I recently had the privilege of hearing Caroline Shaw's "this might also be a form of dreaming" and "Partita for 8 voices".

Some of it sounds familiar, like the myriad of "modern" manic sounding music I've heard but dislike for its "instability". Breaking through the prima facie, however, the style, rhetoric, and texture of her work captivated me. I can't stop listening to it!

I'd love to find out more from the armchair musicologists out there. What is her style? Your opinion or insight on it? And Moreover, what are the traits of new classical music (if you can place her there)?

  • 1
    Those were composed for Roomful of Teeth. Have you listened to other Roomful of Teeth compositions? A E I O U is a great example, and quite captivating. The thing is, they are entirely unique right now in the musical world, with no one else currently capable of performing their music at all. I'm not sure that there is a specific genre, as the word itself implies there is more like it. The "genre" of those two compositions as far as I'm concerned is "Roomful of Teeth". (Which is to say that I don't think your question has a particularly specific answer.)
    – Ben I.
    Apr 14 '19 at 3:04

I personally favor the term alt-classical, which was coined about 15 years ago, and was briefly popular about 7 or 8 years ago. But it never achieved widespread mainstream usage. Other frequently used terms are indie classical, post-classical and even neo-classical.

The problem with this as a genre is that it doesn't necessarily have core defining characteristics. Instead, it's perhaps better described as a loosely linked set of experimental departures from classical music conventions. So perhaps "experimental classical" is the best description.

These particular pieces seem to have at least some family resemblance to Philip Glass' seminal work of American minimalism, Einstein on the Beach.


Based on review in Atlantic of "Partita for 8 voices", I'd go with "experimental a cappella" / "experimental vocal"

Edit: Excerpts from the above review, showing that the piece defies easy categorisation:

"Hear the Weird, Lovely A Cappella Suite That Won the Pulitzer Prize for Music"

... "Caroline Shaw's winning work Partita for 8 Voices is, well... tough to characterize—maybe the best way to describe it would be 'music as we know it, and then some.'" ...

"In its four movements—"Allemande," "Sarabande," "Courante," and "Passacaglia," named for Baroque dances—the partita combines rich, closely stacked harmonies with elements of spoken narration and atonal vocalization patterns like whispers, grunts, croaks, sighs, and gasps. "


I think you may need to condense your question so a direct answer can be given or it leaves to much room for personal opinion.

With that, the style she plays is categorized and modern/contemporary classical music.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.