Photo: Courtesy of Jorge Galan

Cat Galan: Bringing classical elements to contemporary music

In a way, the name Cat Galan is a phonetic intensive — one of those phrases whose sound imitates the thing it describes. What I mean by this is “Cat Galan” sounds like a unique individual. Someone who understands music and words. Someone who carries themselves softly and speaks with intention and has a cautious kind of ambition about them.

I met up with Galan last Thursday afternoon, the same day she and her bandmates were to open up for Atlas Road Crew at Main Street Public House. She’s a second-year music performance student at USC and she focuses on the violin.

Galan began classical training at the age of five with her two brothers, but she is the only one who stuck with it.

USC professor William Terwilliger teaches violin at the School of Music and has been working with Galan since she was in high school.

“I think the world of Catherine … in fact, her whole family is very talented,” Terwilliger said.

Both Terwilliger and Galan described her parents as “very supportive” of the kids’ musical endeavors.

Galan’s older brother grew to love guitar, and it wasn’t long before she started performing at gigs with him.

“We’d do acoustic stuff — he would play guitar and sing and I would sing with him … we started doing that when I was eleven,” Galan said.

This was the beginning of her singing career, though it wasn’t until she was 17 that Galan began to take lessons, which helped with technique and enabled her to teach vocal lessons to others.

Galan’s instrumental expertise is similar to language proficiency in that there are a couple things in which she is fluent — voice and violin — but there are others in which she dabbles, including guitar, cello and piano.

One of Galan’s major focuses right now is the band she’s in, Bellavida, meaning “beautiful life.” Bellavida has been together for a little over two years, and Galan herself was the last member to join.

“They kind of had their own thing going and then they wanted a different instrument,” Galan said, “and the guitar player at the time knew me … so I went and joined the band.”

Galan’s understanding of classical violin adds a unique element to the band’s sound. Terwilliger emphasized that he loves to see his students discover the possibilities of string instruments outside of their conventional place chamber music.

“It’s great because the violin sings. She’s a singer, but she understands how the violin can sing as well," Terwilliger said.

Bellavida started off as many groups do: performing covers. But they crossed the threshold that most young bands don’t — writing original music and rehearsing on a consistent basis.

“We had regular practice and songwriting and stuff like that, so we were pretty serious about it so that was new for me actually, but I grew to really love it,” Galan said.

Each week consists of anywhere from two to four hours of practice, along with one performance on average.

And taking the music seriously has paid off. They now have a manager, Trevor Guyton, who approached them after a show at New Brooklyn Tavern and loved their music immediately.

“He’s become another member of the band, he’s like family. He works so hard and never asks for anything,” Galan said of Guyton.

Bellavida won a Battle of the Bands competition back in May, which got them a spot in the Charleston Music Confab — a major networking opportunity for artists and music professionals — and most of their recent time has been spent preparing for it. The band headed down to Charleston just one day after my interview with Galan.

Bellavida’s first EP, “Letters to Rose,” was released last September, and they hope to work on a full album sometime in the near future.

In terms of longterm goals, the band has different ideas about what may be in store. Galan and her brother like to keep a practical mindset while other members aim high.

“Logan and Blake are shooting far and thinking ahead, which I think is great … I’m just kind of thinking one step at a time,” Galan said.

It is easy to look at a group like Bellavida and assume that their success has been linear, but this is hardly ever the case. They have had to overcome setbacks to get where they are.

For example, Bellavida’s bassist left last year, and it was difficult to fill that gap.

“It was hard finding a good replacement because he’s really talented, and also, the way we look at it, it’s not just a player. We also have a special friendship with each of our members,” Galan said.

The bassist ended up coming back, but it was a challenging time.

“I think it brought us closer as a band, just getting through that together, and it worked out,” Galan said.

As for the music itself, Bellavida is relatively flexible about what genre they fall into. The band has been described as “acoustic-driven rock” and indie pop-rock, but Galan doesn’t see the group as fitting into one particular category.

There are a variety of music tastes within the band too. Galan personally likes Amy Winehouse’s singing style, as well as Ella Fitzgerald's. Some of her other music preferences include John Mayer and MUSE.

It is fascinating to see a musician such as Galan merge two very different types of music — classical with contemporary. While working with Bellavida is a major part of Galan’s life, she still practices violin in the more traditional sense. This summer, for example, Galan traveled to Germany for the Saarburg International Music Festival. 

“These were very demanding chamber works that she did,” Dr. Tergwiller said, “She really did beautifully.”

He believes the trip helped her grow as a musician and a person, and that it was important for her to spend time in a place where so many classical compositions were born.

Galan is young, relatively speaking, and from this vantage point her possibilities seem endless. Though she may like to keep a cautious optimism about her, she’s already won people over — people who think she has what it takes to go far, like Dr. Terwilliger and Trevor Guyton.

Without really trying, she’s won me over too. I’m convinced that Cat Galan can take this music thing as far as she wants it to go.



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