SHAW Caroline, The Ellipse from Plan and Elevation

Caroline Shaw

Caroline Shaw is a musician who moves among roles, genres, and mediums, trying to imagine a world of sound that has never been heard before but has always existed. She is the recipient of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music, several Grammy awards, an honorary doctorate from Yale, and a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. She has worked with a range of artists including Rosalía, Renée Fleming, and Yo Yo Ma, and she has contributed music to films and tv series including Fleishman is in Trouble, Bombshell, Yellowjackets, Maid, Dark, and Beyonce’s Homecoming. Her favorite color is yellow, and her favorite smell is rosemary.



Plan and Elevation

I have always loved drawing the architecture around me when traveling, and some of my favourite lessons in musical composition have occurred by chance in my drawing practice over the years. While writing a string quartet to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Dumbarton Oaks, I returned to these essential ideas of space and proportion — to the challenges of trying to represent them on paper. The title, Plan & Elevation, refers to two standard ways of representing architecture — essentially an orthographic, or “bird’s eye,” perspective (“plan”), and a side view which features more ornamental detail (“elevation”). This binary is also a gentle metaphor for one’s path in any endeavor — often the actual journey and results are quite different (and perhaps more elevated) than the original plan.


I was fortunate to have been the inaugural music fellow at Dumbarton Oaks in 2014-15. Plan & Elevation examines different parts of the estate’s beautiful grounds and my personal experience in those particular spaces. Each movement is based on a simple ground bass line which supports a different musical concept or character. “The Ellipse” considers the notion of infinite repetition (I won’t deny a tiny Kierkegaard influence here). One can walk around and around the stone path, beneath the trimmed hornbeams, as I often did as a way to clear my mind while writing.


© Caroline Shaw


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