God Took His Sight, But Gave Him Perfect Pitch: Meet ‘Serbian Bocelli’
08:55 GMT 24.11.2022 (Updated: 11:07 GMT 24.11.2022)
"Music is like the Volga, a big river with a never-ending stream and vast expanse. Everything is there and everything is wonderful. I want to sing in big European halls so that, like Bocelli, I can show our traditions, songs to the world," Nemanja Crnatovic, a talented singer whom God denied sight but gave perfect pitch, told Sputnik.
was born in Belgrade 23 years ago. When the child was one month old, it became clear that he was blind, a fact that changed his parents' lives. After much anguish and effort, they've now come to treasure his unique gifts.
After completing elementary and secondary music school, he graduated from the country's music academy. He studied to be a music teacher and is now preparing to defend his master's thesis.
Perfect Pitch at Age Five
This young man of incredible talent discovered that he had perfect pitch by accident when he was only five years old.
"I listened to a Queen concert with my father. I loved them when I was little, and even now I appreciate their work. They were playing their famous song ‘I Want to Break Free.’ I asked my dad why that song was in C major, when I'd heard it in E major on the tape in the car. He was stunned. Immediately he enrolled me in elementary music school, to play the piano, but first I went to pre-school, to a music class," Nemanja said.
His dad is also a musician, a rocker, Nemanja says, and now he has a band that plays parties because he has to make a living. He also has to pay for his lessons. His education has presented added complications: he lives in a country where few people have a real understanding of his special needs, so there are obstacles everywhere.
Fortunately, he took a bus to an elementary school that shuttled blind children, and in high school he got a personal assistant. She also helped him prepare for his entrance exams: he didn't make a single mistake.
When asked how important music is to him, he makes an allusion to a river with a never-ending flow of water that carries itself with its beauty. He almost feels sorry for people with vision who cannot fully tap into the beauty of music and all it has to offer.
"Music means a lot to me. It's my life. When I’m talking to people that I'm just getting acquainted with, they start showing this pity: ‘Oh, he can't see,’ But I say, ‘It doesn't matter. God took something from me, but he also gave me a lot. I'm very grateful to God for giving me perfect pitch. He decided that I should do music. I'm here to follow him and enjoy it," he says.
His role model is, first of all, Andrea Bocelli, a famous Italian tenor from whom he's learned a lot, especially in the way that he venerates the traditions of his people. Bocelli is trying to save Neapolitan songs from oblivion, and Nemanja sings Serbian folk songs when he can.
"No matter what country a singer comes from, he should never be ashamed of his own traditions. In addition to his opera repertoire, he should always cherish the tradition of his country and represent it everywhere. That is one of my goals. Besides Bocelli, I like classical composers like Bach, Handel, and Strauss. I adore Tchaikovsky, my favorite is the Marche slave," the performer said.
Nemanja not only sings opera music and folk songs but also enjoys singing the Belgrade Crvena Zvezda Anthem. According to him, his second greatest love after music is his love for soccer.
"I like to follow soccer and tennis, but especially soccer. I'm a big Crvena Zvezda fan. When they called me and invited me to sing at the stadium, it was an incredible feeling that was hard to describe. Unfortunately, it was during the pandemic, so I did not sing in front of the audience, but I imagined that scene, that roar as I walked onto the field. I wish it could happen again. Actually, another club I support with all my heart is the brother club Spartak from Moscow," Crnatovic said.
Our interlocutor says that in Serbia it is very difficult to earn a living singing, and there is a lot of competition between artists who perform classical music. The media do not pay much attention to this either, so he is grateful to Sputnik and says that he tries to respond to every invitation to perform.
In addition to preparing for his master's thesis, Nemanja Crnatovic is currently intensively studying Russian. He remembers some from elementary school, and now he has decided to learn it completely.
"I really like the Russian language. I'm glad that it is similar to ours. I understand a lot and have also followed the Russian series. In general, my teacher, Ljudmila Popović is Russian, and it helps a lot," the performer says.
This young artist enjoys the boundless support of his family, from his mother and father, who is currently his PR manager, as well as his sister, who is four years younger than him.
Nemanja wants to one day have a family of his own: “Family is very important for acting. Indeed, a man's life is better when he has a partner by his side, but also when he has children. Besides singing in halls all over Europe, I have a great desire to start a family one day.”
Our interlocutor also expresses support for other blind singers and is calling for a change in the training system at the Academy of Music in Belgrade, stating that the blind often face discrimination there.
"For years, no blind student has been able to enroll in singing. They explain to us that this is because there is a subject called stage design and it is clear that blind people cannot participate in opera, although I believe it is also possible. I think that could change. They could abolish that subject and teach us how to be concert singers," Crnatovic said.
His future plans are to find a professional manager or agent who could arrange his performances abroad.