Come Celebrate 8 With Me: Free Birthday Concert for Women’s Equality on August 25
Issue 204 — August 9, 2022
There’s a reason Marina Arsenijevic’s story is the longest in my book Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics and Why Women Will Take the Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. She’s the archetype Intentional Woman and the role model for Leadership Intentioning Tool #2: Dream UP, because if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.
It would take a mighty big dream to scare pianist and composer Marina.
She is an international award-winning pianist and composer and star of the Emmy-nominated Public Television program, “Marina at West Point: Unity through Diversity.” Marina created the program and performed with the 120-member joint ensemble of the West Point Band and West Point Cadet Glee Club.
But it was quite a long road spanning thousands of miles literally and metaphorically from vision to achieving her intention, with plenty of courageous actions in between. I first met Marina after she joined some women in the building where I live in New York to watch the livestream of Take The Lead’s launch event we held at Arizona State University’s Grady Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, Arizona, on February 19, 2014.
Marina Arsenijevic is one of those rare individuals who from an early age knew what she wanted to do in life. Dreaming up came naturally. It’s almost like “dream up” is her brand and she’s the compelling ambassador for the concept.
Though her father played guitar and her mother was a talented singer, they didn’t encourage their only child to pursue her musical passion. They thought it not a practical career path in war-torn Serbia where she was born and raised.
Marina had a very disciplined upbringing — and discipline would stand her in solid intentioning stead.
Marina first fell in love with the piano at age four, when she heard an accompanist play in her ballet class. She was relentless in her desire to play the piano, but her family would not buy her one. However, her father brought her some miniature plastic pianos. Marina collected over 100 of the small replicas until she finally convinced her parents to buy her a real piano, at age nine.
She practiced day after day. She attended music school in the evening, and returned home at 8 o’clock every night to do her regular school homework, go to bed and get up the next morning to start all over again. She was a prodigy but more importantly, her internal drive to learn and perform could not be stopped. Her first audience consisted of 800 students from her school.
Her parents wanted her to experience life, not be alone day and night practicing. They were supportive but wanted her to have a stable, normal life. They thought she wouldn’t be able to support herself with her music.
Marina won a piano competition in Rome, Italy when she was only 17 years old.
The prize money from the competition was more than three months of her parents’ salary. “You see?” she said to them, “You were opposing my choices and here I am bringing you all this money.”
Her parents, teachers and members community were not able to dissuade her from becoming a world-renowned musician; in fact, their opposition was fodder for her resolute intentioning, because she wanted to prove them all wrong.
Marina knew music was a male-dominated world in Eastern Europe, and so she developed a powerful piano technique in which she elevates her body off the piano bench while playing. This gives her the advantage of transferring strength to her arms, and along with her legendary finger strength, put her on equal ground with her large-handed male competitors. This technique contributed to her becoming the reigning champion for years in Yugoslavian music competitions and winning six international piano competitions in Italy and Macedonia. She went on to perform with every major orchestra in Eastern and Central Europe.
Playing other composers’ music was one vehicle for her message of unity, but it was the music she would compose herself that would calm a nation that had been at war for many years, both Civil Wars and regional wars. In addition, Christians and Muslims were at odds with one another.
This led Marina to her even higher intention: using her music as a unifying force that permeates all religions and ideologies. There was a power in music that would for a moment, bring all people together during a performance.
She wanted her music to unite the Yugoslavian people and remind them that they all had a common heritage. Marina took a risk and during the height of the civil wars performed Muslim and Christian music with the Serbian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra at Kosovo’s largest hall, the 11,000-seat Boro Ramiz Center in Prishtina, to a standing room-only crowd of both Muslims and Christians. Even though a war was raging on outside, there was not a single violent incident around her concert. She had unified people, even if for one night.
The bombs began falling in Belgrade, and Marina was called to the national television station to help calm the people. The masses loved and trusted her. Her presence and message comforted a nation. The popular TV Magazine wrote: “God gave her the look of a model, the talent of an exquisite artist, and the flawless political skill of a chess master. She has an ability to communicate with diverse peoples and nations, which even great diplomats would envy.”
Finally, in June of 1999, she decided to premiere her composition, “Kosovo,” at the National Museum in Belgrade. It was pinnacle of her work to weave Christian and Muslim melodies into one composition. There was not a dry eye in the house as the people wept for their lost united, multicultural Yugoslavia.
Marina had to leave the country the next day for her own safety. She made her way to the U.S. embassy in Budapest. When she reached the United States, she was allowed to stay on an artistic visa. She was not looking for asylum or to become a U.S. citizen initially because she loved her country, and she knew she needed to continue her journey of providing music as a unifying force to bring understanding and peace in her homeland. But America was her hope to have the freedom to spread her message to an even wider base without judgment or opposition.
Her subsequent decision to stay in America was not without regret. She left her family behind, with just one suitcase going into the unknown, all because she had a mission to complete and was unwilling to give up. She began to play at churches and music halls. She played music people were familiar with to get their attention, but her desire to play her own music and spread her message of unity could not be quelled.
Marina never covered her purpose!
And so as often happens when someone knows her intention so deeply, her world took a turn toward actualizing it. While playing in a small Steinway show room in Michigan in 2013, Marina met the program director from the Detroit PBS station along with other cultural movers and shakers. After they heard her play, they said, “I think you are right for Carnegie Hall.”
Five months later, on a brutal New York winter evening, Marina played Carnegie Hall. She performed a second Carnegie Hall concert in which she played a mixture of traditional classical, and she introduced some of her new music.
She finally got her break when some of her music was used in that PBS show with the West Point Band. It was her dream coming true.
That began her opportunity to take her message of unity in diversity to larger platforms.
After the fall of Communism in Yugoslavia, Marina returned to her homeland and played in Serbia to over 300,000 fans who came to hear her play when they needed it most.
Marina has a special place in her heart for her famous countryman, Nikola Tesla. She performed her original work, “Tesla’s Journey” at the 2013 dedication of her Nikola Tesla statue at Tesla Wardenclyffe Laboratory in Long Island. She continues to compose music that commemorates Tesla’s life and her “Tesla Rhapsody” debuted in 2015 by orchestras both in the U.S. and Europe.
[Note: In person attendees of the concert will receive a CD of her just released current version of “Tesla Rhapsody. Here’s a teaser.]
In 2014, Marina received the Ellis Island medal of honor. She was chosen to perform at West Point honoring the 72nd Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, awarded Serbia’s highest diplomatic honor, the Knighthood of St. Sava for Diplomatic Pacifism. On Nicola Tesla’s birthday in July, 2022, she received the Tesla Spirit Award from the Tesla Science Foundation.
This intentional woman sees herself not so much as a leader but as an inspiration as she drives people through to her vision of unity and understanding. Well, I say she is a highly intentional leader, since in my view a leader is someone who gets stuff done.
Marina has a message for women trying to dream up. She believes that women must define what it is that that they are about. Many women don’t want to dig inside themselves that deeply. They are surrounded by messages in their homes, communities about who they should be, but they must understand who they are first. When you understand who you are in the most authentic way, you must be disciplined to work on yourself or on your craft, every single day. Marina says that discipline is sometimes not creative or fun. She still lives a very disciplined life, and she believes that has been one of the greatest tools of her success.
Marina adds: “With all the changes in society and the development of women’s equality at all levels, they need to understand that in all situations, they can do it by themselves and not be limited by past norms they learned from their mothers. Rather than taking a backseat, men and women should ride together sharing the steering wheel and taking the lead when opportunity presents itself. I have been helped by women who were more successful than me at the time. They were an excellent source of understanding, from a female perspective, on what was lacking in my own self-confidence or to gain a fuller realization of my potential. It is valuable to seek role models. You will learn a lot about yourself in the process.”
Marina is a role model for me and I am deeply honored that she is performing for my Celebrate 8 birthday concert! I am intentioning that you will join us.
And her West Point concert? It has been telecast over 550 times to 170.3 million viewers and is the longest running concert on the PBS network. That’s what Dreaming Up will get you.
Come Celebrate 8 with me. Get free virtual concert ticket featuring Marina Arsenijevic, BETTY, Dierks Bentley, and more. Or invest in your own Big RE and register for the full concert and conference (in person or virtual) here.
GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.