Those of you who have read The Snow Witch will be aware that the lead character, Donitiza who also is in our story, plays the violin and comes from the Balkans in Eastern Europe. When we started the research for the project the musical element of the story was one of the first areas we explored and very enjoyable it was too. We went to see a number of traditional Balkan bands and there was a lot of dancing and it was a lot of fun. I hadn’t quite realised that drinking and dancing could be considered proper research but apparently, it is.
We were lucky enough to encounter Gundula Gruen, an extremely talented and versatile expert on Balkan traditional music early on in our travels. We rocked up at a dance she had organised one dark winter night under a church in Borough, London. We didn’t know anyone there and sat down to enjoy the night. What a treat, such fantastic music and great dancing. Everyone made us really welcome and it felt as though we had found some great musicians to work with.
Gundula Gruen is a virtuoso violinist and singer who has travelled extensively, transcribing melodies that she learned first-hand from Romani and folk musicians. Holding a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology, her research focussed on Macedonian music. As a performer, arranger and composer, she works with her group Tatcho Drom touring around the UK. She also runs the Balkan Village Band, a workshop orchestra that gives musicians from all sorts of backgrounds the opportunity to learn and play music from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
After bumping into Gundula at Balabam (a world music venue in north London now sadly closed) and sending her numerous emails we finally managed to meet. Sitting in a strange little café somewhere in North Acton we pitched the idea for the story to her and sat back to get her reaction. Needless to say, Gundula was taken by the idea and having read the book we sent her, she was keen to develop the character of Donitza. Since coming on board Gundula has bought a huge amount of expertise and insight to the project. It is safe to say that she has grounded the story with a wonderful take on the way we could fuse music and dance to bring our story to a conclusion. However, if you want to see how all this works out, you are going to need to buy a ticket!
You can watch a very badly filmed clip we shot of The Balkan Village Band playing their first gig of the year at the Brixton Ritzy back in May. It was a great night and we were really impressed at the quality of the music and the passion of the players. We are really looking forward to working with everyone from the band and especially with Gundula.
The Balkan Village Band will be playing as part of the finale for Cursed City – Dark Tide at Groundlings Theatre on 9th November. Gundula is currently rehearsing a specially devised set for them featuring Dontiza, played by Hana Maria (see the previous post). Expect lots of dancing, inspirational music and an exciting end to the story.