Drummer giving back through music

NEW YEAR, NEW FACES: They’ve come from as far away as Sydney, Australia, and as close to home as Chapel Hill, N.C. This year’s incoming first-year class of 3,960 enrollees at UNC features award-winning researchers, artists, directors, dancers, writers, community activists, athletes – and even a certified gerbil breeder. All are bright. All are hopeful. And this week, we meet five of them.

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Arjun Raghavan planned to pack the usual essentials for his first year at Carolina: clothes, electronics, maybe an extra toothbrush.

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With one key addition: his 20-pound Mridangam drum.

“I can’t imagine being without it,” the 18-year-old recent graduate of Chapel Hill High says.

For more than a decade, Raghavan has been practicing, playing and teaching South Indian Classical percussion. He’s become a well-established performer of the seven-note, double-sided horizontal instrument – performing both internationally and locally. But he’s most proud of what his music has enabled him to give back.

In 2010, he helped found the North Carolina Youth Classical Arts for Charity festival, drawing young South Indian Classical musicians from around the nation to perform in Durham.

Over the last three years, it has grown from a one- to two-day event and has raised roughly $35,000 for three different charities. He hopes this year’s festival, on Labor Day weekend, can raise another $15,000.

“That’s pretty much the ultimate goal, to keep contributing to the community in any way I can,’’ Raghavan says. “I also teach music, and my teacher always emphasizes it’s not enough to learn and master the art, it’s more important to enjoy the art and give back to the community with the talent that you’ve acquired.”

He sees the festival as an excellent way to do just that – while enjoying time spent with his friends.

“We’ve been lucky in that not only have we had the motivation and made time to do it, but others in the community and so many musicians have responded so positively, too,” he says.

Raghavan, who started taking astronomy classes at Carolina three years ago and has researched the pulsations of rare stars, plans to study physics at UNC – although he’s not quite sure yet where his scientific studies will ultimately take him.

But the Robertson Scholar does know he’ll keep playing the Mridangam drum. And he hopes everyone on his hall enjoys it.

“There’s really no way to muffle it,’’ he says. “But my roommate has helped with organizing the festival, and he knows I’m bringing it, so he knows what to expect.”

Read more about UNC’s Class of 2017.

Story by Robbi Pickeral of University Relations.

Coming tomorrow: An Independent Athlete

Published Aug. 18, 2013