Music Professor Breaks Ground with Saxophones

Andrew Dahlke

Andrew Dahlke

Photo and video by Katie Owston

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Music Professor Andrew Dahlke talks about his research project.

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A UNC music professor who's trying to develop the saxophone as a classical music instrument made a huge step toward his goal when he recently became the first musician to transcribe and professionally record a famous suite of solo cello music using four different types of saxophones.

Three years ago, Andrew Dahlke, associate professor of Music, began researching Johann Sebastian Bach's Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, some of the most performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello.

The suites have been transcribed and recorded using a variety of instruments, including a single style of saxophone. Dahlke is the first musician to transcribe them and professionally record them using a soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone.

Dahlke began his research by studying the suites in literature and listening to numerous recordings of them before studying how Mstislav Rostropovich, a famous Russian cellist, played the suites.

"As a saxophonist I thought a really great starting point would be to study how a master cellist actually plays the suites," Dahlke said. "That was a big part of the project - to put on the music and literally transcribe every phrase marking, every nuance that he put into the suites."

Those nuances helped determine which type of saxaphone he chose for each suite.

Transcribing Rostropovich's performance took Dahlke a year, but was worth the effort because he developed a solid foundation for interpretation and felt confident when it came to his own interpretation of the suites.

He took his project to a record label in Michigan that expressed interest in his work. Funding through the UNC's Faculty Research and Publication Board helped pay for his travel costs and enabled Dahlke to work collaboratively with the label to record his first solo CD.

Although the CD hasn't been released yet, Dahlke said his students are already benefiting from his research.

"Spending that much time studying the suites and learning about them has really enhanced what I am able to offer my own students here," Dahlke said.

Dahlke also devotes time to the Capitol Quartet, a saxophone quartet of four professors from universities around the country. The group divides their time playing with symphony orchestras, doing recitals and performing small, community concerts all over the United States.

"Community concerts bring music to rural places that don't have access to the major metropolitan areas filled with culture and arts," Dahlke said. "Those are really fun."

When performing at a college or university, the quartet offers master classes for music students.

"I'll have some of the guys in the quartet, who are professors from other schools, and I'll have some of my own students who have music prepared for them," Dahlke said. "After they perform they get feedback from the professors and the audience in a classroom setting."

Dahlke has been in the Capitol Quartet for almost five years and is still thankful for the opportunities and encounters his membership has given him.

"I've enjoyed being able to form strong relationships with professors at other universities," Dahlke said. "Joining the Capitol Quartet has been wonderful in terms of my professional development and in terms of recruiting students to the university."

Dahlke noted that a large part of his job at UNC involves teaching classical saxophone.

"Most people don't associate a saxophone with the orchestra or classical music," Dahlke said. "I'm trying to continue to develop the saxophone as a classical instrument."

- Katie Owston