Rice alumna Caroline Shaw wins Pulitzer in music

Rice University Shepherd School of Music alumna Caroline Shaw has won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in music for her composition “Partita for 8 Voices.” Shaw, who received her bachelor of music from Rice in 2004, is a versatile New York-based musician accomplished as a composer, violinist and singer.

“I was overwhelmed by the kindness and support in all of the messages I began receiving from friends (the day the award was announced),” Shaw said. “It’s a great honor to receive this award, and I’m very humbled.”

According to the Pulitzer jury, Shaw’s “Partita for 8 Voices” is “… a highly polished and inventive a cappella work uniquely embracing speech, whispers, sighs, murmurs, wordless melodies and novel vocal effects.”

Shaw writes on her website that ‘Partita’ is a simple piece. Born of a love of surface and structure, of the human voice, of dancing and tired ligaments, of music and of our basic desire to draw a line from one point to another. It was written with and for my dear friends in Roomful of Teeth. It was inspired by Sol LeWitt’s ‘Wall Drawing 305.’”

“The Pulitzer Prize is the highest national honor an American composer can receive,” said Anthony Brandt, associate professor of composition and theory at the Shepherd School. “We’re thrilled here at Shepherd that Caroline has won the award and congratulate her on this incredible achievement.”

“It came as no surprise that Caroline won the Pulitzer,” said Kathleen Winkler, the Dorothy Richard Starling Professor of Violin at the Shepherd School who taught Shaw weekly for four years. “Even as a freshman, she already displayed remarkable creativity that went well beyond her major, which was violin performance. Her diverse interests were already well formed offshoots by her sophomore year.”

“I wouldn’t be the musician I am today without Ms. Winkler and Mr. Rachleff (the Walter Kris Hubert Professor of Orchestral Conducting at the Shepherd School),” Shaw said. “Their deep love of what they do and their insistence on integrity as a musician have carried with me, and I am so grateful to them and to all the teachers I was lucky enough to work with at Rice. I still hear their voices in my head, all the time.”

Caroline Shaw

Caroline Shaw - photo courtesy: Pulitzer.org

Shaw performs violin with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) and as a vocalist with Roomful of Teeth. She also works with the Trinity Wall Street Choir, Alarm Will Sound, Wordless Music, Signal, the Yehudim, Victoire, the Mark Morris Dance Group Ensemble and Opera Cabal.

Her music has been performed by So Percussion, ACME, the Brentano Quartet and Roomful of Teeth, and her collaboration with artist Jane Philbrick is part of a permanent landscape installation at Mass MoCA. Caroline has been a Yale Baroque Ensemble fellow and a Rice University Goliard fellow. She was a recipient of the Thomas J. Watson fellowship and studied historical formal gardens and landscape architecture in Europe.

“She is an eclectic artist,” Winkler said. “I remember Caroline singing in a musical production presented by her college (Wiess) one night and presenting a brilliant violin performance the following evening at the Shepherd School. An equally skilled visual artist, Caroline frequently created drawings, one of which hangs in my studio and brilliantly depicts a musical ‘family tree’ of my life. Her artistic flair was quite remarkable.”

When asked what advice she would give to students at the Shepherd School, Shaw said, “Keep working and thinking, and never, ever let anything or anyone keep you from loving music. Practice scales, but also make sure you sit in that courtyard in the sun for a really long time and daydream. Be kind. Be mindful. And don’t wait till the night before to study for music history tests!”

Lastly, she added, “TEAM WIESS!”

About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.