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Piano alumna Monika Miodragovic wins first prize at international competition

Alumna Monika Miodragovic (MM ‘17) won first prize in the adult division of the 2020 International Talent Music Festival Rhein-Main with Clara Schumann Competition.

At FIU, she won the coveted annual Concerto Competition as a student of FIU Artist-in-Residence Kemal Gekic, before moving on to perform in Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. Recently, she earned her Artist Diploma from Roosevelt University in Chicago.

 

Why don’t we start with a bit on your background. What got you into music?

I was born in Belgrade, Serbia. We have many cafes that play music on the streets. Ever since I started walking, my parents said I would stop and listen to the music before erupting into dance!

I was also introduced to the piano by my Kindergarten teacher who would play the piano for us. One day I came home from Kindergarten and started tapping my fingers on the table. My mom asked me what I was doing and I told her that I was playing the piano. I was about 4 years old then. A year and a half later a friend of the family recommended my first piano teacher, Toma Mijatović. I was studying with him for nine years until the day he died from cancer, the same day Pavarotti died.

 

What attracted you to FIU?

Monika with FIU piano professors, Jose Lopez and Kemal Gekic, during her graduate recital on campus

That’s easy! The piano legend that comes from my part of the world – Professor Kemal Gekić. Toma knew about him and he would be so proud if he knew that I was able to acquire my Master’s degree under his tutelage. Professor Gekic is well known in my part of the world – his playing is virtuosic, imaginative, and full of life. As a music major, I was able to receive individualized attention and benefited greatly from his expertise.

Thankfully, I received a music scholarship by becoming a teaching assistant. This scholarship covered tuition and provided a stipend – without it, I would never have been able to attend FIU.

 

How did your time at FIU help prepare you for life after graduation?

FIU was a pivotal stepping stone to becoming a true musician. After working with Professor Gekic, I won the 2017 FIU Concerto Competition which gave me a taste for competitions. I love competing!

I also recorded a piece while studying with him that led to an offer by Sheva Collections, a European record label, to record a CD with them.

 

Tell me about the selections that you chose for the competition. 

Because of Covid-19, the competition was online for both rounds. I submitted selections from Debussy’s Estampes and Khachaturian’s Piano Sonata, but it was the invigorating first movement of Khachaturian that captured judges’ attention. It is a piece I learned mostly on my own, pouring my passion for lesser-known work. I am grateful that they’ve recognized the quality of the work, as well as my performance of it. I am also grateful for my mentors who have helped shape me into the musician and pianist that I am today.

 

How do you prepare for a competition?

In general, I practice hard and listen to my teachers. Before a competition, recording, or recital, I try to go over more challenging parts to further secure them. You have to put in the work – you can’t practice in one night – this is a labor of love that lasts a lifetime.

If you ask the music professors at FIU, many of them will tell you it’s about your mental state and that you should think of competitions as an opportunity to perform and share your craft with others.

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