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Interview 22 Mar 17

Belgrade Tween Conquers World of Music

For award-winning composer 11-year-old Tijana Bugarcic, every sound is a melody and her whole life is music.

Natalia Zaba
Tijana Bugarcic dreams about studying in Vienna and would eventually like to be a composer. Photo: BIRN/Natalia Zaba.

Bugarcic is a special case among musically-gifted children. Alongside being creative and seemingly innately talented, she also has perfect pitch – something one in 10,000 people are born with.

This means that the 11-year-old composer has the ability to identify or reproduce a sound by its precise tone without improvisation.

“If my mum raises her voice, or a dog barks, or a flowerpot falls down, I can immediately transform those sounds into notes with the help of my piano,” she says.

“I can determine the tonality of voice of just about anyone. Yours, for instance, is E major. Neither too high nor too low, just right, as it should be,” she says, laughing.

In her world, music is everywhere and everything conveys a certain melody.

“Speech has a sound – when someone is speaking, he or she is creating a melody,” Tijana says, adding that it means everybody can sing, even if they think they cannot. In her world, everybody is already creating a melody by merely talking.

“When someone tells me that they cannot sing, I always tell that person, ‘but you just sang these and those tones,’” she says.

While some people with perfect pitch can feel overwhelmed, Tijana says she does not have any trouble with sounds that are not considered as conventionally beautiful – such as metro or traffic noise. However, if someone sings sharply, it causes her great discomfort.

“I just can’t listen to people singing sharp or badly-tuned instruments,” she reveals.

Tijana has been composing for quite some time already, despite her young age. She was recently awarded a prize in the international “Golden Key Music Festival”, organized by the New York-based Golden Key organization, which promotes young talents from around the world.

Her “Belgrade Waltz” won third place in a competition between 68 young artists from 17 different countries, spanning four continents.

“I was screaming with happiness,” Tijana says, recalling her feelings after hearing news that she had received the prize.

Her mother, an interpreter by profession, realized that Tijana might be talented after noticing that her daughter often sang different melodies, even as a toddler. At the age of five, she took her to a specialised music school, which confirmed that Tijana had musical talent.

She took private lessons for three years, before attending a regular musical school, Josip Slavenski, at the age of eight. She has stayed there since, under the guidance of Tatjana Djordjevic and Marina Radic.

Her parents have been hugely supportive, as have the teachers at her primary school which she is also obliged to attend alongside music school.

She is also taking private German language classes (which she adores), and Karate. Despite all this, she still does not appear overwhelmed.

“I can’t imagine my life without music, my parents and teachers are my biggest support,” she says, although she admits that frequently, children who attend musical schools aren’t happy there, and they often go because of their parent’s demands.

“There are a lot of kids at music school who go there just to engage in an activity. They’re frequently not interested at all,” she admits.

Tijana wants to continue with a career in music. However, first she would like to finish primary and secondary school. She dreams about studying in Vienna and would eventually like to be a composer.

While she occasionally regrets the sheer length of her schooling programme, Tijana is looking forward to learning composition in her fourth year of secondary school. This means she needs to wait more than six years.

Despite this, she’s still preparing another piece called “The Rivers of Serbia: Sava, Danube and Rzav”, and is clearly taking her job very seriously. Just last week, her mother took her to the Sava river shore in Belgrade’s Savamala district, to show her how the river sounds.

“The Sava is a little bit tricky, because on one hand it’s fast. On the other hand, it’s a very calm river, it looks like a flat, motionless board. It looks like it’s flowing and then it stops,” she observes.

Its inconsistent temperament means Tijana still doesn’t have a clear idea of how the composition will eventually sound, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Her mother has also promised to accompany her on a trip to the Danube, which she finds very exciting. It’s enough to listen to the river only once.

“One time is really enough to understand the sound of Sava, I just don’t know exactly when we’ll see the Rzav,” she wonders. The Rzav is more than three hours away by car.

However, she doesn’t get disheartened by the obstacles in her path. Neither her numerous obligations, nor her fifteen awards to date, appear to have created much stress.

“I’m so happy that music exists, I can’t imagine my life without it. I’m so happy that my mum noticed I have this talent. I create the music that makes me happy, I’m overjoyed that music exists,” she concludes.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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