory I is working on. Shaw is building out of our existing “language.”

    2. I had not heard of many female composers either before Caroline. It makes me wonder what exactly I’m missing out there in this world of music. Her compositions really set a fantastic standard for other women composers.

    3. I also don’t know many female composers. I think you brought up a good point that if we are focused on gender, we will miss out on greater things.

    4. I chose “Manus Tuas” as well because it reminded me deeply of a more sullen, contemplative version of Bach’s “Prelude in C”. As much as I loved playing Bach’s piece, I tend to lean towards more melancholic sounds so I wonder how fun this piece but Shaw would be to play!

    5. Very enlightening. I do agree that women should be represented more in the classical music world. Was there anything in particular about the music you chose in terms of its musicality that drew you to them?

    6. I like what you said about the blend between modern and classical music; you wouldn’t normally think that these two worlds would clash, but Caroline Shaw is living proof that these worlds can combine brilliantly. Nice work!

    7. I liked how you mentioned that your lack of understanding for female composers stems from the fact that you simply have never studied any. I feel the exact same way. In music history, we learn almost nothing about female composers and I feel that is simply due the this social norm we have created. I wish we could spend more time giving female composers credit for their work, and that is something we should try to do moving forward.

  3. Caroline Shaw was the youngest winner of the Pulitzer Prize and is one of New York’s current living composers. I reviewed her two pieces By & By I’ll Fly Away and Will there be any Stars in my Crown.
    I’ll Fly Away is a growing cluster of instruments followed by a voice solo. The instruments join back in playing a repetition while the voice grows. The timbre is very strong and the voice sounds very dark to me. The middle of the song pauses and begins very differently again. It seems slightly faster and the instruments repeat a scaling pattern while accompanying the voice. The rhythm seems very choppy to me because it stops and starts again quite frequently. The voice part features a few chromatic passages but it seems mostly to be skips or steps.
    Will there be any Stars in my Crown is very simple yet perky. There is very little instrumentation but the voice stars low and slowly makes its way up a scale, reaching a high point towards the ending. The timbre is very calm and soothing. The instruments and the voice are subtle and gentle. This piece seemed to features slightly more chromatic passages but still included many scale patterns.
    I performed a flute solo last year at my senior concert that was composed by a woman. I played Cecile Chaminade’s Concertino for Flute. It was a beautiful solo and I enjoyed performing it more than once. It felt empowering knowing that the piece was composed by a woman because I can better imagine the emotions she was feeling when she wrote it.

    1. I like that you were able to connect to the piece you played in your senior concert because you could relate to the feelings of a fellow woman. Another reason female composers are so important. Other female musicians need a similar voice to relate to.

    2. I thought it was interesting when By and By started again and sounded differently. How awesome that you played a song composed by a woman. I never thought about how you could connect to the song better and imagine her emotions more.

    3. I didn’t listen to either of those pieces, so it was interesting to read your descriptions of them instead. They seem to be much different from the two that I listened to for this assignment.
      That’s awesome that you played a piece by a female composer!!

    4. Nice job connecting the emotion composers feel when writing music to your own experiences. Is there anything else you could add about how you were drawn to the pieces by Caroline Shaw you chose – musically, in form, structure, etc,.?

    5. I think it’s awesome that you were able to play a solo written by a woman and that it was able to affect you as deeply as it did. I think it is so important to have someone that you can relate to when you are working on something you are passionate about. I wish there were more female composers to foster the spirit of young performers who are looking for a role model.

    6. It’s really cool that you could relate to her in that way. I’m sure it’d make her so happy if she knew how much of an inspiration she is to so many young female musicians.

    7. I liked reading your interpretation of the two pieces you listened to. I did not listen to those, but I saw some similarities between what you said and the pieces I listened to. Great work!

  4. The first piece of Caroline Shaw’s I listened to, was “Partita for 8 Voices”. When the sound of men’s and women’s speaking voices bounced back and forth between each other, I was startled to say the least, not expected actual spoken words. However, as the song evolved, combing perfectly intoned voices blending. swelling, contrasting, and ultimately building on one another, I was left speechless. Shaw’s instrumental piece for a strings quartet, “Entr’act”, was a beautiful, moving, and spontaneous piece making use of a chromatic scale, as the quartets gracefully danced through this composition. I found a resemblance between Shaw’s “Entr’act” and Hayden’s own composition; I believe Shaw’s piece was fascinating comparison to Hayden, adding her own twist while paying tribute to the original song.
    Appreciating and encouraging female composers is a vital part of the musical industry, as music speaks through all people, regardless of gender. And for Shaw, a young musician who has received great awards with great esteem, she is an essential part of helping other recognize what female musicians are capable, and how far we’ve come in musical culture.
    I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Shaw’s work, and I will continued to do so, out of pleasure but also to open my mind more to the fine compositions of contemporary artists, who continue the legacy of famous musicians of the past.

    1. Her music really is astonishingly beautiful. She deserves the recognition she has received and more. Her own twist adds a sense of uniqueness which makes it her own and I appreciate that especially since women composers are underappreciated.

    2. I think its great that you want to continue to listen to Caroline Shaw’s pieces to remain open minded. I also think the point you made about how essential she is to recognize other woman and music culture in general with all of its accomplishments.

    3. Natalie, I agree that it is vital to “appreciate and encourage female composers.” There is a whole half of the world that has never truly had the chance to be heard through musical works. It is true that we have come far within musical culture, and yet we still have a long ways to go.

    4. I did not like the “Partita for 8 Voices”…no matter how hard I tried it just sounded noisy to me. I can definitely appreciate the creativity and musicianship, but as music itself it couldn’t appeal to me. I wonder what it is about every individual that makes our perception and taste of music so different…Something I’ll probably research out of curiosity soon enough!

    5. I certainly agree that Caroline Shaw deserves far wider recognition than she does today. There is an unerring simplicity in her music that makes it almost ethereal to listen to, although there may be some pieces that deserve a second listening to be fully appreciated

    6. I listened to the Partita was well, and I could not agree more with your interpretation. I also agree that she is helping to pave the road for future female composers. We have a long way to go in giving female composers credit, but Shaw has definitely given us a start.

  5. It was a very pleasant and interesting experience listening to Caroline Shaw’s music and learning about her history. One of the articles that popped up when I searched her on Google was titled, “Is Caroline Shaw really the future of music?” (not framed in a negative way at all- the short summary reflected very positively on Shaw) and another popped up about her as Kanye’s new “Pulitzer prize”. Both articles appeared very modernized and fluent with this generation’s lingo and musical understanding, and as I read more into articles about Shaw, I realized that she is much more than a modern composer. She is an artist, not just in a sense of producing something to show to other people, but devoting time, effort, and all of her energies into composing and producing actual art. Soon after I skimmed some others about her, I listened to a couple of her pieces-“in manus tuas” and “Entr’acte”. My personal favorite was Entr’acte, which translate into “between” and “act”, so likely between acts. This piece wasn’t simply a “between the acts” piece, however, because it holds such beauty and complexity in it. The dissonances between two instruments, the pizzicato, the harmonics, the timbre of the dynamics and the mood it sets, and much more. Towards the beginning, the piece sounds similar to an arrangement from a composer decades ago, with the long bow strokes and consonant intervals, with the warm texture and vibrato. The harmonic and pizzicato section is what seems to modernize it a bit, because it is lighter and presents a less formal aspect of the piece by incorporating more than just an instrument and bow. It produces different sounds and textures, which our generation is fond of (take EDM for instance, the use of abstract sounds all mixed together and the increased fascination with EDM styles the past decade). Shaw is certainly able to incorporate a bit of tradition in her piece with consonants and warm sounds in combination with the types of plucking and string slapping.

    1. I agree with how she is able to artistically articulate her music, and how present and vibrate the levels of complexity and expression are in her work. Also, I appreciate you pointing out the combination of using traditional techniques and sounds, such as in “Entr-acte”, with modern sounds and methods. Great post!

    2. I like the way you define an artist as someone that devotes their time, effort, and energies into composing and producing. She is much more than just a composer. Her dedication comes through in her music. Very well said.

    3. I completely agree! To some ears Shaw’s music could be closely aligned with that of later 20th century composers such as Gorecki and Ligeti in terms of the harmonies that she is able to convey.

    4. I like that you said that she is an artist. I have always thought that music is art because it has the ability to paint pictures in our minds.

    5. I really liked that she is a modern musician as well. She has a very creative spirit that personifies the free spirit that our generation tries so hard to uphold.

  6. Although I am not too familiar with Caroline Shaw’s work, I do enjoy the sheer freedom of expression that permeates through her music. After listening to the first section of her work By and By for solo voice and string quartet, there were a variety of ideas that stuck out to me the most was the repetitive nature of the string writing and the evocative, hauntingly beautiful mood set in the vocal line. Even though we hear the same line of text, the contours of the melodic line has aspects of early madrigalisms with its continuous flow of text, a quality prevalent in the works of Monteverdi and Gesualdo. The text delivery also has hints of folk idioms, with the soloist possessing a style that is at once clear, yet also inspiring

    1. I too noticed how Shaw’s lyrics were repetitive, I think that each time they were sung, a new tone and further message was being portrayed. I agree that her freedom of expression is evident throughout her compositions.

    2. Connor, I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis of Shaw’s work. It seems to me as well that she included some hints of madrigalisms, some form of text painting throughout her works.

    3. The sound of the piece is very free in a way that almost brings to mind chaos. But the interesting part about the chaos is that it maintains an aspect of order, while remaining engaging and interesting.

    4. I listened to By and By as well- I definitely agree with the repetition that you noticed, but that it’s so well planned out and formulated that the repetition is not boring nor simple. Her music is complex in nature and very thought out- her layering of melodies and rhythms really allows her pieces to shine and produce a beautiful sound that is new but still familiar and comforting to the ear.

    5. I agree so much with your interpretation because I was thinking the same thing. When I listened to By and By the vocal line stood out to me more than anything else and even though it was the same text both times they were different in their own way with the modal progressions she used.

    6. I think that that’s really the best way to describe Shaw’s work; “sheer freedom of expression.” She really is doing what she wants and just throwing all the rules at the wall. She has her own “Theory” of what music should be and expresses it in a beautiful way.

    7. I agree that the chord progressions were haunting. I found it interesting that there were some points where the instruments sounded as if they were tuning over and over. This had an oddly eerie effect on the music.

  7. Since Caroline Shaw’s experiences are mostly in the 21st century instead of the 19th, she can obtain both praise and critiques from people. Some people may say that she is conforming and grasping an audience from this century but may also be judged from not using more of a 19th century style. I chose to listen to “By and By” and “It’s Motion Keeps,” both of which I really enjoyed. I noticed a lot of unexpected chords in “By and By,” sometimes I could hear leaps and jumps between them. I also really liked how overlapping the sound is in “It’s Motion Keeps.” The violin parts were sporadic which, I thought, worked really well to portray Shaw’s message. Her two pieces were much different than popular songs now, or even very well known classical pieces. This may have been why I enjoyed them so much, because they brought something completely new to the table. I think she was really brave to not compose her pieces in a way that pleased the audience more then herself. To me, it seems as if she composed something that came straight from her heart and beliefs instead of trying to sell or solely please the audience, which I think is great. I don’t think I can name any other female composers. I typically don’t pay attention to their gender since it makes no difference on one’s ability to compose. However, learning about how the history of woman in history, I can see how Shaw’s compositions are a great deal and a wonderful statement for the music industry. What a way women have come!

    1. I love your point about her music coming from her heart. I feel like that was a big reason why she won the Pulitzer prize too. Her application of her heart was really what put her piece above the competitors.

    2. Amelia, I totally agree with your realization that Shaw’s music is nothing like popular or classical music. I think her music really fits into the contemporary category. Even so, it really does seem as if she’s writing from the heart and not to please the audience.

    3. I also like how personalized Shaw’s music is. She clearly put a lot of herself into her compositions, not trying to meet everyone else’s standards, but writing her music in a way that portrays how she feels about life and emotions and connects to other’s experiences as well.

    4. I agree that when writing from the heart, if one is being true to their inner voice, the audience will appreciate and be moved. When music is hallow, quick dollar kind of thing it is very transparent. Music from the heart, no matter the genre, speaks to us on an intimate level.

    5. Caroline Shaw truly uses her music as an extension of her own emotion. It’s really some of the most genuine music I’ve ever heard.

  8. The pieces I chose are “Boris Kerner” and “In Manus Tuas”

    Both are cello pieces, and as a cellist, I felt that I could naturally have a connection and understanding of them…and I was right! I listened to other pieces of hers, and found myself impressed by her creativity, but not a fan of the overall sound…Especially in a few of her choral pieces which have a tendency to open to a wide, splitting vowel that, to my ears is like nails on a chalk board. With the cello, however, I’ve always been a bit more lenient when it comes to obscure styles.

    Onto the music! I thought “Boris Kerner” had a great sense of urgency to it that I loved. Not to mention, the choice of instrument for percussion was wonderful! Flower pots! Who would’ve thought but Caroline Shaw? The consectuive leaps in the cello line at the start were playful yet calculated within a minor key setting and I got the impression that this Boris Kerner was not your average guy. When I looked him up after I listened to the piece the first time, I was pleasantly amused that she had chosen to write about a transportation specialist from Russia! It all then seemed a bit more thoughtful than before, but also with even more of the tongue-in-cheek feel I got originally. The resilient clicking from the pots began to morph into the sounds of busy streets and traffic.

    “In Manus Tuas” which means, “In your hands” was a delight to listen to. It’s a cello solo that captures one of the most beautiful things that drove me to play the instrument in the first place…its similarity to the human voice. She utilizes this by having the cellist sings short notes or note patterns every once in while, and even despite the different voices of each version I’ve heard, all still have a tinge to them that echos the instrument that they are playing simultaneously to the point where I sometimes couldn’t tell if it was a voice or not! I liked this piece especially because several sections of arpeggios reminded me of Bach’s “Prelude in C”, my absolute most favorite piece I’ve ever played on cello. It also has section that resembles the final chord in the prelude which is the sustained G dragged to a B and G above, Aside from that, the sound is entirely different, with a more melancholic urgentness to it than Bach’s classic upbeat exercise.

    I really enjoyed these cello pieces and look forward to hearing more of her string repertoire!

    1. I enjoyed Manu Tuas as well- it was beautiful but I definitely see how it could be an interesting tune for the ear, but I agree about the cello. I picked up the cello in 6th grade and played for a couple years, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since then, and even since I started playing the violin when I was 5. The cello is such a beautiful instrument and really adds a great sound to Caroline Shaw’s arrangements.

  9. I must say I am not familiar with very many classical female composers. That is not to say I do not listen to any by choice or that I do not listen to classical music at all, just merely that I have never listened to any female composers, including Shaw.

    The two pieces I decided to listen to by Shaw were her “By and By” set and the first movement of “Roomful of Teeth.” They were truly marvelous to listen to and also quite different from anything I have heard when it comes to new compositions. They are very abstract, but not so abstract that it is displeasing to the ear. In her set in “By and By,” she wrote about the concepts of death and fleeing from the cage of life into the new realm of eternity. It was interesting to hear what she had to say. The first movement was darker, contained stacatto progressions that really reminded me of the 16th century style counterpoint that we had studied. It was very strict. Then, the second song came and there is no true way to describe it. She sang a simple melody with nondescript strings behind it, creating the illusion of flying in your mind. It was amazing to hear such sounds. In the first movement of “Roomful of Teeth,” it was just vocal but it was very different. It started out with just talking and evolved into pitches and music. It was almost sung in a round and was timed perfectly so that the harmonies were at the right time.

    I have sung songs by female composers but I do not know their names. It is a tragic thing to think that I remember the names of famous composers that seem to always be males but never truly recognize the females that create such masterpieces.

    1. I really enjoyed reading about the way in which you described the feelings and impressions that Shaw’s pieces elicited while you listened. It says a lot when you are able to listen to this sort of music and find it abstract but not “displeasing to the ear.”

    2. I agree with how difficult it is sometimes to identify female composers among the great works of music throughout history and even in our present culture. Perhaps even more women, like Caroline Shaw, have composed equally fascinating and monumental music, but sadly are not fully appreciated or remembered in some cases. I too was entranced by the changing moods and levels of emotions transposed in Shaw’s music. Great post!

    3. I listened to By and By as well- I heard the abstraction and definitely agree that the sound is still familiar and not displeasing. She incorporates new techniques that are more modernized and focuses more on staccato and harmonics, but her sound still blends with older classical blends of music.

  10. Caroline Shaw’s music is mostly atonal, but has little bits of tonality here and there. She experiments with different vocal, linguistic, and instrumental patterns in her work. All of it sounds very contemporary, but without any set imitation of things in the world. More specifically, her music switches between based on a scale or mode and not, and is chromatic in a few places. Shaw’s music is generally framed in silence throughout each piece, and her rhythmic features include unison and syncopation. All of the pieces I listened to are in simple meter. There are many major I, IV, and V chords used, but beyond those, there are not many 16th century musical lines employed. Shaw writes many dynamics and uses various instrumental techniques for her pieces.
    I agree that gender in music has been something long hidden from the public, especially gender generalities in composers. From my perspective, there has been an increase in female professional musicians and conductors. Of course, the numbers are still not equal, but at least they are growing. However, I don’t believe that I have ever performed a piece by a female composer. I never even thought to look for pieces written by women before now, which is evidence of how effectively this issue is hidden from us.

    1. I too feel compelled to look for more music written by female composers, as I have hardly ever performed a piece composed by a woman as well. Perhaps if more people, especially young women, were to take the time and listen and ultimately discover Shaw’s fascinating and intricate pieces, the movement of female composers will continue to increase in our society. I also agree with your statement on Shaw’s different dynamics and instrumental techniques; they add a complex and creative aspect to her music. Great post!

    2. I think the hardest thing you could ask a musician to is to define contemporary music. This stuff really has no genre and its really got no form either. I think it would be incredibly interesting to do a survey and see what people think contemporary is.

      1. So true, Christian! I am still learning to appreciate…but what allowed me to begin to like contemporary pieces was no longer trying to define them. By defining them I was placing them in a category of sounds and such that I didn’t like and that stuck out despite the fact that no two songs are the same entirely and shouldn’t be so broadly categorized!

    3. I mentioned the 16th century melody line in my response as well. I felt that there was a contemporary feel to the music but with an underlying chant melody as well. I could not agree more with what you said about female composers also.

    4. This is a cool, technical approach to her works. I always try to have a keen ear for stuff like tonality and patterns, but it seems different minds think on different levels, which is why discussions are so important!

  11. While listening to Caroline Shaw’s music I thought it was rather interesting. I love her expression in the music that she has composed. My favorite pieces of hers that I listened to was ” Entrace” and “Manu Tuas.” The piece was inspired by Hadyn. I really loved being able to listen to a females work. As we discussed in class, there aren’t too many women composers so I thought it was interesting that I got to hear how her work sounded. Shaw has many awards and it gives the world hope that there will be more musicians. I love her work. I will listen to it more especially during finals week to cope with stress.

    1. I agree with you because it is so hard to find female composers in the world that have reached that level of fame.

    2. Its so crazy that after listening to and researching Shaw I’ve realized how little if ANY (I don’t recall any at least) female composers I have sung or played in choir or orchestra…As an aspiring female musician that’s pretty disheartening!

  12. For this assignment, I listened to By and By and Partita. Upon listening to these pieces, I decided that the music was much more modal, especially in Partita. It was clear that she is not in a mode here because of the persistent chromatic usage and the amount of dissonance heard I think also contributes to the modal theme. I found the timbre to be rather dissonant and I think it had a very dark texture and feel to the music. I also found the music to be a mixture of both chant-like music, with a much more contemporary feel, especially in the partita. In regards to the rhythmic features of the music, I found the rhythm to be very unorganized, but I think that helped the music to be original and unique in its own way, and that also contributed to the contemporary feel of the music. I found the melodies to be rather traditional, which I believe helped contribute to the chant-like feel of the music. Finally, I have not personally performed music by women, and up until now I have not really noticed that. I find it a shame that we do not pay attention and care that almost all of the music we perform is by men. Society today has suppressed women in the arts so much that it has become almost a social norm, and is something that we do not pay attention to at all. The field of the musical arts certainly needs to open up and allow people of different genders, racial backgrounds etc. to be just as successful as any white man has been over the past 500 years.

    1. I loved that her work was completely unique as well. I believe that her uniqueness can be the spark that inspires other people to composition and creativity.

    2. I too listened to the partita and found it interesting when the music subsides and the performance becomes a bunch of people talking all at the same time. This to me in meant to represent the hectic world we live in getting in the way of our ability to appreciate music. Any thoughts?

    3. I also listened to By and By by Caroline Shaw. I definitely heard the chromatic and dissonances throughout her piece. They definitely provided for an interesting listening experience, but it was still enjoyable.

    4. It does amaze me how exclusive music still is. There is definitely a boy’s club. As we continue to share composers of different ethnic and gender backgrounds, like we have in this blog, the exclusivity will continue to diminish. It may never be completely gone, but as each generation passes it will become smaller and not as ingrained.

  13. Caroline Shaw, as the youngest winner of the pulitzer prize, is making excellent strides to help women be recognized for their work in all fields, not just the music industry. Because of her pulitzer prize win, the first piece I decided to review was ‘ Partita for 8 Voices;’ the piece that she received the award for. What I found most brilliant about this piece was how the shifting harmonies within the music created a piece that reminded of visual art in the sense that it was so rich in color; each voice moves like the stroke of a paint brush at the hand of an artist.
    After doing a little bit of research, I discovered that the first song on Kanye West’s album ‘808’s & Heartbreak’ was actually co-produced by Shaw; an album that I had listened to previously, having no clue that she had helped to create it. I found this to be quite surprising, because when I think of modern music, I generally think of this great divide between classical and popular music. While popular music is often considered more ‘enjoyable’ to listen to, classical music is generally thought to be music of substance, or a ‘serious’ work of art. However, the fact that an artist like Shaw (who is clearly capable of creating ‘serious’ works of art’) chose to collaborate with Kanye West shows that in actuality, music has no firm boundaries. The vocal harmonies behind West are reminiscent of what Shaw created in the other piece I reviewed above, showing that popular and classical music effect each other as they evolve with the modern world. It’s fitting that just how Shaw is breaking boundaries for women in music, she is breaking boundaries between types of music.

    1. I agree with you that Caroline Shaw is making enormous strides to brave the gender gap and prove how women can be successful and incredibly creative artists. Hopefully she inspires other women to pursue success in the musical world.

    2. I love how you pointed out that music has no boundaries. It’s interesting to think of a highly reputable composer collaborating with Kanye West, but at the time, artists are creative and like to express themselves through many different media. Finding value in a variety of art forms is part of being an artist.

    3. I was show shocked about her work with Kanye as well. I’ve listened to the album as well and never realised she worked on it until I looked her up.

    4. I knew I recognized the name from somewhere, wasn’t expecting Yeezy though. I like the approach you took on this response, very modern and relaxed as far as topic matter.

  14. The two pieces I chose to review were Shaw’s “Sarabande” and “Entr’acte”. In “Sarabande,” Shaw uses a combination of musical and non-musical vocals to form emotionally and mentally stimulating sounds. It begins with unison sliding sounds, which evolve into different dissonant intervals, and then almost chaotic harmonies using oblique motion and pedal tones. The melodic intervals include leaps and steps, using dissonant and consonant intervals and chromatic motion. At the beginning, the melody is undoubtedly modern, exhibiting many of the moods and characteristics of 21st century music, such as seemingly random notes and intervals, non-musical sounds, and very free meter. In the middle of the piece, a voice rises above the rest that sound almost like sacred chants from the early Catholic church. However, this then breaks into a loud climactic cry. This could inspire many different emotions. Perhaps triumph, awe, or even desperation. The motion of the piece is then again enveloped by the sliding, dissonant sounds from the beginning.
    “Entr’acte” is a very different sounding piece. It’s much more traditional sounding, but at the same time employs modern characteristics. The piece is sometimes very rhythmic and sometimes more random-sounding in meter. The string instruments are used to make certain unconventional sounds that are very percussive. There are multiple short interludes that don’t even use melody, but brushing, grasping, and almost squeaking sounds. One section of the piece consists of plucking of the strings, creating a pleasant melody. It uses almost completely consonant harmonic intervals in the melody and syncopation in the rhythm. This then is accompanied by less precise rhythms in the other instruments, giving the piece a chaotic, arbitrary feel. The piece is concluded with a combination of conventional and unconventional uses of the instruments. The different parts overlap, each employing different techniques of soundmaking, melodic and chaotic. Despite the haphazard mood of the majority of this piece, it retains an overall order that is still pleasing to the ear.
    I personally am not familiar with any female composers. However, I think that in modern times females are much more likely to be recognized than in the 16th and 17th centuries. While back then much more public work was expected out of men, today women’s capabilities are much more widely realized. I do not feel that being female could hinder any woman’s success in any way, while a few hundred years ago it would have. There are many women, including Caroline Shaw who have testified to the capabilities of women, and in the world of music today, I believe the vast majority of people are not biased against music based on gender.

    1. I agree with you that women are more likely to be recognized today in subject fields than previous generations. Especially with current women’s right movements and activism gender bias may altogether disappear. However, these forward motions depend on our work as musicians. We may one day be as successful as Ms. Shaw.

    2. First of all your post was beautifully written and very articulative. Bravo! Also, I agree with how Shaw’s vocal piece, “Sarabande”, creates an emotionally driven and compelling piece, stirring imagination while making gorgeous harmonies and sounds. Great post!

    3. I love what you said about how Caroline Shaw is living proof of the talents of women; while society isn’t as equal as we want it to be at the moment, people like Caroline are helping to bridge the gap within gender equality.

  15. I listened to two pieces: Entr’acte and Valencia. I listened to Entr’acte first. I thought it was interesting with one rhythmic pattern repeats and seems to fall apart and become more dissonant and then comes back together in a different way in the middle before coming back to the beginning. I thought the closing of the piece could have been more conclusive rather than fading away. The second piece, Valencia, had a melodic line on top that was almost completely dissonant. Overall, her music is very chromatic I think.
    Before the twentieth century, it was not socially acceptable for a woman to have a career of her own. Traditional gender roles were strictly enforced. After multiple waves of feminism in the twentieth century, times are different in many ways. However, women are still limited in some ways in choosing a profession. Being a composer is a serious profession that takes a lot of years studying. Once a person enters their profession, it is very demanding. This process is very similar to that of becoming and being a doctor or a lawyer. Most demanding professions have historically been male-dominated because of the persistence of traditional gender roles (i.e. a woman stays home to raise children rather than having a profession). Because of this, although we might encourage women to have careers, there are few role models to look up to. This creates a cycle that keeps women from serious professions like composing. Caroline Shaw is a wonderful role model for women and young people for being a successful composer.

    1. I also listen to Entr’acte and agree that rhythm is a major aspect of the piece. The works movement and flow focuses on the string quartet almost revolving or weaving with the different rhythms. The structure did make the piece more conclusive.

  16. Caroline Shaw’s music is very interesting, to say the least. It seems to mix old folky ideas of a strong melody with atonal, modern ones. Two pieces of hers that I listened to were “Its Motion Keeps” and “Improvisation.” In these two pieces, the music was relatively scalar, with some deviations here and there. The rhythms in “Its Motion Keeps” were very interesting to listen to and sounded very modern. In “Improvisation,” there was a lot less structure to the song; it was just Shaw singing an “Ah” syllable in different melodic patterns, with a prominent breath in between. Despite this, you could tell there was much emotion in every single one of them. It had sort of an otherworldy timbre, brought on by electronics. It was very interesting to listen to. Both of the pieces have so much to them and are anything but simple. They are both a credit to modern music as well as a testament to the fact that women deserve just as much a right to compose music as men do.

    1. Caroline training in music is very evident in her music and it seems like every chord was worked out so purposefully yet she completely improvises on of those songs. This just shows me the amount of musical talent she must have to be able to do do this impromptu. Like great composers such as Mozart and Bach who could compose whatever they wanted to whenever they wanted to.

    2. I noticed, from this response, that drummers and singers think differently when listening to choral pieces. Not once did I think about what syllables they sang on the long tones, it just seemed to naturally slide in as a sound rather than a lyric.

  17. Caroline Shaw’s style was very interesting to observe regarding the fact that we have been studying the 18th and 16th century styles of composition in Theory 1. Her work showed the use of what we have been learning in class, but also some styles, both rhythmic and melodic, that made her work unique and more “21st Century” if you will. It is also very significant that she is a woman in composition, especially in the 21st century this is significant. It shows how the music and composition groups of America now have more diversity in thought and production. I decided to listen to and critique her pulitzer prize piece, Partita. I was actually very intrigued by the story of the song so I decided to look up other critiques online of it also. While reading the other posts on this website also, I formed my own opinions about the innovation her piece proposes to be qualified for the Pulitzer prize. Claire’s point on the shifting harmonies of the piece is something I would like to augment. I loved her description of the harmonies as colorful, I also pictured this in my mind as the piece progressed. The idea of a painting that this piece gave is most definitely a key aspect in its winning of the Pulitzer prize. Her song accurately would rise and fall like the stroke of a brush, and throughout the entire piece, the dissonant and consonant sounds resolved like a painting would, each individual stroke/note signifying brilliance its own individual sound, but coming together to form a combination of brilliant individual sounds cohesive to the others, much like the individual strokes in a full picture of a painting. The second song I chose was Entrace. This song was unique because of the symbolism it held as a piece in a minor key, while also inspiring hope and happiness in it. As said in many of the other blog posts, it was inspired by Haydn, and that is significant because it shows the use of old styles that Shaw includes while also being in the 21st century of composition. In my opinion, It is Shaw’s combination of classical and progressive style that puts her pieces up on the list. Overall, an enjoyable journey presented by a talented woman in the 21st century.

    1. Haha thanks for the shout-out Don; I like what you said about how she combines classical techniques to create a modern and unique sound. A lot of times, it’s easy to divide modern music and classical, but Caroline has a unique gift in that she is able to bring these two together.

  18. Caroline Shaw has a very interesting and unique composition style. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Brooklyn Youth Choir sing her piece “Its Motion Keeps” because the piece itself is so interesting. Many times the different vocal parts echoed each other so closely that it sounded like an actual echo produced in a large space. I have never heard music like this before and it was fascinating. I also appreciated that this piece did not use many large skips in its melody yet it maintained a complex sound throughout its entirety. I was very impressed not only by this particular performance, due to the young age of the performers and their ability to perform such a difficult piece, but also by the unique sound that was created by simple musical elements such as a mixture of major and minor chords and mostly step-wise motion. The other piece that I wish to comment on is “By and By”. I really liked the message conveyed in this composition but I was perplexed by the string parts as they sounded more like random assortments of chords rather than a melody. I noticed that this type of “melody” is a common theme in many of Ms. Shaw’s pieces. I like this modal chord progression because it evokes an emotion of pain. I think that Caroline Shaw is a very talented composer because she is able to express great emotion with simple elegance, while still accomplishing a complex sound.
    In reading about female composers I have determined that there are simply not enough women who have been able to practice their musical talents. More women today should be able to be composers now that they are allowed to and yet the field is still dominated by men. I shall end my commentary here…

    1. Emma I really enjoy your take on why Caroline is so good. I believe that her ability to create such powerful emotional reactions so effortlessly crate such emotions is very evident in her music i just wanted to add the immense amount of creativity Caroline must have to be able to innovate like she does.

    2. I didn’t really notice before the simplicity of each individual part. I definitely noticed that the overall sounds is very busy. It’s interesting to think about how part of the genius of composition may be knowing how to use the right combination of simplicity and complexity to achieve the sound, color, and emotion that you’re aiming for.

    3. I listened to By and By as well. I totally agree about the quartet wasn’t really prominent like people are used to. It made a different sound and made the music she sung more interesting than before.

  19. Before this blog post, I did not think about the unbalance of men and women composers in the music industry; I had not heard of Caroline Shaw or her works, and I am astounded not have come across these unique pieces with the variety of music that is presented and accessible to us today. After researching Shaw, what astounds me most is how successful and creative her works are and yet how so few people have heard of her success. Not only is Shaw the youngest winner of the Pulitzer Prize, she was the inaugural musician in residence at Dumbarton Oaks (, and has commissioned symphonies and works for many professional groups including The Cincinnati Orchestra. Shaw’s uniqueness in style primarily focuses on modern music of the 21st century, combined with some aspects of 16th and 18th century music. Her different style and musical emotion are what allow for her growing success in the music industry and success in creation of fascinating new music.
    Of the numerous works Shaw composed, the two that stood out to me most were, “Partita for 8 Voices,” (her Pultizer Prize winning work) and “Entr’acte.” In her work “Entr’act,” Shaw uses a string quartet in representation of Haydn’s Op. 77, Her piece begins in Baroque style similar to Haydn’s piece which inspired her to create the work. However, as the piece moves aspects of 21st century music are seen throughout the work including key changes. She also focuses on many different harmonic dissonances when transitioning from classical to modern motions. This combination of baroque and modern style are what bring life and language to this piece.
    In contrast, “Partita for 8 Voices” is working primarily focused on 21st century style. The piece features, vocal speaking, rounds, dissonant vocals, and contrasting dynamics. All of these aspects are portrayed throughout the piece at different moments creating sounds of sporadic and even, deranged music. The rhythm and tempos during the piece fluctuate also creating images of instability. The sounds when put together make me imagine group of beautiful singers rehearsing a new work. Despite these modern differences, her work does contain classic melodies. All of these combinations are what give color to her music.
    After researching Caroline Shaw and her work, I hope to become well versed and knowledgeable of other female composers and hopefully enjoy many different works composed by women.

  20. From the spoken-word beginning of her “Partita for 8 Singers” you can very quickly see how Caroline Shaw is making strides into a more contemporary-classical fusion feel; a crossing of sorts with dips and turns all over the map. It goes without saying that a Pulitzer prize winner like Caroline has immaculate musical talent.
    After listening to a few of her works, I went to YouTube to find some kind of interview to put a personality to what all I was receiving through her music. Fairly reserved, Caroline surprised me by comparing her composing ability and experience to that of a baker. You can follow a perfect recipe from generations ago but there are a lot of creative liberties that are open for change such as the sauce you’re cooking with. I love her almost systematic approach to every piece, and really admire her creative drive as a young composer myself.
    Caroline Shaw is an already incredibly established choral and instrumental composer, and I see her name going down in history with Alice Parker as one of the most influential composers (not just female composers) in our lifetime.

    1. I like what you said at the end about her not just been considered a good composer among women, but all composers. In the scope of history, women tend to have their accompishments clumped together, rather than having them be judged as individual works.

    2. That’s really interesting, the baking thing. I never really thought about it that way; though it really makes so much sense. You can do so much within the confines of the recipe, while a lot of people think having one is just restrictive. The fact of the matter is, without a recipe, you’re more often than not just gonna end up making a big gross pile of crap.

  21. I googled Caroline and one of the first things that came up was a video titled Caroline Shaw ‘Improvisation’. In this video Caroline is seen holding a violin on stage and she uses nothing but the violin and her voice and an audio looping device to create an entire song. The approach she takes with the audio looping device was to make several sounds you wouldn’t really expect to see played on a violin and loop them with vocal harmonies until half way through the song she shuts the looper off all together and just feels and improvises with plucking the violin. When she adds several tracks of the plucking she starts singing a melody. When she finishes the video fades to black leaving you wanting to hear more. The video was only three minutes but it felt like it lasted days. The music itself. Solitary and Somber, yet pure and beautiful. It made me think of a dream sequence. Sort of a dark room where neon lights float around you like fog or liquid in a pot. Really intense feelings from this one 3 minute song is really quite interesting. I find myself being at peace and i feel stress releasing me from its grasp. Wonderful song and a wonderful composer. I will be sure to check out some more of her stuff in the future. As far as woman’s inclusion in the world of music I’m currently in music theory and the only woman we talked about for more than 5 minutes in passing would be Hildegard Von Bingen one of the earliest composers of any gender or genre.

  22. I listen to By and By and really enjoyed it because it was a very contemporary song. It was a song that had a cluster of strings that would later turn into a melody that with a bouncy base part eventually leading to the grand finale. The other song I listened to was that the roomful of teeth which was weird because the beginning of the song people were talking and then they would faded and everyone started chanting in a way that was kind of hypnotizing and then both the males and females went into a low and quiet register that was almost like impossible to hear. I cannot really name any female composers that I know or their music that I have performed.

  23. Caroline Shaw is an amazing woman, to say the least, and her compositions are extraordinary to hear. The way she uses the language to shape in a modern twist while still using 18th-century concepts is astounding.
    I listened to the Allemande from Partita for 8 voices and Will there be Stars in My Crown from By and By. Both of these pieces contrast each other tremendously. When I first heard the allemande I was shocked by the many voices speaking at the same time against each other. It held so much tension within itself and that was just with spoken text. Once the song came in I could feel the swelling leading to somewhere. There was a building of energy which was different compared to 18th-century because it involved dissonances. But when the spoken text and the song happened at the same time was amazing to listen to because my ear had no one part to focus on.
    During Will there be Stars in my Crown, the string quartet were plucking the whole time while Shaw sang the song. It gave it the feel of being poetry that was usually spoken at a poetry club. Someone said their poem while a bongo played background music. I had that same exact feeling that the strings was the background encouragement for the sung poem.
    Overall Shaw has made me view music completely different from before.

  24. There’s something about Shaw’s compositions that spark a certain curiosity inside of me. Like, I want to crawl inside her mind and see, first hand, what kind of inspiration it took to include all of these aspects of music and literature into a few selections. Allemande really rocked my fancy, something about the spoken literature was weirdly satisfying to me as it was just two voices overlapping. The momentum of the piece changes and builds in ways that are hard for me to put into words, but it left me satisfied with what I heard, something a lot of artists are afraid to do I think. In my experiences in music, and as Dr. Skeirik mentioned in class, the overwhelming majority of students I’ve worked along side have been women, especially at college level. It’s puzzling to me why that is, as well as why the major names in professional , technical music are primarily men. I don’t have the answer to this issue, I don’t think anyone does, but I feel it is inevitable that the current generation of women in music will alter the stereotype more so than any generation prior, and I’m excited to see what comes of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s