In The Garden Pt. 1: Caroline Shaw
Make Small Good Things
BY ARLAN VRIENS | May 4, 2022
The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer looks closely at oranges, traffic, and the beauty of the miniscule.
Caroline Shaw by Ella Mazur
The most remarkable thing about Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize for Music isn’t the fact that she was the youngest to ever receive the honour; it’s that, since then, her artistic voice has only increased in creativity, innovation, and relevance. Whether working with Sō Percussion, the Brentano Quartet, the Yale Baroque Ensemble – and, at one time, Kanye ‘Ye’ West – her presence continues to radiate further and deeper into contemporary music circles. Likewise, her inspiration for compositions flows from unpredictable and organic sources; her works have employed oranges, clay pots, and Boris Kerner (German physicist) as subject matter. Joining smART Magazine from her plant-filled apartment in New York, Shaw outlines her big ambitions to celebrate the small, the everyday, and the overlooked.
sM | Your music is often inspired by nature, but not the sprawling pastoral settings we often hear in classical music. How did you arrive at this concept?
CS — I used to have a small garden in Amherst, Massachusetts. It came with a really old compost pile. Of course, compost is just accumulated from things over years and years, so when you use it to plant something, sometimes you also get little volunteer plants that have been lying dormant there for a long time. Often that’s what composing music feels like. You’re trying to grow one thing, but all these other things come up.
One of the things in my “compost pile” is my fondness for the intimacy of small objects. I like their everyday-ness, and I like the kind of humble quality of something like an orange. You see it every day in the grocery store, and it’s not a super expensive item. But it’s so beautiful and exquisite, and every single time I eat an orange I want to appreciate how complex it is — how all of its little components work together, and how delicate the membranes are. It’s fascinating, and it’s right there.
I always say, “I want people to make small, good things.” That’s where I start. Sometimes I have the occasion to make something larger, but what I’m ultimately interested in is making something that’s very doable and manageable and lets people connect very closely. I’m interested in the kinds of nature that many people can relate to.