Inspirational Women interview with Manca Udovič
Manca Udovič is a Slovenian pianist who has performed at many concerts, events and competitions during her 15 year music career. Initially, she finished the Music Conservatory in her home town Ljubljana, then graduated cum laude at the Music Academy in Zagreb. Manca has received several honors and awards during her short career and has quickly risen to prominence as an aspiring young artist.
We’ve met with Manca in her home in Ljubljana where she lives with her partner. She describes her family and those close to her as her home base. Among her family members, she’s especially close with her older brother who ignited her passion for many activities that she still loves participating in to this day, such as music, running and hiking. She admits that keeping active plays an important role in her life — as both her way to destress as well as stay in fit shape for all the professional challenges she comes across.
Manca is currently working on a project she’s very excited about — she’s recording her solo music debut and getting ready for a launch tour this autumn. We’ve spoken with her about her lifestyle, her habits and what it really means to be a young artist today. Manca inspired us with her positivity, honesty and humble yet vibrant energy. Hopefully, through this interview you’ll be able to experience a dash of that positive and contagious energy as well.
1. Manca, you’re a young, aspiring pianist, composer, artist, and so much more. Can you tell us a bit more about what you do and what inspires you on your professional path?
I’m a pianist as well as a piano teacher — I’ve been playing the piano from a very young age. I’m happy that I’ve been able to follow my childhood dream and now, to even be slowly starting to profit enough to live from it. In music, I was always inspired by my mentors who were able to encourage me in pursuing a professional path in music through themselves as examples and by using the right measure of lesson complexity. In my opinion, having a good mentor while in the process of any kind of education is crucial.
The same holds true for education in music. Over and over again, I find inspiration for creation while listening to live music (at concerts and music festivals), but also in many other simple and everyday things.The second, strong inspiration I have is the pedagogical aspect of music.
I find it inconceivable to see that some children, through learning how to play an instrument, end up going away from music instead of getting to know it better. As a piano teacher myself, I try to minimize such cases by trying to encourage the child's interest in music, in various ways.
For the last two years, I've been focusing mostly on writing songs. This autumn, I will release my debut with the group Romanca. This is my biggest copyright project so far and I am happy to be able to create something with good musicians and artists of other genres.
2. As someone who tried to become an artist, I have the utmost respect towards the ones that succeeded in becoming one. It’s by no means an easy path. What does it mean being a young artist? What are some of your biggest struggles?
Being a young artist is a real challenge per se. Paving the way to the musical scene filled with established artists may be very difficult. Any newcomer finds it difficult to make first contact with the audience, while agents and promoters of young talents do not exist in our country. One has to take care of everything by themselves, at least initially.
In doing this, one has to be persistent and believe that the effort will pay off. Luckily, I live mainly from piano teaching, otherwise one of my main challenges would probably be survival. The earnings I make from concerts are not very good and opportunities for stage-performances are very unevenly distributed throughout the year.
I don’t have any special routines before going on stage — just a few deep breaths and words of encouragement — from me, to me... And then I let the music take over my feelings.
I don’t have any special routines before going on stage— just a few deep breaths and words of encouragement — from me, to me... And then I let the music take over my feelings.
3. How do you keep your creativity flow going? What does your creative process look like?
My creative flow keeps going as long as I set myself clear goals which I then achieve step by step. Thereby honest criticism as well as sincere praise are important to me. My creative process does not require any dramatic circumstances. It is mainly associated with persistent practicing and listening to music; exploring the sound of different instruments and the messages embedded in different forms of art — mainly music and literature. When creating my own music I need a lot of peace, time and my piano, of course.
4. Besides working on your own creative projects, you also work part time as a piano teacher. Most people think it’s too late to learn how to play an instrument once they are adults. However, some of your students are adults. What’s your experience working with adults, why do they decide to pursue piano lessons? Can you tell us more about the positive effects music has on us?
It is true that some of my students are adults — some are even retired. They make a wonderful example that it's never too late to start as an amateur and learn how to play an instrument. I tend to believe that this practice is their quality leisure time. Music is their new (old) hobby for which they may not have had time or money earlier in their lifetime. Seeing the enthusiasm and the progress of these individuals is encouraging for them as well as for me. It gives us the satisfaction and energy to persist.
It is generally known that listening to music relieves stress, improves our well-being and sleep as well as makes us generally happier. We can hardly imagine entertainment, birthdays, socializing with friends... without music. Music encourages and strengthens our emotions.
Learning to play an instrument, however, offers some additional advantages; it may be worthwhile to point out that it promotes coordination, concentration and tenacity. Three characteristics that are especially lacking in today's young people.
5. How do you prepare for concerts? What’s your typical routine in the months/weeks/days before?
Preparations depend, in great extent, on the type of performance I am preparing for. For the simplest repetition performances, I am in preparation for two to three weeks; for demanding concerts of classical music, I may be in preparation for up to a year and a half. Preparations for concerts of classical music are not only longer, but also more stressful than preparing for easy music performances. In the process of preparing for a classical concert, I practice a lot of long lasting piano exercises and do deep literature analysis — while preparing for concerts with the band takes place in a much more relaxed atmosphere.
Regardless of the genre I play, it's always crucial that I master the compositions to a hundred percent perfection long before the concert itself happens. Appropriately, thorough and timely preparation is a prerequisite for a sovereign performance on the stage. And even then, something may go wrong. Regardless of what kind of performance I am preparing for, I devote the same amount of time, 2-3 hours to my regular daily piano exercise.
I consider the day of the concert, a normal day — I'm trying not to overpractice, so before going on the stage I prefer to repeat the program several times in my mind only.
6. Being an artist sounds so nice, but I assume it can actually be very competitive and stressful. How do you battle stress in general, before concerts or competitions? Do you have any favorite relaxation techniques that you use?
Running is my favourite de-stressing activity. I learned crocheting many years ago, but only recently began recognising how relaxing it truly is. Since then, I have made quite a number of little cotton teddy bears, rabbits, and mice. The growing number of these cute textile creatures on my shelf reflects the intensity of my current stress-situation. :)
The amount of stress before a concert depends on the genre of music I perform. Personally, classical recitals are much more stressful than jazz or any other. The gigs I have with my band, on the other hand, are pure joy. I have been performing regularly since a child and I’ve never been afraid of performing in public. The precondition for relieving stress before a concert is good preparation and lots of practice, which needs to be done long before the day of the concert. I don't have any special routines before going on stage — just a few deep breaths and words of encouragement — from me, to me... And then I let the music take over my feelings.
Handling stress before competitions has always been very similar to how I handle stress before my concerts. But honestly, I think I am done with competitions. Not so much because of the stress, but rather because I’m not finding much meaning in it. To me, art is so much more than just hundreds on the stopwatch, and it personally makes no sense to want to measure it in that way.
7. You mentioned family and your partner as your biggest supporters — your home base. How much and in what way did the support of your closest ones contribute to your success as a young working adult?
My family support is crucial to my success. My parents enrolled me in music school at the age of five, and to this day they remain my biggest supporters and main motivators — even when I can’t see a way forward myself.
In the very beginning, my older brother was a big role model for me. While I was still only learning clumsy blows on white and black piano keys, he was already playing demanding pieces by famous composers. My parents also supported me when I decided to leave my hometown to study at the Music Academy in Zagreb. Although neither of my parents are professionally involved in music, they are both art lovers. My home base taught me persistence and hard work, as well as how to cope with criticism and praise.
The most important thing my parents taught me is that with everything you do, it's most important to stay true to who you are. To this day, my family is still my most loyal and sincere supporting base.
8. As someone who also does a lot of creative work, I have trouble switching off when I’m on a roll. Are you the same? How important is work-life balance to you?
When I do not teach or exercise playing the piano, I go to the theater or attend concerts... So in a way, I'm surrounded with art and music everywhere and most of the time. Only when I successfully accomplish one of my tasks, I take some rest and - for a short time - forget about my obligations.
9. You told me that you’re very active and love hiking. Is staying in good physical shape important to you, and why?
It’s true, I love outdoor sports like mountaineering, running, skiing, skating… . All these activities give me the energy for my work, as well as help me keep in shape. When playing longer concerts, I definitely need that kind of physical condition. I also enjoy getting my dose of vitamin D directly from the sun.
To me, sport is a complete relief from everyday life. It is my breakaway from noise, but also from music, as I never listen to it when I am physically active. The same way I cannot imagine my life without a piano, I couldn’t imagine it without recreational activities out in the nature.
10. Are there any other health & beauty habits you just can’t do without? If so, what are they?
I’ve never had any particular beauty rituals. I don’t exaggerate with my makeup because I believe in the natural beauty of every individual. I believe that beauty comes from within, rather than from our physical appearance. Beauty is not all about perfect skin, hair, or clothes — it is, to a great extent, about positivity and grace that one shows in their interactions with others.
I admire satisfied and happy people, and this is why I love hanging out with my irreplaceable friends who understand me, make me laugh, and help me by making me realize that I should spare some time from practising piano and instead spend some quality time with them.
I guess you could say that listening to good music with my best friends is my favourite and most frequently practised beauty routine. In addition to that, I also try to eat healthy and diverse food such as homegrown vegetables from my granny's garden. I also try to drink enough water and spend as much time as possible outside.
11. How do you see your life changing in the next 10 years, what would you still like to achieve? How much do you think about your health and well-being when planning for the future?
I wish I could persist in both directions I’m going in, at least during the next ten years.
On the artistic path, I plan to have as many concerts as possible with the Romanca ensemble and I hope our music will evoke pleasant feelings — I’ll be happy if people simply like my music.
On the pedagogical path, I will continue working with young and motivated people. My main goal is to spread motivation... for playing the piano, for music, and for art in general. With the new school year, I will start teaching my own piano classes. I hope this humble beginning will keep developing in the long run — and that in ten years, it will grow into a real piano school that will provide knowledge and satisfaction to a wide population of young artists.
I hope that my fingers and legs will continue to serve me well, so that I can run and play, but most importantly teach and perform. I know that the preservation of health does not depend only on me, but I will continue to strive for it with a healthy diet, being active in sports, and maintaining good relationships with the people around me.