In 2013, my guest, composer Caroline Shaw won the Pulitzer Prize for Partita for 8 Voices. Not only was she the youngest ever winner of the music prize, she was also virtually an unknown, having written only a handful of pieces as a doctoral student of composition at Princeton.
In fact, she was actually better known as a freelance violinist and singer in New York, dividing her time between a who’s who list of contemporary music groups and performing backup for various late night shows. If you looked closely enough, you might catch a glimpse of her behind Paul McCartney on Saturday Night Live or The Roots on The Tonight Show.
It has been Caroline’s work with Roomful of Teeth, first as singer and now, lately, as a composer that has people paying attention. After writing Partita expressly for this unique combination of talented voices, in 2014 the group went on to be nominated for and win a Grammy for best chamber ensemble. Chief critic of The New York Times, Anthony Tomassini said of Partita: “…For all the technical craft and expressive control on display in the score, here is a composer giving free rein to her instinctive sensibilities. I hear hints of Russian Orthodox choirs, Delta blues, Gregorian chant and much more.”
Caroline joined us in the studio to talk about her evolution as a musician and the process she goes through to develop a new piece.