Searching for Home

By Beacon Staff

Miloslav Dunka leaned forward and delicately picked at his guitar strings one at a time, tuning the instrument. Suddenly he stopped and then began to play; Leo Brouwer’s “Un Dia de Novembre” engulfed the room. As Dunka played the song – one that begins somberly and ends hopefully – he recalled escaping his home two decades ago.

Even 22 years removed from that cold spring night, Dunka still remembers the footsteps chasing him in the dark; the dogs panting as they ran through the brush; the flares shooting into the black sky above, alerting the guards of his location.

In 1989, as the iron curtain that had divided Europe for nearly 50 years began to crumble, Dunka decided he had enough of the communist system that had come to define his life in Czechoslovakia. Dunka and his two young children left for Austria on foot in the middle of the night.

“It was a constant urging for liberty, for freedom,” he said. “I felt that urge since I was a child. I knew the system was wrong.”

Growing up in a small border town, Dunka could only imagine what opportunity lay on the other side, including the chance to make music for a living. His father was a professional violinist and his mother was a music lover, but it wasn’t until he was 15 that he finally began playing the guitar and realized he had a natural talent.

“I felt that music was in my bones, and muscle, and blood,” he said.

When Dunka got older he formed a rock band and they played locally for nearly a decade. It was the era of the Beetles and Jimi Hendrix and, while western music was popular, the government restricted such music.

Dunka eventually left the band to find a new outlet for his music. Soon he found a music teacher who taught classical guitar, but it was a course of study that came with challenges.

“She was doing illegal things and I was doing illegal things by taking lessons and paying her,” he said.

For the next few years he learned under his mentor and, on the side, played the music he had grown to love. Dunka said the classical music was deeper, more complex and more rewarding.

At the same time, he knew that for his life and music to flourish, he needed to leave his homeland. He had become a Christian in a country where religion was frowned upon and most people were atheist.

“You lose everything and you’re like a disenchanted person with nothing. No friends. No family. No love,” he said.

When Dunka arrived in the United States in 1996, nearly a decade after he escaped from Czechoslovakia, he was, for the first time in his life, able to focus on music while living in North Carolina and then Georgia. For the next few years he studied under Mary Akerman and began playing concerts locally.

Dunka also began teaching while he made a living by caring for the elderly, which is how he landed in Montana earlier this year.
When he arrived here, the geography reminded him of home.

“This corner (of the country) is the corner of my dreams and when I arrived here I said, ‘I’m finally home,’” he said.

Dunka said the landscape of Montana is the perfect environment for him to create and expand his musical catalog, which includes the works of Bach and others. Dunka said he hopes to continue to play and teach music and is looking for students and venues.

“Life is not predictable, especially (for a) person like me, who has had so many drastic changes in life,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I know it’ll be connected to music.”

Dunka can be contacted at guitarra.ultima@gmail.com or (406) 407-0767.

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