Alumna Releases New Album "Life Stories"
When we think about students who have been a part of the Webster Vienna Private University (WVPU) community over the years, we think of many talented and unique individuals that have shaped the diverse network of students and alumni. Antonija Pacek, WVPU Class of 1996, is an alumna that perfectly exemplifies how multifaceted and talented our students are. Since her graduation in 1996, Antonija has not only gone on to achieve great advancements in her career in human resources and psychology, but, has also pursued her passion in music. Antonija is originally from Croatia, yet she currently resides near Vienna with her family.
Antonija graduated from Webster Vienna with a degree in psychology. She would afterwards move on to the University of Cambridge, where she continued her studies in psychology, and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Psychology of Education. Her career since then has included human resource consulting for various international organizations based in Europe. Furthermore, Antonija is also a professor and guest lecturer at various Viennese and Austrian universities, including Webster Vienna Private University.
Apart from her academic and professional career, Antonija is also a published neoclassical and cinematic music composer, and has been signed with the Autentico Music label in Germany, as well as the Warner Chappell division of Warner Music. She published two unique neo-classical albums.
Her newest album, Life Stories, was released June 11th, 2017, and features an honest and candid collection of original songs. In Life Stories, Antonija selected compositions which represent her own struggles with profound loss and her journey toward embracing happiness, joy, and life itself. Antonija’s musical prowess has been received with support and praise from her peers and music critics, some commenting that her previous album, Soul Colours, is “beautiful like a radiant jewel.” She has been featured on numerous radio stations, including the Whisperings Radio in the United States and Klassik Radio in Hamburg.
Antonija, who has been fascinated with and passionate about music since a young age, (managed to enroll herself in musical school at the age of six), shares her own stories with each and every one of her listeners, allowing each person to have a unique and emotional experience with her music. Our very own Christopher Aguilar (Marketing team) and Carna Filipovic (Alumni team) had the privilege to meet in Vienna with Antonija to discuss her one-of-a-kind story, learn what motivates her in both work and music, and to recall some of her experiences at Webster Vienna Private University.
Carna: What brought you to Webster Vienna?
Antonija: My answer to this question could be a book. But I will cut to the chase. My school in Croatia was completely closed due to the war in 1991/92 and I could not finish my last year of high school. Once the seize fire took place, I came back from Vienna to finish my final year of high school in my hometown. After accomplishing this successfully (it was a very intensive program), I came back to Vienna and applied for a work-study scholarship at Webster. Dr. Fulton granted it to me and I started working in the library and other parts of the university. I could be found everywhere at the old Webster campus in Marokkanergasse (the third district). I truly loved that building and the people working in the administration offices. It honestly felt like my second home. The crew of Dr. Bil Fulton, Barbara Hillerman, Mary Vrabel, Jody Hekela, Michael Badalamente, Dr. Thomas Oberlechner, Maher Mishriki, Bronwyn Mitterecker (sadly she really passed away very young, way too quickly), Lydia Goutas were my employers, friends and like my second family. It was a smaller building but we all knew the people there and the students I studied with. It was an enjoyable educational journey.
It was not easy for my parents though. They were in a sea of grenades going to work every day. I often feared that something would happen to them. I don’t know how, but they survived it all. My husband and I tried to focus on our education, and invested everything we earned to finish our degrees. With all the obstacles in our ways, we made it. After finishing my BA at Webster, I went to the University of Cambridge and finished my master’s degree - that was quite a story too.
Carna: Was it hard studying at Cambridge?
Antonija: Well it was, it’s a very intensive program and you don’t know anything about your progress until the very end. No one gives you any feedback in between. No one knows anything about the progress throughout the year until we get a letter at the end, which states “this semester has this grade that semester has that grade, and the final dissertation has this grade”. So you need to do your very best and push yourself to the limit. But it was definitely worth it.
Chris: Did any Webster professors support you in your application to a master's degree in Cambridge?
Antonija: I was really very lucky. The program at Webster was great, professors were knowledgeable, and I built my foundation there. Dr. Meyer-Bornson, who taught me several psychology classes, wrote a recommendation letter for me. Dr. Thomas Oberlechner, who was then the head of the psychology department at Webster, really encouraged me to pursue this, and wrote a great second recommendation letter. Thomas graduated from Harvard University. My Webster professors were really crème de la crème, amazing professionals with vast experience in terms of their practices, great backgrounds, and very hands on. My professors would bring theoretical knowledge and practical experiences to the classroom. I loved the subjects so much that I enjoyed extra-curricular reading for my courses.
Chris: It seems like you had a wonderful class. Did you study with our other talented alumnus, Vladimir Ivkovic, who eventually went on to be a fellow at Harvard and working for NASA?
Antonija: Actually he was not attending classes with me. He came to Webster after I finished my BA program (he’s a little bit younger than me). But, Dr. Debby Bock –ah we both loved her so much (she passed away in 2006) – taught both of us. She was a real friend, like my second mom, and one of my favorite teachers. I taught one of her courses because she was so ill…I really get tears in my eyes when I think of her…
Debby was unable to teach History and Systems of Psychology, so I jumped in for her. Debby told me, “I recommend Vlado Ivkovic, please ask him to be a guest lecturer for this class” because during that time he was working as an anthropologist, and during the course of this class we talked about evolutionary psychology. He was also invited a second time as a guest lecturer and we stayed in touch ever since. Vlado is a very kind person, super intelligent and inspiring. I even sent him a few songs from my Life Stories album, and he really enjoyed listening to them. The best compliment that he could give me was about one of my tracks called "Reaching Sky". It’s basically a song about dwelling among the stars, and he said “this is exactly what it’s supposed to sound like”. He, a man from NASA, told me this. It was such a compliment.
Chris: During which years did you teach at Webster?
Antonija: I started in 2002. First I replaced Thomas as he could not teach the Personality Theories course which took place in spring. Soon afterwards Debby underwent chemotherapy and was quite ill. Of course, I agreed to support her and jumped in for her for some of her other classes as well. I taught in total nine to ten different classes at Webster, so it was never a routine, but very different areas or approaches of psychology to tackle and teach. I gladly always started from scratch in order to prepare myself for different lectures but always made sure to find a fun way to engage the students through games and trials. I taught until 2012 when I gave birth to my third girl. I was pregnant in 2010 and 2012, and was recording my two albums, Soul Colours in 2013 and recording Life Stories 2017. I had a few years break from teaching at Webster. But possibly sometime soon I might teach again there.
Carna: What did you like most about Webster during your studies?
Antonija: I liked that it was a close community. Everybody knew each other by name, especially in the classes. At Webster you are not just a number in the crowd, but a person with a name. We could write evaluations for our teachers which is really unheard of in the Austrian or Croatian system. So you could also evaluate what your teacher was doing right or wrong.
Chris: I’m a bit interested in the musical aspect of your life, could you take us back to Croatia, before you came to Vienna, what was your relationship with music?
Anotnija: That’s also quite a story… the first time I touched a piano in my life was in kindergarten. I was very lucky that we had a grand piano in our kindergarten. I really fell in love with this instrument, dreamed as a kid that I would play it and was determined to play it. I was a very curios kid and learned to read when I was almost six. One day I read there that it was going to be a yearly test for admission to the music school. I asked my parents if we could go, because I really wanted to do this. But the audition was in the afternoon when my mom still worked and my father was too tired after work. So, I went alone. I got there by myself, the teachers who did the assessment were surprised that there was no one with me - that I was alone. They gave me the test; I had to clap after them, repeat a melody on the piano, and I did it. So afterwards, around September, when the names of those accepted were listed, I read that they had accepted me! And I went to my mom and said, “Mom they accepted me! I can start playing piano!”...however, the piano was super expensive. So my mom sacrificed a lot. She saw the passion in her child and she didn’t want to say no to her! My mother bought me a piano although she didn’t have enough money for one. She was working two additional jobs next to her regular clerk job at the local bank. She would sew along with other jobs - working extra every evening to afford my pianino. It was really a very touching story.
Chris: You played since you were six until when?
Antonija: When I started music school, I attended classes there for 7 years. I decided to stop going to music school when I enrolled in high school. This was a very hard decision for me, of course. But music never left me and I even composed my first composition when I was eleven, and this composition is even in my first album, it’s called "Tamed Courage". Dear Debby Bock invited me to come to her home so I could practice piano when I was still her student, and she barely knew me. I was working and studying all the time, but sometimes I would come to just touch the piano, and play a little. So music never left me, it always had a way of coming back.
Chris: Releasing an album can be like presenting your new child to the world, how is it after your first album to be working on 16 new songs?
Antonija: Actually, I must say that I am very fortunate that music comes so easily to me, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to manage with three kids and work. I first hear the beginning sounds of a new song, and then I sit in front of the piano and "we" work together, the piano and me. These first opening sounds, few measures. Sometimes it’s just the beginning of the song, sometimes it is the middle of the song, it simply comes... If I am not interrupted I can come up with a song in about one and half hours, it goes that fast. For instance my song, “Christmas Craze", came to me when Prince passed away. I started playing the melody, and finished it quickly. I am also very proud to say that my husband and I wrote the lyrics for that song together. He was listening to how I was playing, and for him for the first time, the text and title of the song came to him. He is a wonderful writer but he mostly writes for business. He has some books published on macroeconomics and emerging markets, but here he was also inspired to write beautiful lyrics.
Chris: I’m sure each of these songs is like a child for you, and it’s always hard to pick your favorite child, but if you could pick one song that you love on your new album what would it be?
Antonija: *laughs* Oh, I am really not able to choose one, that’s very difficult. But there are several songs that I wrote for my mom because I lost her, and some of them are songs of sorrow. "Your Love is Here" is the first song that I wrote within the first week of her passing, and I believed that her love will always be in our hearts. She’s always with us. So this song is very special for me. Another song "Soft Place" was written after my father passed away. I lost my parents within five months in 2013, and this was a very tough year for me. But then a lot of emotions were packed inside of my music, and this music is honest and sincere. It is the best compliment for me when others are moved by my music.
Chris: I think a lot of people don’t realize that songs can take years to be created. So you have been working on this album since 2013?
Antonija: Yes, some of the songs came in 2013, some came in 2017. Some of them are older, some of them are brand new. I could present few in concert along with the songs from my first album because I had concerts in 2015.
Chris: Is there a special place or something that triggers you to come up with your melodies?
Antonija: I guess my songs are about people and situations, so if I sense a situation that really makes me think or makes me sad or makes me profoundly happy, I will start hearing melodies. My music is about stories, that’s why my album is called Life Stories. I tell stories though music that are about people, about situations that inspire me and touch my heart.
Carna: Do any of your girls have musical inclinations?
Antonija: I believe, my Nina, the oldest one, sings beautifully but she is at the age where she dislikes to perform publically. But hopefully, something down the road will inspire her, and bring her back in this direction.
My middle girl also sings beautifully. Alina remembers lyrics, sings in tune which is amazing since she is only 6. She likes to play the piano but only with one finger - she remembers children's songs quite quickly. If I ask her to try to play with more than one finger, she leaves in protest. Now on her own initiative, she will start with guitar lessons at the school.
And the youngest one, who is almost five she plays some songs that she "composes" with all 10 fingers. Sometimes she manages to play within harmony, and when I ask her if she wants to learn a song, she always agrees.
I also wrote songs for my girls - "Expecting Nina", "For Alina", and "Little Lea". These are fluffy and melodic happy songs, dedicated to them. That is how I feel their spirit.
Chris: How do you think Vienna has impacted or influenced your music?
Antonija: I guess it must have had an impact because it’s such a city of classical music. It used to be full of such profoundly amazing composers. There is special energy here, a special aura that the city projects. Interestingly enough, when we talk about composers and my music is discussed by the media, many people connect my music to Erik Satie or call me "the female response to Ludovico Einaudi".
Chris: In regard to psychology, are you putting it on hold and focusing on your music?
Antonija: I still don’t put it on hold. I love educating and passing knowledge to the younger generations. One of my "craziest" experiences was when I was co-teaching with Dr. Phillip Zimbardo when he came to Webster, along with Thomas Oberlechner. I supported Phil in assessing all of the papers and gave the prelude lectures to prepare the ground for him. We went to many different places with the students and it was an intense yet very exciting course. It was a real honor to teach with him.
Carna: Would you like to connect with the former students from your class or your year, your fellow alumni?
Antonija: Sure. When we talk about alumni, there have been many events for alumni that I have been to. My husband and I recently attended the 2017 Alumni Cocktail. Although it is not always easy as we are parenting three children. We try our best to get out and say hello to all of the people we studied with, and meet the new students as well. I have played for graduation events in the past. For example, one of the MBA graduations was celebrated at Palais Eschenbach, which has a wonderful grand piano.
Chris: Antonija, where can people find/access your music?
Antonija: Thank you for this question. As of mid-June it is available of iTunes, Amazon, Apple Music Store, Deezer, and Spotify.
We would like to thank Antonija for her time and for sharing her life stories with us. If you would like to listen to Antonija’s music and to find out more about her career and passions, please visit her website www.antonijapacek.com
Interview by Carna Filipovic and Christopher Aguilar
Compiled, Written and Reviewed by Ani Yoseliani