Musician aims for peace, healing

August 15, 2003

One of Southfield’s newest residents hopes her musical performances will enrapture American audiences the same way they did in Europe.

Marina Arsenijevic is a classically trained pianist and composer who has a rare combination of beauty, intellect, political awareness and musical creativity. The Serbian left her homeland in the former Yugoslavia four years ago. Earlier this year, she moved to Southfield, to live closer to a “mother-like” friend and other fellow Serbs who live in metro Detroit.

She has sold more than 500,000 CDs in 13 European countries and now strives to be a beloved entertainer here in the United States.

“In America, people want to be entertained, so you have to be a complete person,” Arsenijevic said. “This will challenge me to interact with the audience.”

She has performed for audiences all over Europe, at New York’s Carnegie Hall and next week, she kicks off a year-long American tour – her first in the United States – with a performance at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Meadow Brook Music Festival in Rochester Hills. She will play her music on a rare, transparent Schimmel piano worth 0,000 that is on display at Evola’s music store on Telegraph near Square Lake Road in Bloomfield Township.

Arsenijevic, who turns 34 this month, has played piano for public audiences in her hometown of Belgrade since she was nine. She gained European fame in the mid-1990s and became known simply as “Marina,” when anger over the civil war in her homeland inspired her to create a new sound that combines classical and traditional Balkan music.

“I want to bring unity in the face of diversity,” she said. “Everyone can fine a piece of their soul in my music.”

Destined for Spotlight

In Yugoslavia, Arsenijevic’s parents had fame of their own. Her father, Radomir, played soccer for the national team, and her mother, Mirjana, came from a aristocratic family. Marina is the couple’s only child.

“Both of them came from highly educated families so I was pushed to have high-intellectual skills,” she said.

As a young girl, her mother pushed her to study fine arts, such as piano and ballet. Her father encouraged her to try sports, such as basketball, tennis and swimming. At age 9, Marina earned her first national award for piano performance and her teacher told her parents she needs to focus on the instrument she now considers “her best friend.”

“I always loved the piano because it can imitate all instruments and the human voice,” she said. “It was simply the best instrument to express myself.”

Her adolescence was consumed with education. She frequently spent 17 hours a day in class, reading and practicing the piano. By age 22, she earned a master’s degree from the University for Arts in Belgrade.

At this time, in the early 1990s, political strife started in her homeland. Division started among the country’s ethnic groups, former republics started seceding and a brutal civil war ensued.

Yugoslavia was home to many ethnic and religious groups who lived for decades under the rule of Marshal Tito. While he was a Communist, he welcomed Western ideals and had relationships with Great Britain and the U.S. Trouble in the former Yugoslavia started 10 years after Tito’s death in 1980.

“I composed and performed music inspired by the anger I had for the situation,” she said. “For years, people loved each other and live together, but now they were all fighting, started drawing boundaries and making all these stupid little countries.”

She started mixing those classical and Balkan sounds which touched people of all backgrounds in Europe: Serbs, Croats and Muslims.

“I combined western and eastern European sounds but people all over accepted it,” Arsenijevic said.

Her goal was to perform music that unified people. She wanted to remind those in the former Yugoslavia of how they once lived together peacefully. Although she was Serbian, she didn’t want to take a political side in her music.

Her final performance in Belgrade took place in 1999. Although the city was in the midst of 75 days of bombing, Arsenijevic gave into to government pressure to proceed with a scheduled performance that was interrupted by the sounds of bombs.

“That show was once canceled, but the government felt it was more important to help people deal with the fear,” she said.

Days later, after the bombing subsided, she left her homeland and headed for America.

American Experience

During a church service in Birmingham last year, Birmingham’s Jack McCuen met Arsenijevic who sang a hymn. He later saw her play the piano at other fund-raising community performances.

McCuen has experienced all kinds of music all over the world and serves as president of the Community Concerts Association of Troy and Mount Clemens. He said he was “captivated” by her performance.

“I have found few artists who could even compare with her talent, beauty and ability to make a hit with audiences,” said McCuen, who has helped Arsenijevic find performance opportunities locally. He is also promoting her Marina in America tour.

“Once I saw her perform and she was hugged by a Russian, a Muslim and a Jew,” McCuen said. “The all identified with her music.”

Her time in the United States has inspired her include American pop and rock sounds into her classical and Balkan music resume which will be part of her Meadow Brook show Wednesday. She also plays a unique arrangement for America the Beautiful.

“The spirit of America and the turbulence of my homeland inspires my music on this tour,” Arsenijevic said.

Before this tour, she spent several months getting used to her new hometown in Southfield. She’s become a fan of the Detroit Pistons and shopping in downtown Birmingham and Troy’s Somerset Collection. She is not married, but is coy about her dating status.

“I’m really alone here in the United States since my family and so many of my dear friends are overseas,” Arsenijevic said. “But this area has such a sizable community from the former Yugoslavia, so that’s close to home for me.”

Observer & Eccentric, Dan West, Staff Writer