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  • “user-friendly, lightweight

     Japo_Japo updated 2 weeks, 5 days ago 1 Member · 1 Post
  • Japo_Japo

    October 1, 2021 at 2:39 pm

    “It felt like this coming of age of my generation, in a pretty swift and sudden way,” says contemporary classical torchbearer Nadia Sirota, a violist and former host of the NPR member station podcast Meet the Composer. While some scoffed at classical’s drift into mainstream harmony (with one of the most lauded living composers taking a veiled swipe at Shaw’s “user-friendly, lightweight” music), Sirota didn’t see things as black and white. “There was still a sense of what kind of complexity new classical music had to contain from the academic world,” she says. “What I love about Caroline’s music is you can make something unabashedly beautiful, and something that’s also smart. Beauty doesn’t exist in opposition to rigor or structure or architecture. That was a big sea change.”

    After writing bits of the Partita for Roomful of Teeth, Shaw applied to Princeton’s competitive PhD program in composition. She knew she wasn’t a contender for violin programs, and she wanted to avoid the looming law school application she had as a backup plan. Still with no formal training, she got in. Shaw worried at first that serious composition instruction would calcify her self-spun instincts into rigid patterns, but at Princeton she found teachers, like the composer and fiddler Dan Trueman, who shared her interest in folk music and encouraged her exploratory, collaborative methods. It’s also where she first met Sō, in a workshop class they taught as artists in residence. “We’d give these assignments — write a 30-second piece for tin cans, or something — and a lot of people would try to write the coolest thing they could,” Eric Cha-Beach says. “Caroline would just come into class and be like, ‘OK, I don’t have any notes on the page, but I have six ideas.’ “

    Making Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part was a bit like that. After teaming up with the soprano Dawn Upshaw and the pianist Gil Kalish on the album Narrow Sea (released this January), Shaw and the percussionists felt like they had enough momentum to do more: write lyrics, improvise and shape as they went along. “What if we dove into that space together?” Shaw says, recounting the moment of inspiration. “No one is in charge, and everyone can come to the table. No one is the composer or the performer.”

    “Other Song,” the second track on the album, served as a proof of concept, recorded on a whim during the Narrow Sea sessions. Quietly dramatic, with tentative chugging percussion, it’s the kind of song that might soundtrack a hopeful overnight escape scene. Shaw’s voice tumbles down melodic lines, each one inching higher: “The song is in the fold / The harmony is cold / What’s old is new is old is ever, ever told.” Some songs on Let the Soil make lyrics out of existing verse, like Anne Carson poems or the Sacred Harp hymnal; one is a riff on ABBA’s “Lay All Your Love on Me,” spun into echoing, Gregorian-like choral chants over marimba. But many lyrics are Shaw’s own. On the title track, a lullabyish duet with music box-like steel pans, her attraction to abstract, geometrical themes is in overdrive: “Every angle has its fabled / tangent tied behind the backs of / folded hours.” Then, as the drum surfaces from minor to major, Shaw gets out of her head: “Do you ever think of me? / I hope that / you are well.”

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