January 5, 2010
Suzanne Thorpe

Milica Paranosic is an accomplished composer, performer and educator based in New York City. She is producer and co-founder of Beyond the Machine, a festival of electronic and interactive music at Juilliard, multimedia director of VisionIntoArt, an award-winning interdisciplinary performing collective, and producer of shows internationally. Paranosic is also a dedicated educator. She teaches music technology at the Juilliard School, and she has taught at Brandeis High School, the 92nd Street Y, and Empire State College. A native of Serbia, she has a passion for traveling. In her travels, she strives to connect with people in remote parts of the world through culture and art. Recently, as a volunteer teacher at the Kopeyia Bloomfield Basic School in Ghana, she has taken her interests in travel and education to a new level.

Kopeyia, a small village of 2,000 in the Volta Region of Ghana, is a place with little running water and even less electricity. However, as Paranosic put it, it "has an abundance of culture and talent!" In this ill-equiped location, she designed a digital music education program for the children of the village. In as little time as a month, she and her students produced a public program in which her pupils shared and performed their creative work for the entire community. How did Paranosic accomplish this feat in such an unlikely place in the world? What follows here is an account of how she did it and a look at where her efforts are taking her in the future.

ST: How did your work in Kopeyia begin?

The beginning of the Ghanaian project ...

Milica Paranosic and students in Kopeyia, Ghana

ST: And how did it unfold from there?

A program evolves ...

ST: You were dealing with some very challenging technical conditions to say the least! One plug, or thereabouts, fluctuating electrical availability and more. How did you surmount these circumstances?

Extreme conditions ...

ST: What kind of sound applications were you using with the kids?

MP: I use Logic and Ableton Live. I use Logic for composing and production and Live for performance, and that's what I would prefer to have for the kids. I am using Apple laptops, and, if nothing else, it's easy enough to get Garage Band with these, which is very similar to the programs I prefer to work with.

A Kopeyia student learning digital processing

ST: Was this the first exposure to digital media for the Kopeyia kids?

MP: They did have a computer teacher who has taught them some basic word processing and graphic programs, using an old PC that was donated to the school about five years ago. He teaches the programs on the black board. He would draw pictures of the graphics of the desktop and describe to the students what they needed to do. Then, in the labs, the students would come in small groups to try it out for themselves. So they do have a sense of how to interact with a computer but they had had very little experience.

Kopeyia students with Milica Paranosic

ST: Do you think that, because the medium was so novel to the Kopeyia community, that their creative output was somehow more unique?

Fostering inner knowledge ...

ST: Can you talk about the projects themselves?

Expanding on the Kopeyai sounds ...

Kopeyia students perform

"I Love Africa", a spoken word with backing tracks created by the kids of Kopeyia, was the "big hit" of the presentation.

I Love Africa

ST: How do you see the introduction of digital media contributing to Kopeyia culture?

MP: I think that preservation is a big benefit the community can gain from learning digital tools, as I was saying before, in regards to oral cultures. But I also see that the kids are learning that they can be equal to kids in western society with their musical output. Once they have basic tools, a laptop, audio interface and internet, just like many kids in New York, they can jump the gaps and produce work of incredible quality.

ST: How do you see your involvement with the Kopeyia community continuing?

The future of digital tools in the Kopeyia village ...

Milica Paranosic and Kopeyia girls

Milica Paranoic is currently working on a multimedia performance piece inspired by her explorations and impressions in Kopeyia. The piece will premiere in the new Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater at Juilliard in New York City, March 18, 2010.