Spotlight: Caroline Shaw

Caroline Shaw is a New York-based musician—vocalist, violinist, composer, and producer—who performs in solo and collaborative projects. She was the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for Partita for 8 Voices, written for the Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth, of which she is a member. Recent commissions include new works for Renée Fleming with Inon Barnatan, Dawn Upshaw with Sō Percussion and Gil Kalish, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s with John Lithgow, the Dover Quartet, TENET, The Crossing, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, the Calidore Quartet, Brooklyn Rider, the Baltimore Symphony, and Roomful of Teeth with A Far Cry. The 2018-19 season will see premieres by pianist Jonathan Biss with the Seattle Symphony, Anne Sofie von Otter with Philharmonia Baroque, the LA Philharmonic, and Juilliard 415. Caroline’s film scores include Erica Fae’s To Keep the Light and Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline as well as the upcoming short 8th Year of the Emergency by Maureen Towey. She has produced for Kanye West (The Life of Pablo; Ye) and Nas (NASIR), and has contributed to records by The National, and by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. Once she got to sing in three part harmony with Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds at the Kennedy Center, and that was pretty much the bees’ knees and elbows. Caroline has studied at Rice, Yale, and Princeton, currently teaches at NYU, and is a Creative Associate at the Juilliard School. She has held residencies at Dumbarton Oaks, the Banff Centre, Music on Main, and the Vail Dance Festival. Caroline loves the color yellow, otters, Beethoven opus 74, Mozart opera, Kinhaven, the smell of rosemary, and the sound of a janky mandolin.

Needless to say, she is pretty bad-ass.  I performed her duo for viola and cello Limestone and Felt last month and just fell in love with her music.  Not only is Caroline Shaw a freaking genius, she’s also REALLY nice, and super funny.  In this Spotlight, she talks about life as a multi-hyphonated artist, her biggest disappointment, her love of Shake Shack, and the dangerous consequences  playing piano trios can have on a teenage soul.   

TFTL: What is the best part about your career?

CAS: Getting to make something new that never existed in that particular form before, often alongside friends and colleagues whose curiosity inspires me every day.

TFTL: Are you more comfortable with a daily routine, or the freedom of an open schedule? Are you disciplined in how you work, or do you prefer to follow your mood and creative flow?

CAS: I crave a daily routine sometimes, but it’s rare. And I think that I really love the freedom of an open schedule. It’s a thrilling challenge, and I’ve always enjoyed a blank piece of paper much more than one with lines. Deadlines often generate the discipline needed to finish a project, and I’m grateful for them. Creative flow is hugely important as well, and I think that that kind of mood and flow can only come out of intense work and discipline. Freedom in rules, in various permutations.

TFTL: As a violinist, a vocalist, and a composer, how do you balance your different “lives”?

CAS: The different roles definitely feed each other, and I like the different kinds of work that they require.

TFTL: When you finished Yale and went on to get your PhD in composition, did you feel like you were moving away from being “a violinist”? Was that a choice between the two, or an expansion of your existing life?

CAS: It definitely felt like an expansion of things that I was already doing. I’ll always be a violinist; it’s just one part of being a musician, for me.

CAS: My mother, a violin teacher and singer and music organizer. My violin teacher, Joanne Bath. The organist at my church, who was also a composer (Janette Fishell). My youth orchestra directors, Glenna Theurer and John O’Brien. Anyone who I ever saw perform, or who coached any group that I played with. Too many to name.

TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician?

TFTL: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?

CAS: I never quite knew what being a “professional musician” was (and maybe I still don’t), but I definitely felt something kick in when I was about 15 and played a piano trio by Clara Schumann. It felt like a kind of fire was lit underneath me, and I got really serious!.

TFTL: What do you think has been the most exciting moment in your career so far?

CAS: Ha. That’s a tough question. But the first thing that popped into my head was the feeling of singing “Passacaglia” with Roomful of Teeth, at our very first concert ever, in 2009 at Mass MoCA. There was a wonderful energy in the room then that feeds me still.

TFTL: What has been the most disappointing? How did you recover from it?

CAS: I worked for a long time on a piece called Ritornello, for which I wrote the music and made a film. I could tell in the performance that it wasn’t going well, and that I should have spent more time editing the music and definitely editing the video. I got some bad reviews (both in person and in print), but I am thankful for that honesty. It made me realize that it takes a long time to make something as deep and important as I wanted that piece to be, and as I still want that piece to be. I still think about it and work on it from time to time, and it’s an important lesson that I keep with me.

TFTL: What is your favorite thing about going to a classical music concert these days?

CAS: When something honest and beautiful happens. Could be in the performance. Could be in the music itself. I love being moved by a particular harmonic shift, maybe one that was written hundreds of years ago. Harmony is so effing great.

TFTL: If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?

CAS: I would really like to go to Shake Shack with Gesualdo.

TFTL: Quickies: Tea or Coffee? NYC or Maine? Summer or Winter? Morning bird or Night owl?

CAS: Coffee. Maine. SUMMER, R U KIDDING. Night owl.

TFTL: where can people find you? 

CAS: ig: carolineadelaideshaw
twitter: caroshawmusic

TFTL: What can we look forward to seeing next from you?

CAS: A new album of my string quartets with the Attacca Quartet is coming out in February, on Nonesuch/New Amsterdam.

Thank you SO much, Caroline! 

Wanna hear how great her music is? 

I just received this holiday “ecard” from the Attaca Quartet with a little BTS video of their recording sessions with Caroline.  

Here’s a video of Roomful of Teeth performing her Partita.

You can get the whole sha-bang here.

 

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! 

Everyone seems to be in full-on holiday mode now.  Our tree is up, cards are arriving from friends and family (I do love a holiday card, don’t you?) and the annual Christmas Concert in Bermuda, Joy to the World is happening over this weekend.  That’s where you’ll find me.  Otherwise, I’ll be sending off the last of the gifts, doing some shopping and spending a little extra time at the gym to counteract last night’s Eggnog social! What about you?  Do you have a favorite holiday tradition or are you counting the seconds until it’s all over?  Either way, here are a few entertaining Friday Favorites for your reading and shopping pleasure this weekend!

Have you heard of The Melodica Men?  They are hilarious.  Here they are, playing The Nutcracker

If you have company coming for the holidays and need to spruce the place up a little bit, Target is having a Big 25% off Home Sale.  Use the code GIFT.

They have great artwork by Kate Pugsley

Help your guests keep warm with these pretty color block throws.

And these carafes are great, whether you’re serving hot cider at a party, or morning coffee for a houseful of guests.  

Remember Festivus?  Do you celebrate?  

this commercial still gets me every time I watch it.  The life-changing effects of giving a child the gift of music lessons. 

I have recently discovered the perfection of the jumpsuit as replacement for the concert gown.  They are easy, comfortable, flattering on all body types, and you won’t be worried about tripping over any dress hems while walking on stage (one of my biggest nightmares).  Here are a few good ones:

by Jonathan Simkai, Trina Turk, Solace London, and Hallston

Check out this guide to hanging out in Providence, RI during the holidays from fellow blogger Jess Kirby’s site. 

Some very good news! Violinist Rachel Barton Pine is launching a major new project dedicated to highlighting and promoting music by Black composers, including an 8-volume series of sheet music books for violin (with similar books for other instruments in the plans).  This has been a lifelong passion of Rachel’s for most of her life, and I’m so happy to see this come to fruition! Check out this article about it all from Strings Magazine.

For my Boston readers: Here is THE concert listing site for the city.  Do you have “attend a holiday concert” on your bucket list, but can’t afford the pricey Pops ticket, and your pink tutu is at the dry cleaners?  There are literally dozens and dozens of fantastic concerts happening around the city over the next few weeks.

ICYMI: Some posts from the past couple of weeks:

Finding Our Tribe as Classical Musicians

Gift Guide for the person who HATES the cold: or a “how to survive winter” guide.

How to Balance Practicing & Homework

Spotlight Series: Tracy Friedlander

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheers! and have a great weekend, everyone!  

-Kate

 

Finding Our Tribe as Classical Musicians

I feel like every time I turn around, someone is talking about “finding your tribe”, and offering how-tos, advice and new podcasts.  There are 10 new books out on Amazon this week with the word “Tribe” in the title.  So, what, exactly, is this tribe and why do we classical musicians need to find it so desperately?

It’s not terribly complicated, actually. Your tribe is the group of people you spend most of your time with.  They could be your office co-workers, or teammates, or, if you’re running a business, your tribe might be your customer base—the people you want to reach out to and communicate to-the people who are interested in what you offer.  But as a regular person, your tribe is simply your group of close friends.  Your besties. Your community. Your squad. Those people that you consider family–even though you’re not actually related to (thank god!).  But here’s the thing.  Finding our tribe as classical musicians is something I think we are pretty bad at in general, and I think we suffer a lot for it.

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We grow up spending way too much time alone in a practice room.  In fact, unlike on a sports team, if your friends are in the room with you when you’re honing your craft, you’re doing it wrong. I was lucky that growing up, I had a group of close friends who were all classical musicians.  We were all good, we were all serious, and we all needed to practice.  We’d call each other on practice breaks (and boy, was it ever exciting when they came out with 3-way calling!) or meet over at our community music center after school and steal rooms to practice in. We were close, we were supportive, but we were also ultra-competitive.  I once won a competition and a couple of my closest, dearest friends said the most HORRIBLE things about me and how I clearly didn’t deserve to win.  They said these things loudly and publicly and here I am, almost 3 decades later, unable to forget that harsh, unexpected sting of betrayal.  I think I had some major trust issues with my friendships for years after that, and really, those past relationships still haven’t completely healed. 

These days, the idea of building a strong, supportive community of people is a priority for me.  I strive for it in my personal life with my own close friendships, and it’s the cornerstone of this blog–a place to share ideas, advice, successes and failures with a larger community of people–from the high school students hoping to get into a certain summer festival to the seasoned professionals who find themselves spending too many hours alone on airplanes and hotel rooms. We’re all in this together, folks.

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The truth is, being a musician means that we are vulnerable.  We put ourselves out there on a daily basis, and that is scary as hell.  And while, in order to improve and grow, we need a fairly steady stream of critical feedback, we also need people in our lives who we can depend on to be our cheerleaders no matter what.  Even if they were on the other side of that win.

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These days, I am lucky enough to have an incredible group of friends.  Several of them live spread out around the US, and even though I only get to see them maybe once a year or so, we always just pick up where we left off. I have a super close-knit group who are all in Boston (shout out to my laydeez!), and I get to see them whenever I’m in town.  We know what is going on in each other’s lives.  We go to each other’s concerts whenever we can, or at least try to send a “good luck!” text.  I’ll admit, we could be better.  We could have each other’s backs a little more.  But I think that we’re all just so accustomed to doing our own thing.  Our success as musicians has always depended upon our own private work–done alone–in a practice room.  We were all raised to be a bunch of competitive loners pitting ourselves against each other.  But I’ve learned over the years that a colleague’s success does not mean I will be less successful.  It’s not a zero-sum game here, folks. 

So let’s step it up a little bit, shall we? Think about your closest friends.  Musicians? Writers? Accountants? Whatever they do, treat their successes as if  they were your successes and celebrate wildly with them.  Make their goals your goals and help them get what they need.  Hopefully, when it’s your turn, they will return the favor.

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Welcome to the tribe!

Kate

Gift Guide for the person who HATES the cold: or a “how to survive winter” guide.

I grew up in Chicago, and then I moved to Boston, where I spent the majority of my adult years before moving to Bermuda.  I hated winter.  Passionately.  I didn’t like being cold, and I was ALWAYS cold.  One year it occurred to me that I wasn’t really doing it right, and I was spending 1/3 of every year being cranky and miserable.  I learned to love the traditions of winter–rewarding myself with a hot chocolate when I went to dig out the car, investing in a good down coat and some other cold-winter gear, and trying to take a cue from mother nature and slow down a bit.  It worked. I actually started to look forward to winter’s arrival (though, let’s be honest here, I also promptly found myself a boyfriend who lived in Bermuda).  Anyway….. here are a few of my favorites.  I hope that you all have a wonderful season full of warm bowls of steaming soup, roaring fires and toasty knitwear.  Now go pour yourself a cup of cinnamon tea, curl up in this and read on.

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Books to inspire you to hunker down and get your cozy on:

Cookbooks: On Baking Bread, from Molly Yeh (she went to Juilliard, ya know!), or some Vegetarian Comfort Food

Hygge Books: On basic winter-survival, family traditions, or finally learn how to knit

And to help dream of sunnier weather:

Gardening books , India Hicks’s Island House is amazing! or just to plan a trip.

These lights are supposed to really help with those winter blues!

I suppose the most obvious thing would be for them to travel to a warmer climate!  Target just came out with a new travel collection that I am kind of obsessed with right now.  The suitcases are great, but the packable backpack is perfect for when you’re traveling for a concert and you need to wear your instrument on your back, BUT, you know you’re going to want to take advantage of a nice day hike while you’re there?

But the best way to get through a cold and brutal winter is to embrace it and arm yourself accordingly.

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Shearling slippers are a must.  The ultimate in coziness.

Crawling into a bed made up with flannel sheets is the BEST when it’s cold out!  Some simple ones, a more seasonal set, or these super festive ones (for you or the kiddos).

If I had this hat, I would spend my entire days frolicking in the snow.  Of course, if I could afford that hat, I’d be in Fiji. these earmuffs are a bit more reasonable!

Keep your hands and toes warm–for skiing, winter hikes, or just the daily commute.

Go snowshoeing and then warm up with some hot cocoa!

When I was living in Boston I slipped on ice and broke things (hand, finger, wrist) 3 times in 6 years.  Then I got some Yaktrax, and now I give them to everyone I care about.  Game.Changer.

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