Flutist Explores Wide Range of Musical Styles

by Michelle Hoffman

From Western to traditional East Indian to jazz music, 14-year-old MYSO flutist Rhea Karnick, of Waukesha, has charged head first into studying different musical styles. Her exploration led to a debut performance last summer in Bangalore, India.

Rhea is currently in her second year of MYSO, playing flute in both the Wind Ensemble and Flute Chorale. She was the winner of the 2019 Flute Chorale Concerto Competition, was a 2019 Wisconsin Philharmonic Shining Stars scholarship winner, and plays flute in her school’s jazz band. In addition, she recently won first place in the Junior Artists Competition of the 2019 Wisconsin Flute Festival.

In third grade, Rhea heard a recording of the East Indian flute and was immediately transfixed. She started flute lessons shortly after, and then band when it was offered in middle school.

Listening to music from her family’s culture inspired her to pick up the tabla, an East Indian percussion instrument. Hand heel pressure is used to change the pitch and tone color of each drum. Traditionally played by males, Rhea’s mother, Rajani, explained that not many girls study the tabla. There are fewer than ten female professional players in India.

After beginning the tabla at the Sikh temple in Brookfield, an instructor recommended Rhea move on to a teacher in India. During a three-week summer trip to visit family in India in 2016, she began to study with Trilochan Kampli. He is considered one of the leading tabla musicians in India and was known as a child prodigy. Rhea has studied with him ever since through Skype during the school year and in person in the summer.

After two years, Mr. Kampli believed Rhea was ready for greater challenges and told her she was ready for her debut tabla performance.

Famous musician scholars—including one who represented the 14th generation of musicians in his family—were in attendance among the audience of 200+. She admits she was nervous, especially knowing that the academically-focused audience would be critiquing her. They wouldn’t “gloss over mistakes” just because she is a kid and would judge her as they would a professional! While all this might rattle even the most seasoned of young musicians, Rhea’s determination got her through, and she considers it the biggest thrill she’s had as a performer.

Rhea explained that there is no printed music for tabla, and it’s learned by ear. One thing she really enjoys about it is that a performance is created on-the-spot which leads to the “creation of magic onstage,” according to Rhea.

Outside of music, Rhea is a second degree black belt in taekwondo. Coincidentally, her instructor, Christine Lee, is a 1996 MYSO graduate.

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