Musical Anecdotes—49 Ravi Kiran ( 12 February, 1967…)


Musical Anecdotes—49

49, Ravi Kiran ( 12 February, 1967…)


Chitravina N.Ravikiran is a Carnatic music performer and composer.He gives both vocal concerts and concerts in the instrument chitravina (Gottuvadyam).He is the grandson of famous musician Gottuvadyam Narayan Iyengar.


He is a child prodigy. At the Madras Music Academy’s festival of December 1969, the scene was set for a sensational occurrence. A young lad, yet to reach three years, was seated on the stage with the respected Experts’ Committee including Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Pandit Ravi Shankar, M S Subbulakshmi and others before him. In a playful mood, the boy astounded his audience by identifying over 325 raga-s and 175 tala-s. He further answered technical questions about different types of raga-s, gamaka-s (musical glides and shakes), parts of compositions and nomenclature. The Music Academy Journal writes ‘With mikes all around him and his hands full of biscuits, all the time playing, the child gave out correct answers.’

So impressed were the experts of the Academy that they proposed to award him a monthly stipend of 50 rupees for three years. Within a year he had given a vocal performance at the Shanmukhananda Sabha in Bombay and by the age of five had a repertoire of about 500 songs. The playful lad was none other than N. Ravikiran. ( See Note at the end)


The Music Academy,Madras, awarded the two year child ,a monthly scholarship for the next few years. Ravikiran trained in Carnatic music under the guidance of his father, Narasimhan. He sacrificed his own career as an instrumentalist to nurture Ravikiran and his siblings. He made his first appearance in 1969 in the Malleshwaram Sangeeta Sabha, Bangalore. He debuted as a vocalist in 1972 at Coimbatore at the age of five years. At the age of 10,he switched over to the 21 stringed chitravina. However,he resumed his vocal recitals in 1999 and now presents both vocal and instrumental concerts.


The Ravikiran we see now is a mature musician – one of the great Indian instrumentalists –He is involved in fusion experiments both here and abroad. He is an inspired speaker on music with a sophisticated vocabulary he has apparently cultivated over the decades to a point it seems spontaneous and natural. His is often the most respected voice in any seminar or symposium on classical music in which the other participants are leading exponents of other traditions of music. Ravikiran is the author of several books, He is also the founder of the International Foundation for Carnatic Music.


He has presented voice concerts for major organizations in Chennai, New York, Bangalore, San Jose, Washington DC, Dallas etc. He has been featured as a vocalist in leading events including the Cleveland Festival and the Chicago World Music Festival. In July 1985, he set a record with a 24-hour non-stop solo concert in Chennai. He won an exemption to perform professional concerts for Indian Radio and Television (Doordarshan) at age 12 and was invited to represent his country in Festivals of India in France ,Switzerland , Germany , Brazil and countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Austria and Yugoslavia . He has performed extensively in major events and venues in USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Netherlands, Belgium, Singapore and other countries including the Chicago World Music Festival, Theatre de la Ville Paris, Europalia Festival, Belgium, Millennium Festival (UK), Masters of Indian Music Series, Budapest, Sadlers Wells, Tate Modern, Esplandae (Singapore), Oji Hall (Tokyo), Harborfront Festival, Cleveland Festival, Madison Festival and the Brisbane Festival.


Ravikiran has over 700 classical Indian compositions to his credit which include musical forms such as varnam, krti, javali, tillana and padam. He discovered a raga at the age of two and named it Choodamani after his mother. He also discovered other new ragas such as Keshavapriya, Snehapriya, Andhakarini and Mohini. He is the only composer to have created pieces in each of the 35-talas of Carnatic Music. He has employed five Indian languages – Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi for his lyrics.


Operatic dance creations of Ravikiran’s include Lakshmi Prabhavam, Savithri, Vinayaka Vaibhavam, Ramayana (Bala Kandam and Yuddha Kandam), Mahabharata (Karna Shapatam) and Panchakriya. He has also scored music for cross-cultural dance productions such as “Cosmos" and "Pushed to the Edge “ . He collaborated with Birju Maharaj in the dance production, "Mahabharata – Geetopadesham".


Ravikiran is well known for his cutting-edge concept of "Melharmony", which is harmony with an emphasis on melodic rules of evolved systems such as the raga system of Indian music. He introduced this award-winning concept during his collaboration with artists of the BBC Philharmonic, at the Millennium Festival, UK in Oct 2000.Melharmony has inspired concerts with leading artists as well as critical discussion among scholars in international conferences including Society for Music Theory Conference, Boston and Melody, Harmony, Melharmony conference, Houston .


Ravikiran has created music for Western Classical Symphony Orchestras, Chamber Orchestras, String Quartets as well as Caprices for solo violins. He has collaborated with top-draw artistes of various genres such as Larry Coryell, Martin Simpson, Roland van Campenhout and orchestras such as BBC Philharmonic and Sacramento Symphony. He founded the world music group, Ta-Ki-Ta Trio with 4-time Grammy Awardee Glen Velez and Voice Percussionist, Loire Cotler.


Ravikiran, renowned for his vast repertoire – over 1000 compositions of master Indian composers, has trained numerous disciples all over the world, many of who are award-winning performers and teachers. He pioneered the concept of tele-teaching in 1996. He also brought to light hundreds of compositions of 18th century composer, Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi through concerts, workshops, books and articles.


At age 20, he organised a symbolic non-stop 72-hour concert for "world peace and prosperity" that brought together the who’s who of Carnatic music.In 2006, he pioneered an initiative for Rural Children in India with a special music camp for over 31,000 children in Tamil Nadu, India for the Indian Government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhyan. He was invited to provide syllabuses for Music Education in Schools in India for Grades I – VIII. In 2013, he introduced Indian music through Melharmonic creations for Middle and High School level orchestras in School Districts in USA such as Middleton, WI. He introduced Carnatic music in several countries such as Slovakia, Croatia and Slovenia.


Ravikiran started receiving many awards and titles from 1973 including ‘Best Junior Musician’ (Music Academy, Madras), ‘Sangeeth Samraat’ (Wisdom International), ‘Kalaimamani’ (Tamil Nadu Government), ‘Sangeeta Choodamani’ (Krishna Gana Sabha) and ‘Isai Peroli’ (Karthik Fine Arts).


He went on to establish a formidable musical career in every major city around the world, with his esteemed participation in international festivals, concerts and lectures. He also became the recipient of many awards, titles and honours, which include the prestigious 1985 ‘Star of India Award’ by Wisdom International. The 1994 ‘Mumtaz Mahal’ project with blues artist Taj Mahal and Vishwas Mohan Bhatt represents one of his escapades from the reverence of Carnatic classical music tradition, and illustrates the level of diversity that is synonymous with chitravina artist Ravikiran.


According to Ravikiran : "The chitravina is an old instrument, but it had been dormant for some years, and recently it has come back to popularity, from the early twentieth century. Honestly speaking, it was my grandfather who really brought the instrument to its glory. He was a legendary artist, and then his son, that is my father. By God’s grace, from the late seventies I’ve been playing the instrument in concerts. I started as a vocalist first, but then I thought that this instrument had a lot of scope. It’s a beautiful instrument, and it’s got a lot of continuity, because of the fretless nature.”

Note– There is a charming Photo of Two-Years young Ravikiran at the Music Academy answering questions. The child sits on the lap of his Grand Uncle while parents look on.He is seen eating biscuits even while answering !, Photo is in the book " Three Score and More" by V.Sriram and M.Rangaswami —-A History of the Madras Music Academy.

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