Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

1 Comment

A Mysterious World Inside a Cello

Sketch of a cello made of two question marks, one upside down.

Artist Adrian Borda used a miniature camera to photograph the insides of musical instruments.  The result is magical.  The inside of a cello could be a cathedral, or the interior of a forgotten mansion, or some secret cabin on an ancient sailing ship. Borda has also taken a series of photos inside a violin, saxophone, and guitar.  These are in addition to a print campaign that he created for the Berlin Philharmonic.

What better music to explore these landscapes than music from Bach’s cello suites?  Here is Bourrée I and II from Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, performed by Yo-Yo Ma.



Behold Mystical Photographs Taken Inside a Cello, Double Base, and Other Instruments, Josh Jones on,

Hidden Landscapes Inside Musical Instruments,

Adrian Borda’s art gallery

Adrian Borda’s photography

Adrian Borda’s artwork

Image attribution:  Cello, sketch by C. Gallant, copyright 2019.

Leave a comment

Free Concert Webcast: Berlioz, Sergei Prokofiev, and a New Concerto by Gabriel Prokofiev Featuring Branford Marsalis

Today, March 24, 2017, at 8PM EDT (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free concert webcast.  You can see the webcast here.  The program includes Love Scene from Romeo and Juliet by Berlioz, and the Suite from Romeo and Juliet by Sergei ProkofievAndrey Boreyko will conduct.

Also on the program is a new commissioned work by Gabriel Prokofiev, British composer and DJ, who is also the grandson of Sergei Prokofiev.  His Saxophone Concerto will feature soloist Branford MarsalisYou can read a little more about the composition here.




Catapulting with a Saxophone

flying stick figure playing a saxophone

Sometimes you have to just do things, not knowing for sure where you’ll end up.* Never blogged?  Never fear!  Never wrote music? Go ahead and try! Never played an instrument?  What’s stopping you?

So what happens when you combine that premise of Catapulting into Classical, the saxophone from Spring Cleaning, and Birdsong?

Surprisingly, not chaos…or not much anyway.  But let me explain.

I was faced with a dilemma with my composition Birdsong.  I heard it as a flute and piano duo.  But I don’t play flute.  I don’t own a flute. I had wanted to use the piece for an upcoming gathering of fellow piano students, but it would be too late to foist this on an unsuspecting flute-player. I tried turning it into a piano reduction, and wasn’t happy with the results.  As I was trying to find a solution, I cast my eyes on the saxophone.  Replaying the music in my head, I realized it would work.

It would, but would I?  I hadn’t touched it in…decades.

Time to catapult.

What little I knew, I remembered.

What little I knew needed some tweaking.

What I had learned, decades earlier, was what one might call empirical saxophone.  I had no access to a teacher.  So, I pressed keys, blew, and matched the sound with a note on a keyboard.

Concert pitch is when the note on a page matches the pitch that is played.   C means C.

Except it doesn’t when you’re playing an E-flat alto saxophone.  In alto sax music, when you see a C on the music staff, you’re really playing an E-flat.  The saxophone is a transposing instrument.  This system makes fingering consistent across entire families of instruments.

If you’re a human tenor, you are also a transposing instrument sometimes–if your music is written on a treble clef with a little 8 under it, you sing it an octave lower than it is written.

Of course, back then, it didn’t matter—I didn’t have access to alto sax music either, so I was playing the music I had around (music intended for a keyboard) or by ear.  So concert pitch worked.

But now it was time to learn things properly.

In this case, decades of neglect worked in my favor**, and, once I understood that a particular fingering yielded a pitch notated as Y not X***, it wasn’t too hard to learn the fingering for my piece, which was now written in the correct notation for the instrument.

Now, it’s just the small matter of technique (small meaning huge).  My first new empirical results were that the cat really doesn’t like all this tootle-ing****, and the vibrations continuously set off my doorbell, making it sound like a cast of thousands is beating a path to my doorstep on account of my saxophone playing.

At this point, not likely, unless they’re an angry mob with cotton stuffed in their ears carrying torches and pitchforks.

Nonetheless, I persevere.  I’m improving.  And it’s fun!

And that’s exactly the point.

Keep catapulting, my friends!


And now, Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins show how it’s really done.


*Do not literally catapult with a saxophone.  And if you’re thinking of doing something, and one of the places you might end up is the hospital, please, DO NOT just do it.

**Instrument-learning kids: decades of neglect is a bad thing.  Don’t try this at home.

***Not literally Y and X; there is no Y and X in saxophone music.  It’s not that different.

****The cat wasn’t happy about George Crumb’s Black Angels either (audio here; startle warning).  I never saw her run that fast before.

Image attribution: Flying saxophone guy by C. Gallant, 2016.