Narasimhan Ravikiran (born 12 February 1967) is an Indian musician. A slide instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, guru, author and orator, he is also the creator of the concept melharmony in world music. Son and disciple of revolutionary arts educator Chitravina Narasimhan, he is the grandson of musician Gotuvadyam Narayan Iyengar.
Ravikiran was born in Mysore, Karnataka. He made his first appearance at the age of two, in April and again in August 1969, in Bangalore. Soon after, he was presented at The Madras Music Academy, Krishna Gana Sabha he was able to identify and render about 325 ragas (melodic scales) and 175 talas (rhythmic cycles) of Carnatic music. He was quizzed by iconic musicians including Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Pandit Ravi Shankar, M S Subbulakshmi and Flute T R Mahalingam. Ravi Shankar is said to have declared "If you don't believe in God, look at Ravikiran", and he was awarded a scholarship from The Madras Music Academy at the age of 2. Soon after, he was presented at leading institutions such as Shanmukhananda Fine Arts, Bombay and Tyagaraja Sabha, Coimbatore.
Following intense training under his father, Chitravina Narasimhan, Ravikiran debuted as a vocalist in 1972, when he was five years old, in Coimbatore and performed at concerts in Madras, Mysore and Bangalore until he was 10. His recitals – often over two and a half hours – drew large audiences and won critical acclaim in the Indian media. The Indian Express mentioned: "If the vocalist had been a veteran musician, the reviewer may have raved about his virtuosity and complete mastery. But when the singer happens to be a frail but precocious child, only five years of age, the reviewer is at his wits end. It needs a philosopher, a metaphysicist and spiritualist to adequately describe or explain this rare phenomenon... a manifestation of divine grace".
Ravikiran also established himself as a string instrumentalist at an early age. 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 (1985), Switzerland (1987), Germany (1992), Brazil (2012) and countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Austria and Yugoslavia (1997). He has performed extensively in major events and venues across the world including the Chicago World Music Festival, Theatre de la Ville Paris, Europalia Festival, Belgium, Millennium Festival (UK), Rudolstadt Festival, Germany, Masters of Indian Music, Budapest, Sadlers Wells & Tate Modern (UK), Esplanade Festival (Singapore), Oji Hall (Tokyo), Harborfront Festival, Canada, Cleveland Festival & Madison Festival (USA). He has been placed 19th in the list of the Greatest Indian Classical Musicians.
From 1986–96, Ravikiran trained with the vocalist T. Brinda. He is celebrated for exploring avenues of reviving classical values among the youth. He has performed with other artists and presented several innovative concerts including pure solos, duos with kanjira/ghatam/mridangam apart from conventional recitals with multiple accompanists and collaborations with piano, keyboard, guitar and other instruments.
He resumed his appearance as vocalist from 1999 and has since presented voice concerts for major organizations in and outside India including the Cleveland Festival & the Chicago World Music Festival. His vocal albums include Genius at Work.
Ravikiran has introduced several technical innovations on the chitravina.
Ravikiran has created over 800 classical Indian and contemporary compositions to his credit. His Indian classical pieces include musical forms such as varnam, krti, javali, tillana and padam. He has created pieces in each of the 35-talas of Carnatic Music. as well as a 72-mela ragamalika geetam, a 13-part piece that spans over all the 72-parent ragas of Carnatic music in seven minutes.
He has created a number of new ragas, including:
- Veetavanam in honour of Ludwig van Beethoven
- Mohini dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi
- Choodamani, created at age two and named after his mother
- Keshavapriya, Vaishnavi, Katyayani, Samapriya, Shivamanohari, and Andhakarini
Ravikiran has also set to music works of several azhwars, verses of Vedanta Desika, verses from ancient Tamil sangam literature, compositions of Purandara Dasa, D V Gundappa and a few contemporary composers.
In January 2016, Ravikiran composed music to 1330 tirukkural verses in 16 hours over 3 days at the International Institute of Tamil Studies, Taramani, Chennai.
Ravikiran has also written a number of operas which have been staged internationally.
- Lakshmi Prabhavam
- Vinayaka Vaibhavam
- Ramayana - Bala Kandam
- Ramayana - Yuddha Kandam
- Mahabharata (Karna Shapatam and Geetopadesham)
- The Almighty Trinity, a production composed entirely in Telugu, highlighting the harmonious interactions between Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
- Panchali Shapatam
Ravikiran is well known for his cutting-edge concept of melharmony, which explores Western style harmony anchored on (Eastern style) melodic rules of evolved systems such as the raga system of Indian music. Melharmony is regarded as a " a contemporary musical movement" with an aim to unify music systems of the world by taking into cognisance the rules and aesthetics of all fused systems in any given collaboration. Ravikiran introduced this award-winning concept during his collaboration with artists of the BBC Philharmonic, at the Millennium Festival, UK in Oct 2000.
Melharmony concerts with major orchestras like Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's have attracted audiences of 45,000 people at times. The concept has inspired critical discussion among scholars in international conferences including Society for Music Theory Conference, Boston (2005) and Melody, Harmony, Melharmony conference, Houston (2014). Melharmony shows with School Orchestras have enabled middle and high school children in the West glean insights into how harmony can be centered on sophisticated rules of melody.
Ravikiran has also melharmonically rearranged and showcased the works of the great Masters in the twin-Composer series of festivals - OVK-Bach, Tyagaraja-Mozart and Dikshitar-Beethoven since 2013.
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 Taj Mahal, Larry Coryell, Martin Simpson, George Brooks, Simon Phillips, Roland van Campenhout and orchestras such as BBC Philharmonic, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Goettingen Quintet, Germany, Apollo Chamber Players, Houston, Middleton Community Symphony Orchestra and Sacramento Symphony.
Among Indian maestros, he has performed with Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, T. Brinda, Girija Devi, Pt Birju Maharaj, Dr M. Balamuralikrishna, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Dr N. Ramani, R. K. Srikanthan, Pt Kishan Maharaj, Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, Mandolin U Shrinivas and others.
Ravikiran, renowned for his vast repertoire has trained numerous disciples all over the world, many of whom are award-winning performers and teachers. Several of his students are also major contributors in other arenas. His disciples span a cross section of vocalists, violinists as well as exponents of flute, guitar, veena, keyboard in addition to the chitravina. He is the first guru to have used the Flip teaching method through structured syllabuses online, and many of his video lessons are hosted by Acharyanet.com. Ravikiran also has presented the maximum number of arangetrams (maiden recitals of students graduating to concert levels) among leading melodic performers across the world. He also brought to light hundreds of compositions of 18th century composer, Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi through concerts, workshops, books and articles.
Ravikiran initiated the Planet Symphony Global Art-Science-Social Environmental initiative to raise awareness of the precarious climate crisis. Within weeks the organisation had a global membership of over 2300 from 65 countries including prominent musicians, scientists, journalists, NGOs and citizens and students from other walks of life. A mammoth Global production, “Climatrix Symphony — Planet Anthem” was released for climate action in which hundreds of Grammy and other international award-winning exponents and students of Classical, Jazz, Carnatic, Hindustan, folk and film music collectively recorded on a dazzling array of 50 instruments and shared their concerns with world leaders through an open letter. The Planet Symphony also came up with original perspectives including Roof Greening as a means to attract and regulate rain in many regions. Their Climate literacy programs have won much acclaim all around as also their concept of Smart Planet which Ravikiran explained was to drive home the point that “The need of the hour is to be environmentally smart and not only electronically smart.”
Ambassador of Culture
An active champion of culture, Ravikiran has performed extensively in both urban and rural schools & colleges across various countries. At age 20, he organised a symbolic non-stop 72-hour (which extended to almost 75 hours) concert for "world peace and prosperity" that brought together the who's who of Carnatic music. He has also presented concerts for Social Harmony to highlight the unifying powers of art.
Rural Music Education Projects
Ravikiran is credited as one of the first, if not the first who takes classical music to the masses. In 2006, Ravikiran pioneered an initiative for Rural Children in India with the largest music camp of its kind for over 31,000 children in Tamil Nadu, India for the Indian Government's Sarva Shiksha Abhyan. Besides he has mentored several performers from diverse communities.
Music in Schools & Universities in USA and India
A lobbyist for cultural renaissance in India, 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 & Sun Prairie, WI. A summer course on Melharmony was introduced at the Eastman School of Music in 2015, by Ravikiran and renowned American Composer-Musician Prof. Robert Morris.
He has introduced Carnatic music in several countries such as Slovakia, Croatia and Slovenia.
Ravikiran's concerts have raised substantial funds for disaster relief including Hurricane Katrina, Tsunami of 2004 as well as for educational, health and cultural initiatives.
Innovations & Contributions
Some of Ravikiran's other contributions include:
- Resurrecting and championing the works of the composer Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi
- Introducing Indian music in a number of schools in India and USA
- Pioneering Twin Composer Celebrations such as Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi-J S Bach Festival and Tyagaraja-Mozart Festival in cities such as Madison and Chicago, USA
- Pioneering a vocal instrumental melodic ensemble, Vintage Virtuosos and a series of albums titled "Celestial Ragas".
- Pioneering Classical Concerts for Social Harmony with students from diverse communities and religions trained for years in classical music with professionals
- Introducing the portable, bright toned, 20-stringed slide instrument, Nava-chitravina
- Pioneering the use of teflon-slides in world music
- Inventing the Visual Rhythm Metronome, Taal Acharya with Vanitha and Krishnan Suresh
- Introducing revolutionary concepts in rhythm such as "Seamless korvais (rhythmic cadenzas)", mrdanga & damaru yati korvais, magic korvais etc.
- New perspectives on millennia old concepts such as "22 shrutis"
- Dance augmentation for instrumental concerts with dancer Smitha Madhav
- Introducing Tamil compositions to North Indian dance forms like Kathak & Odissi
- Numerous workshops and music camps in various countries on both practice pieces, performance repertoire as well as Improvisational aspects such as Neraval, Kalpana Swaras and Alapanas
- Inspired several others to innovate using his core musical ideas
Ravikiran has authored several sought after books on Carnatic Music including
- Appreciating Carnatic Music
- Perfecting Carnatic Music Level I and II
- Life and Contributions of Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi
- Saptaratnas and Navavaranams of Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi
- Inaiyatra innishai (The incomparable music)
He has also penned a number of articles in leading Journals and Dailies.
Ravikiran has lectured in venues such as Sydney Conservatory of Music, Leeds College of Music, Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon, CalArts and University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Indian Institute of Technology on topics such as:
- Appreciating Carnatic Music
- Melody, Harmony & Melharmony
- Revolutionary Techniques in slide instruments
- Tyagaraja Panchartnam Oottukkadu Saptaratnam
- Ragam tanam pallavi
His critical presentations on topics such as CMCM (Common Mistakes in Carnatic Music) have attracted critical acclaim from musicians, musicologists, students and music lovers. Ravikiran has also presented papers in conferences like The Society for Music Theory Conference, Boston, The India-Amsterdam Conference, Netherlands and in several conferences of The Music Academy, Madras.
Youngest musician to win India's highest award for artistic excellence from the President of India (at age 39), Ravikiran is one of the most decorated artistes from India at the International, National, State and artistic levels. In most cases, he has been the first or youngest to have received such recognition, including a Fellowship from The Madras Music Academy at age two.
- Melharmony Day Proclamation, Wisconsin
- Melharmony Day Proclamation, Madison
- Citation from Houston, Texas, USA
- Citation from Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
- The Millenium Festival Award, UK - 2000
- The New Age Voice Finalist Award, USA - 2001
National & State:
- Kalaimamani (Tamil Nadu State Award) – 1985
- Star of India (Wisdom International) – 1985
- Kumar Gandharva Samman (Madhya Pradesh State Award) – 1996
- Nada Sudharnava – 1980
- Sangeeta Choodamani, Krishna Gana Sabha
- Vadya Ratnakara - Austin India Fine Arts
- Isai Peroli - Kartik Fine Arts
- Nada Sudharnava – 1980
- Sangeeta Kala Sarathy, Dec 2013 (Parthasarathy Swami Sabha), Chennai
- Lifetime Achievement Award, Dayananda Ashram, India
- Chitravina Kala Praveena, Federation of Sabhas, Chennai
- Sangeetha Kalanidhi, The Music Academy, Madras, 2017
Sexual harassment allegations
In connection with the Me Too movement, multiple claims that Ravikiran participated in workplace harassment of his students and subordinates surfaced. Ravikiran, in an interview with the India Times and on his Facebook account, strongly denied the allegations. Following these allegations, the Madras Music Academy dropped his concerts in the December Season 2018 music festival, along with six other musicians also accused. The Deccan Chronicle reported that a committee constituted by the Federation of City Sabhas in October 2018 did not receive complaints of sexual harassment from any performing artists. Ravikiran asserted that he has a "clean track record" and "substantial proof" of his innocence.