A Conversation with Vlada Mars, pianist
Rachel Davidson/Black Press
Many successful people are disciplined, some creative, others benevolent, but it’s not often that you find all of those characteristics embodied in one person. Add in a passion for leveraging the power of music to charitable ends, and the field narrows considerably.
Enter Vlada Mars, a supremely gifted pianist and altruist. Known simply as Vlada to her many students and friends across the world, she is a fount of wisdom and an inspiration to those fortunate enough to meet her.
Classically trained in the former Yugoslavia, Vlada immigrated to Canada in 1994 and began working as a private piano teacher at West Vancouver’s Hollyburn Country Club in early 1997. Although she started with only 13 students, her tireless efforts as head of the club’s music department resulted in a program which now boasts six instructors and 160 students learning piano, voice, violin, guitar and drums.
Vlada’s days rarely end with her last lesson, however – she also regularly plays and promotes her own recitals. Over the years, she has graced concert halls in Toronto, London, and Belgrade, and most recently performed at Vancouver Makes Music, which took place downtown on June 21. Her appearances always benefit a worthy local cause, and Vlada has supported the Canucks Hospice, North Shore Women’s Shelter, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the Ride to Conquer Cancer, to name just a few. Her music was performed most recently in Belgrade, during the art installation for the World's Wind Day celebrating clean and environmental friendly wind energy.
Vlada’s ongoing contributions to the music scene include compositions of her own design. Subtle yet moving, her undulating chords and harmonies act as a soothing – and occasionally dramatic – reminder to slow down and appreciate each moment. This minimalistic approach represents an emotional escape: “In the world we live in, it’s so hectic, so busy... My music is a refuge out of that with simple melodies, simple rhythms. Something different from life itself.” Poignant pieces such as “A Conversation”, dedicated to her late father, reflect this theme.
Listeners may wonder how these powerful feelings assume audible form. Quick to dispel the image of a tortured composer toiling away in isolation, Vlada contends that her songs spring freely from more natural roots. She draws ideas from her life experiences, books, art, films and dreams, which come together via a “melting process”.
“I think about [my inspirations] for weeks, and then I just sit at the piano and play,” she explained humbly, making it sound easy.
However, Vlada’s beautiful music doesn’t always arrive fully-formed, and she told me that she had recently finished a particularly intense composition that stressed her to the point of illness. “Sometimes that process puts you in a state of mind that’s very hard to control... like a roller coaster,” she confessed. “But I think it was worth it in the end.”
The name of her latest? “Going Places”. In typical Vlada fashion, its meaning transcends expectation, for “it’s not literally just traveling, it’s about places you can go to fight your fears and insecurities.”
So where is this musical marvel going next? Vlada is preparing to record 15 original pieces. In September she is going to perform a series of “house concerts” that would permit a more intimate recital experience. On October 19, Toronto audience will have a pleasure to listen to her own music at her third concert at Gallery 345.
One free life lesson that Vlada was kind enough to share with The Outlook: Aim for personal satisfaction first, and the rest will follow.
“Follow your heart and be passionate. Do it for yourself. Don’t expect recognition or glory. Say, ‘I want to make myself and my best friend happy,’ and then my parents, and then 10 people… and it will spread.”