Canadian musician Adrian Anantawan in 2010 Al Kay
"Music has always been important to me," says the Canadian classical violinist Adrian Anantawan. As a baby, he wore a silver bracelet with tiny bells that jingled whenever he moved. As he grew older, "My mother insisted that I play some kind of instrument," he says. At 10, he picked the violin—not a predictable choice for a child who had been born without a right hand. But he and his parents, immigrants from Thailand and China, didn't consider his disability an impediment.
A pediatric hospital in Toronto outfitted the boy with a prosthetic device known as a spatula—a slotted cast designed to hold a violin bow—and he began lessons. Now 30, Mr. Anantawan holds music degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and Yale, as well as a master's in education from Harvard. He is a music director at Boston's Conservatory Lab Charter School, where he teaches more than 300 children from kindergarten through eighth grades. He has toured with the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and performed at Carnegie Hall, the White House and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics opening ceremonies, as well as playing for Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama.
Mr. Anantawan also helps young people with disabilities make music, including amputees who want to play stringed instruments. "I want to give back, through the experiences I've had, to people who need my particular kind of help," he says. Among his projects is a virtual chamber-music initiative with Toronto's Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, the same facility that provided Mr. Anantawan with his first spatula 20 years ago. The project relies on a software program originally developed as a therapy tool for the severely disabled. It translates physical gestures into musical notes, somewhat like the way an Xbox Kinect works. Mr. Anantawan sought to give these virtual instruments artistic legitimacy by shifting them out of clinical settings and into concert halls. One student, who was paralyzed from the neck down, succeeded in performing Pachelbel's "Canon in D" with the Montreal Chamber Orchestra in 2011—only by moving his head.
Mr. Anantawan hopes technology will further expand disabled people's ability to play classical music. "My vision is to have a fully inclusive music program so people with special needs have the resources to participate fully," he says. "I want to make sure it's not just a matter of luck but an opportunity for everyone."