Grim fairy tales: Baroque band plays creepy kids’ stories

Scary tales: Members of New Vintage Baroque and Oracle Hysterical will play antique instruments during their show of creepy takes on the Grimm’s fairy tales at National Sawdust on Oct. 21.
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Call them scary tales!

A group of old-timey musicians will try to creep out audiences with a macabre musical take on Grimm’s fairy tales at Williamsburg’s National Sawdust on Oct. 21. The 12-musician strong crew, made up of members of the band New Vintage Baroque and composer-performer group Oracle Hysterical, will perform 10 songs based on the classic tales. The original Grimm stories are actually much creepier than the cartoon and kiddie book incarnations that most people know, according to one of the show’s creators.

“Whenever we perform these songs for people, I don’t think they realize that they were that dark, and they come up us and say ‘I can’t believe you would tell kids a story like that,’ ” said Doug Balliet, who plays the viola d’gamba, a sort of fretted cello that was popular from the 15th to the 18th century. The members of New Vintage Baroque and Oracle Hysterical mix modern and vintage instruments for a unique creaky sound, he said, which makes a good match for the eerie stories.

The group decided to transform the tales into music after some members found a translation of the tales — originally written in German — and noticed small details of the spooky fantasies that would work well in song.

“The ones that speak to me usually speak to me because of some beautiful detail that catches my attention,” said Balliet. “So I usually start by picking just a couple of words from the story whenever I get that feeling and try to spin out the rest of the songs from there.”

The pieces — which are sung by two vocalists — tell some truly eerie tales. For instance, “The Children that Played Butcher” tells the story of a meat cutter’s kid who murders his sibling, then gets killed by his mother, who is knifed to death by her husband, who ends up killing himself. Another story is titled “The Poor Boy in his Grave.”

The National Sawdust show is the American debut for the fairy tale songs, which the musicians played in slightly different form in Switzerland a few years ago.

For this performance, a graphic artist and animator has created special imagery for each tale, which will be projected onto a screen behind the musicians as they play their haunting tunes.

The show will certainly be sinister, said the band members, but it is nothing that Halloween-loving kids haven’t seen before. One of Oracle Hysterical’s vocalists encourages parents to bring along their youngsters.

“If kids can watch ghouls and witches they can totally handle ‘The Children That Played Butcher,’ ” said Elliot Cole, who is also a composer. “Bring the kids!”

“Grimm’s Fairytales” at National Sawdust [80 N. Sixth St. at Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, (646) 779–8455,]. Oct. 21 at 7 pm. $29.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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