While trying out college majors, seeing what might lead him to a career that would include his dream of being a singer and songwriter, Caruvana found a previously undiscovered talent in a discrete math class. He pursued it, earned a Ph.D., and now is assistant professor of mathematics at Indiana University Kokomo.
“Making music a job might steal the fire out of it for me. I like having it in addition to teaching,” said Caruvana. “I wanted to be a musician before I wanted to be a mathematician. There’s a structure to both music and math, that give them some commonality.”
Outside the classroom, he writes and records his own songs for his YouTube channel, and performs at area restaurants, coffee shops, and open mic nights. He also sang and played as part of Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations on campus in fall 2019.
He describes his style as “singer-songwriter,” or Americana, a style that is a mash up of various American music styles, including country, folk, bluegrass, roots-rock, R&B and roots-rock.
“I like a folky feel, for expressing your life experience,” he said. “I focus on lyrical content when I write.”
Growing up in Texas, his family spoke Spanish at home, and he covers Spanish language songs. He writes in English, noting that school was in that language, and it’s easier for him to express himself in it.
His love of music began at a young age. He played the viola in junior high and was in choir all the way through school. In high school, he picked up the guitar, practicing for hours a day to perfect his skills.
“I had wanted to write music or be part of a band or something like that since junior high,” he said. “I finally decided to just work on it and figure it out.”
Wanting an outlet to share his work, Caruvana started a YouTube channel, uploading his first video 13 years ago.
“There’s something very exciting about sharing something with the world, people you don’t know, freely available to anyone who stumbles across it,” he said. “I could have just recorded it at home, but I liked the sharing aspect.”
Caruvana listened to an eclectic mix of music that influenced his own work, ranging from Death Cab for Cutie in alternative rock, artists featured in the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack, South American folklore, and folk-rock artist Ray LaMontagne, whose “Jolene,” (not the Dolly Parton song, he is quick to note) heavily influenced him.
“That song did a lot for me, I listened to it a lot,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to emulate. It’s powerful, or as powerful as you can be with a guitar and voice.”
He considered attending a specialized college to study music production, but ultimately stayed close to home, attending Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. His music fell by the wayside as school took up most of his time, but after completing his doctorate at University of North Texas, he bought an upgraded guitar — a Martin DRS 1 — to begin playing and writing music again.
He joined the faculty at IU Kokomo in 2019 and started performing publicly again. Even if he’s just singing by himself at home, it’s a good outlet, Caruvana said.
“It gives me something else to think about when I leave work,” he said. “Your mind has to do something else, so you are renewed for the next day. It’s refreshing.”