Caroline Shaw

Caroline Shaw working in studio
Caroline Shaw

Caroline Shaw ’07 M.M.

Doctor of Music
In awarding the 2022 honorary degrees, President Peter Salovey read the following personalized citation.

Shape-shifting chanteuse: your virtuosity as a musician is rivaled only by your knack for creative collaboration. Defying convention, you have drawn on diverse traditions and influences to produce genres and melodies that are all your own—orange and evergreen, blue as the sky, and deep as the narrow sea. For opening our ears to sounds heretofore unheard, and for engaging a new era of listeners, we are delighted to confer your second Yale degree: Doctor of Music.

Caroline Shaw is a musician and composer who in 2013, at age thirty, became the youngest ever recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Music. She is acclaimed for her talents as a violinist and vocalist, and for her genre-defying collaborations and audacious musical experimentation: her Pulitzer-winning a cappella composition, “Partita for 8 Voices,” features speech, whispers, sighs, murmurs, wordless melodies, and novel vocal effects. A graduate of Yale School of Music—from which she received her master of music degree in 2007—she draws inspiration for her work by imagining “a world of sound that has never been heard before but has always existed.”

Hailing from Greenville, North Carolina, Shaw was introduced to music by her mother, also a violinist and vocalist, who began teaching her two-year-old daughter to play on a toddler-sized violin. When she was fourteen, Shaw attended a summer camp program at the Kinhaven Music School in Vermont; the caliber and passions of her fellow students sparked a new level of interest for her in the possibilities of pursuing composition and performance. She received her bachelor of music from Rice University before attending Yale to continue her violin studies. In 2010 she entered Princeton University’s doctoral program in musical composition. It was during her time at Princeton that she submitted “Partita” to the Pulitzer jury, a decision that soon vaulted her into the public spotlight.

“Listen with kindness, generosity, and compassion to everyone you meet. And if there is a wall or hedge or galaxy between you, be patient with yourselves as you find each other.”

In the intervening decade, Shaw has composed prolifically, writing over one hundred works for artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, and Davóne Tines; orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, and San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque; groups ranging from the Brooklyn Youth Chorus to the Miró Quartet to ARS NOVA Copenhagen; and events including the Britt Festival, Vail Dance Festival, and many others. She works often alongside other artists as a producer, composer, violinist, and vocalist; co-creators include the Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía, the French music video director Woodkid, the American rapper Nas, and the hip-hop performer and producer Kanye West—with whom she has collaborated on projects ranging from concerts to albums to video game trailers. Her work as vocalist and composer has appeared in films, television series, and podcasts. Her plans for 2022 include the score to the forthcoming film The Sky Is Everywhere, the premiere of choreographer Justin Pecks “Partita” with the New York City Ballet, and a new album with the Attacca Quartet, entitled The Evergreen, as well as chamber festival appearances and tours with the Sō Percussion quartet and her immersive dance installation Graveyards and Gardens.

Shaw is a five-time nominee and two-time winner at the Grammy Awards. Orange, her first album with the Attacca Quartet, received the Grammy for best small ensemble performance in 2020, and her latest album, Narrow Sea, was honored for best contemporary classical composition at the April 2022 award ceremony. In addition to her master’s from the School of Music, she has been a fellow of the Yale Baroque Ensemble, returned to campus to guest-teach a composition class, and performed (with her vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth) at an Institute of Sacred Music event in Battell Chapel in 2020.

Photographs courtesy of Dayna Szyndrowski (top) and Dave Kotinski (inset).