World renowned pianist to play benefit at TCH

May 10, 2012

By Tiffany Esshaki
C G Staff Writer

World renowned pianist and composer Marina Arsenijevic will perform at a benefit concert at The Community House in Birmingham May 14. Proceeds from the event will go toward the Senior Men’s Club Legacy Endowment Fund.
BIRMINGHAM — Pianist Marina Arsenijevic has lived a fascinating life filled with tragedy, triumph, and most of all, an exceptional musical talent. On May 14, the world-renowned artist will share her story and her tremendous gift at a concert performance to benefit The Community House.Hosted by the Senior Men’s Club, a group sponsored by TCH, Arsenijevic will perform a program featuring her own piano arrangements and original compositions, in addition to popular classical tunes. George Miller of the Senior Men’s Club said his group is fortunate to have such an incredible talent volunteer her time for their benefit.“We’re quite excited. She does an outstanding job in concert and performance. She certainly is impressive,” he said.

Miller is one of around 650 members of the Senior Men’s Club, and he is chairmen of the Investment Club, a subgroup within the club. He said that the club has been an important part of the community for more than 50 years because of the vigor it gives to its members.

“It keeps them active physically and mentally, and that’s why we have a lot of active 90-year-olds. Our average age is in the upper 70s,” he said. “In the investment group, we’ve got three or four savvy 90-year-old investors, and that’s a good thing.”

As a thank you for all the support TCH has given to the Senior Men’s Club over the years by housing the group, the gentlemen have decided to donate the proceeds of Arsenijevic’s performance to the organization as part of the Senior Men’s Club Legacy Endowment Fund.

“We are extremely grateful to the Senior Men’s Club for producing such an amazing community event whose proceeds will directly go to benefit the Senior Men’s Club TCH Endowment. As a nonprofit, their contributions to this endowment help TCH to sustain itself now and for the foreseeable future,” Camille Jayne, president and CEO of TCH, said in an email.

Arsenijevic graciously volunteered to perform free of charge for the club’s benefit, despite her intensely busy schedule, which has her bouncing back and forth between New York City and her home in Bloomfield Hills. As to why she was willing to make such accommodations for the club, she said she feels she owes it to them, and one member in particular. Col. Jack McCuen, who was a longtime Senior Men’s Club member, was someone she called her “surrogate American father.” McCuen is now deceased, but Arsenijevic said she won’t forget how he so warmly welcomed her into the community when she came to the United States from overseas.

“When I first came to the U.S., somehow everything was around Birmingham. The people just embraced me, and (McCuen) introduced me to the Senior Men’s Club and Women’s Club. Those people became kind of my groupies,” said Arsenijevic with a laugh.

Getting to Birmingham was no easy feat for the Yugoslavian-born woman. She’s played the piano since the age of 4. She trained with some of the most esteemed piano masters from Austria, Italy, Germany and Russia.

But when she was a young lady, her home country quickly became engulfed in brutal war, and Arsenijevic witnessed the suffering firsthand. As the civil war raged on, she took a stand against the violence by joining forces with the Serbian National Orchestra at Kosovo’s largest music hall to play a program of both Muslim and Christian music. The audience and even the orchestra were apprehensive about the daring move, but the concert was a success, without a single incidence of violence in the mixed-religion audience.

Though the crowd was appreciative of the concert, some political extremists were not, and soon after the performance Arsenijevic was warned to leave the country immediately for her own safety. To avoid the secret police forces searching for her, she went to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, where, thanks to a bipartisan congressional effort that included Michigan Rep. Joe Knollenberg, she was safely brought to the United States.

Since then, Arsenijevic has played to crowds across the nation, and performed a special program at West Point Academy, which was rebroadcast on PBS and later earned an Emmy nomination. She’s currently collaborating with screenwriters on a movie script based on her life story to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, and is also busy composing a musical based on the life of her countryman, scientist Nikola Tesla.

Even with Arenijevic’s packed schedule, when the Senior Men’s Club called and asked her to play at the benefit, she agreed. Steinway Piano Gallery of Commerce Township will donate a piano for the performance, which means all the proceeds from the benefit will go toward the endowment, said Miller.

“They’re doing it because of Marina’s expertise and because she’s internationally famous. It keeps costs at zero, and having 100 percent profit helps. Our goal was ,000, but we’ll probably double that, because tickets are selling briskly.”

More than anything, Arsenijevic is excited to come back to Birmingham — a place she considers home.

“I told them, ‘I can do only Monday the 14th, and I need a piano,’” laughed Arsenijevic. “They’re fantastic people. I have so many friends there, and they all just want to come and see me, and I feel I’ll always owe the first people who helped me.”

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