MIDDLETON — Orchestra students in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District had their music world expanded with a visit by Chitravina N. Ravikiran, who is known as the “Mozart of Indian Music.”
He is a world-renowned composer, slide instrumentalist and vocalist who visited the orchestra students in fifth through 12th grades last month and was commissioned to create compositions for them to play. The high schoolers have performed their piece, and the middle schoolers will play the one created for them at a concert May 23.
Fifth-graders came to Glacier Creek Middle School, where Ravikiran visited with all of the district’s middle school orchestra students although the younger students won’t play one of Ravikiran’s pieces in a concert.
Ravikiran introduced the students to an Indian musical instrument called the chitravina — a 21-stringed, fretless lute that is also referred to as the gotuvadyam. He is so skilled on the instrument that his fans have adopted it as his first name.
“It’s really different from what we have here,” said Brandon Hammes, 12, a seventh-grader at Kromrey Middle School. “It seems confusing compared to a violin.”
Ravikiran said he is trying to create a bridge between Eastern music, which is more melodic and known for solo performances, and Western music, which is more harmonic and based in teamwork. He calls his technique melharmony.
“These children will be able to get a glimpse of other’s cultures,” Ravikiran said.
The musician’s visit was funded by a grant that’s part of the district’s Global Awareness Initiative and booster funds raised by the middle school and high school orchestras.
Steve Kurr, orchestra teacher at Middleton High School, said his students spend a lot of time on the European tradition of string playing.
“We want to make sure kids get exposed to all those other string-playing worlds,” he said.
Ravikiran made his first musical appearance at the age of two in 1969 and trained extensively under his father, Chitravina Narasimhan. He debuted as a vocalist in 1972 and at the age of 10 switched over to the chitravina. He is the grandson of famous musician Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar.
Lynne Wymore, middle school orchestra teacher who also teaches orchestra to elementary students along with Kristine Corey, said she was pleased students could meet a living composer and ask him questions, including what it was like to grow up as a musician.
Vanitha Suresh, whose third-grade son, Sanjay Suresh, also took part in Ravikiran’s visit at Glacier Creek, was instrumental in arranging Ravikiran’s visit. She is a member of the Indian Music Circle of Wisconsin.
“Indian music, carnatic music, has a lot to offer,” said Suresh, who moved to Middleton recently. “I figured it was time to introduce it at the school level.”