Born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia, Milica Paranosic received a bachelor’s degree from Belgrade Art University and a master’s degree from Juilliard. A composer, performance artist, sound engineer, and educator, she has taught at the 92nd Street Y, New York City’s Louis D. Brandeis High School, and Empire State College, and given master classes throughout United States and in Europe. A Juilliard faculty member since 1995, she is the co-founder and was until last year the producer of Beyond the Machine, an annual electronic and interactive-music festival at Juilliard.
When did you first know you wanted to be a musician and how did you come to know it?
It was by accident. My older brother was enrolled in elementary school. I cried my eyes out, out of jealousy. I wanted to go to school, too! But I was too young. Right then and there, my parents enrolled me in a “little school” that happened to be on our way back home, just to make me stop crying. The “little school” happened to have been a school for music and dance for young girls. Within a year, I had my singing stage debut.
Who was the teacher or mentor who most inspired you when you were growing up and what did you learn from that person?
My drawing teacher in the elementary school. He showed me that I could paint a face in blue or purple; I didn’t have to use pink for the face and brown for the eyes. I painted a girl using only different shades of green. It worked! It still looked like a girl, even though in reality there were no green girls. That was a huge revelation for me.
What was the first recording that you remember hearing or buying? What was its significance to you?
The Beatles’ blue album [1967-70]. The track “Something” somehow suggested the mood of a rainy night in New York. I don’t know how this came to me since I’d never been to New York and didn’t know much about it. I’m still puzzled by the accuracy of that presumption.
What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had as a performer or in your career?
It happened quite recently. I was about to perform my new piece for a cast of 12 dancers on an amplified piano with live processing. The curtains went up. From the sound of the first note I knew that no amplification or processing was happening. A bad cable, I later learned. Twelve dancers depending on my cues for the next 20 minutes. Three hundred people in the audience in for an experience. And me, bare and exposed at the big acoustic piano, on stage, with none of my technology working. I improvised the entire piece, imitating my processed sounds on the acoustic piano, occasionally helping myself by singing, clapping, whistling, and whatever I could come up with. It was the scariest moment of my life, with a surprisingly happy ending. One of the critics even wrote that he preferred the “unplugged” version!
If you could have your students visit any place in the world, where would it be, and why?
Kopeyia, Ghana. It is a wonderful village where I spent the last two summers building Give to Grow, a permanent music lab in a local school. There is an amazing cultural center there, nested in the midst of palm, coconut, and lime trees. We would study Ewe drumming, dancing, singing, African arts and crafts. In fact, this is not a hypothetical wish. It is a real invitation. Anyone interested can contact me directly.
What are your non-music related interests or hobbies? What would people be surprised to know about you?
I like yoga. Skiing. Languages. Books. Event hosting. Connecting people. Turning dreams into ideas, ideas into plans, plans into life. I have salon-like house events quite regularly at my Harlem home.
If your students could only remember one thing from your teaching, what would you want it
To stay true to one’s artistic instincts is a tricky thing and often, through the process of education, one loses the sight of it. I’d like to be the one to remind and encourage my students not to lose a connection to them.
How has your teaching changed over the years?
At the beginning of my teaching career I was really seduced by the technology. Now I am much more about the people. That’s true of my teaching and of my art (composing and performing).
What book are you reading right now and what can you tell us about it?
You Have Given Me a Country by Neela Vaswani. It is book about the author’s growing up in New York as the only child of an Irish-Catholic mother and Sindhi-Indian father. It is a wonderful, heartwarming book about many things, but I see it mostly as a book about love.
If you weren’t in the career you are in, what would you be?
A member of a circus.