The Edinburgh Balkan Music Project is one of four ensembles bringing together Music students at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) with singers and musicians from across the University of Edinburgh and the wider Edinburgh community. As the Project wraps up for this academic year, we speak to two students who’ve sung or played as part of the ensemble in 2015/16.

The Edinburgh Balkan Music Project brings together singers and musicians interested in music from, or influenced by, Southeast Europe. During this academic year, the ensemble has met once a week for around two hours, and held performances in the Jazz Bar and the Wee Red Bar.

Joy Vamvakari, a postgraduate Music student at ECA with a musicology background, describes the meetings as “informal and friendly, but with the common acknowledgement that there’s work to be done. Everyone respects each other and we’re free to suggest repertoire and changes of pieces. I joined because I was both new to the city and the University and saw it as a fun opportunity to meet more people, develop skills, and enjoy myself.

Most of the pieces we’ve played have been songs with a strong rhythmic element, a catchy tune, and layered orchestration, providing an opportunity for all instrument groups to be heard. We’ve made sure that different members have been given space to perform a solo during songs, and there have also been a cappella elements. I’ve loved our live performances. There is nothing like being in front of a dancing, singing, happy audience!

The ensemble very quickly became my favourite weekly activity and I think the experience has greatly contributed to my first year as a PhD, in that I’ve got to know and work with undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as people from other departments, in a productive, engaging and fun environment.”

A new perspective on performance and composition.

Patrick Lucas is an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, studying both Music and Mathematics. He explains why he joined the Balkan ensemble…

“After a seminar about bringing the rhythms of Eastern European folk music into the classical mainstream, I noticed a poster advertising the Project. It struck me as a great opportunity to explore a distinctive, exciting type of music I previously knew little about.

I think the group's given me a new perspective on music both from a performance point of view (the improvisational side is something that was quite new to me, as someone from a mostly classical background) and as a composer (I have written a piece for string quartet based on one of the tunes we played, which I'm planning to expand into a suite).

Fundamentally, Maths and Music are both about patterns, and the opportunity to be exposed to a new palette of patterns was a bit like studying Maths in that what seems instinctively fundamental about rhythm - regular beat patterns - are revealed to be non-ubiquitous.

I was a little hesitant at first to join, but I would encourage anyone with similar doubts to just dive in - everyone's really friendly, positive and helpful, and it's surprising how much you can pick up just by playing!”

Are you interested in studying Music at Edinburgh College of Art?

We have three undergraduate and 11 postgraduate programmes, four ensembles in which to get involved, as well as a range of choirs, orchestras and other groups.