Bartel has heard Anantawan play a variety of repertoire in different contexts and scoffs at any notion that he's gained recognition as a musician because people feel sorry for him or see him as a novelty.
"There's no doubt he is exceptionally talented," he said. "He is a star performer."
With his place in the classical music world secure, Anantawan now wants to focus on helping others like him.
He was inspired in part by a visit years ago to Toronto's Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, which built his prosthetic. There Anantawan was introduced to a device, called a Virtual Music Instrument, that translates movement into sound.
Like a motion-controlled video gaming system, the Virtual Music Instrument employs a camera that is mounted on a computer screen and aimed at someone, capturing their gestures. The Virtual Music Instrument software is designed to play prerecorded musical samples when the person waves a hand or tilts their head, activating symbols on the screen.
Intrigued, Anantawan applied for a grant from Yale and gathered a team of doctors, musicians, music therapists and educators to explore the device's potential. He began working with a young musician, Eric Wan, who was forced to give up the violin after a neurological disorder paralyzed him from the neck down. The project concluded with Wan using the Virtual Music Instrument, guided by movements of his head, to play Pachelbel's "Canon in D" during a 2011 concert with the Montreal Chamber Orchestra.
"I had been playing the violin for about eight years before I got paralyzed," said Wan in a YouTube video about the performance. "I really didn't think I was able to play an instrument again. It's an incredible feeling."
Anantawan has been back to Holland Bloorview several times to give concerts and talk to the young patients. As an icebreaker, he always passes his prosthesis around the room so the kids can handle it up close.
"There's a silence that falls upon the room as the kids watch him play," said Tom Chau, vice president for research at Holland Bloorview, and who developed the Virtual Music Instrument. "He's a great role model for our clientele. They can see, down the road, the possibilities (that exist for them)."
It's not just children who have been inspired by Anantawan. He was once approached by an Iraq war veteran who had lost an arm. After seeing Anantawan play in a video online, the man made a crude prosthetic device out of cardboard and took up the violin.
"In most of these stories, it's never about the technique or technology that is important, but the desire to live life authentically and creatively. We often forget even 'traditional' musical instruments are technological adaptations in their own right -- they are tools to manipulate sound in a way that we couldn't do with our bodies alone," said Anantawan, who earned a second master's degree last year, this time from Harvard's Graduate School of Education.
"To say that your example has changed some life along the way for the better -- I'm extremely humbled to be a part of that."
Today, Anantawan combines classroom teaching with the drier but no less important task of developing arts curricula for kids with special needs -- not just physical disabilities, but cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other conditions. He hopes someday to implement educational practices, working with devices such as the Virtual Music Instrument, that can be adopted by other schools around the globe.
"It's a lot easier to start from the bottom up than the top down," he said. "You have to understand where these kids are coming from, and the nature of their disability. I was extremely lucky to find the right instrument and adaptation and the right medium. But in public education, you don't want luck to be a factor."
Anantawan said he's happiest playing music or working with children, who seem to relate to his boyish look and soft-spoken demeanor. It gives him profound satisfaction to help open doors for kids, to help them hear their own voice.
"The reward (for me) comes on many levels, but perhaps the most rewarding comes in the form of those few seconds that a child is creating something musically unique, a voice that demands our attention," he said.
"In terms of stories, I'm sure that at some point the children I've worked with will have their own. But I've always found that they have touched my life in a far deeper way than anything that I've given them."