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Partitia for 8 Voices (Courtesy of the artist)

A Moment With Pulitzer-Winning Composer Caroline Shaw

by NPR Staff
Apr 20, 2013 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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Caroline Shaw, who composed the piece Partita for 8 Voices for her vocal group Roomful of Teeth, is the youngest-ever recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for music.

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How do you write something like Partita for 8 Voices, the a cappella vocal piece that is this year's winner of the Pulitzer Prize for music?

"Very late at night," says the composer, Caroline Shaw, speaking with NPR's Scott Simon. "Sometimes it comes from having a sound in your head that you really want to hear, that you've never heard before, and struggling to make that sound happen in any way you can."

At 30, Shaw is the youngest-ever recipient of the music Pulitzer. Shaw says she considers herself a musician first — and, in fact, Partita for 8 Voices was written for the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, of which she is a member.

There's one moment in the piece that delivers on that name, where the sung music morphs into a mounting swell of cacophonous, indecipherable chatter.

"It's funny, my first thought was, 'Wow, that's what the Internet sounds like!' When you open your computer and everyone's talking at you suddenly," Shaw says. "But I was really wanting to hear the sound of jumbled talking, where you can't understand what's going on — and then, suddenly, one beautiful, simple chord."

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