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Musical Celebration and a Tribute to Nikhil Held at Liberty Middle School

Cynthia Cumming

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 • 1:08am

WEST ORANGE, NJ - The May 20 concert sponsored by the Nikhil Badlani Foundation was not only an homage to Nikhil Badlani, but a showcase for the friends, students, and teachers that were touched by Nikhil during his very short life.

 Nikhil, who was killed in an automobile accident on June 11, 2011, was a bright and personable sixth grade student with extraordinary musical talent.  Family and friends, grappling with the inconceivable loss, formed the Nikhil Badlani Foundation, which currently provides no cost or reduced cost music lessons to 34 district students in alto and tenor saxophone, bassoon, flute, guitar, oboe, tuba, trombone, treumpet, and vocal.  The foundation also seeks to raise awareness of traffic safety.  This year alone the Foundation partnered with the Essex County Traffic Safety Commission to educate over 1,000 sophomores and juniors at West Orange High School, 600 at Westfield High School, and will present at Nutley High School later this week.  The West Orange Public Library installed a permanent mural on April 14 called "Distractions" created by students to raise awareness of distracted driving.  On May 30, NBF will present scholarships to graduating WOHS seniors interested in pursuing music education. In the fall, the Run/Walk for Nikhil will be held.

Several of the students from West Orange High School and Roosevelt Middle School that participated in the concert were friends of Nikhil.  Conal Donagher, a sophomore at WOHS, had been working with Nikhil in Boy Scouts.  Though Nikhil was two years younger, Donagher still considered Nikhil a friend.  He described Nikhil's death as 'surreal' and 'hard to believe' once he learned what had happened.  However, Conal noted, he wanted to get involved with the Nikhil Badlani Foundation "because it was a good cause." Conal plays guitar and saxophone and is also a composer.  He handled the sound system for the concert.  In fact, the production was run by Nikhil's friends: Jonathan, Robert, and Sam Banks were the Stage Crew; Ushers were Cate Brown, Mackenzie Fitschen, Emily McCluskey and Sydney Squires. Nerissa Santacruz and Austin Bartola were the hosts for the program.

WOHS sophomore Nathaniel Hawkins said that Nikhil's death was 'abrupt' and 'surreal.' He described Nikhil as 'smart and talented.'  Hawkins played trumpet during the concert.

Some of Nikhil's classmates at Edison Middle School, now ready to graduate from Roosevelt Middle School, were glad to be part of the concert and support the Badlani family.  Andrew Scheib, who takes guitar lessons through the NBF music program, performed an electric acoustic rendition of "Here's That Rainy Day" with Liberty Middle School music teacher Dave Rimelis.  Both he and Austin Bartola reminisced about having classes with Nikhil and saying what a nice person he was.  Quinn Tolchin, another schoolmate, quietly said, "it was the first time I cried."  Both Bartola and Tolchin also performed.

Several district teachers performed with students, including Dave Rimelis, Lew Kelly, Erin McClure, Lisa Swanick, Roger Bryson, Ryan Krewer, Jerry Bryant, Mark Lagatic, Andrea Rommel, Craig Stanton, Jay Gitter, Andy Adelsohn, Virginia Mayhew, and more, along with Supervisor of Fine Arts, Lou Quagliato.  Quagliato felt it was "important for the teachers and faculty to perform at events such as this" and said that several of the teachers also provide tutoring in the NBF music program.  He also said it was "good for the students to connect with their teachers in a different way" and to be inspired by them.  

Anay Badlani, Nikhil's younger brother, opened the program with a piano solo entitled "Gypsy Fire."  Sangeeta Badlani, Nikhil's mother, welcomed guests and shared information about the Nikhil Badlani Foundation.  The program also included a touching slide show tribute to Nikhil along with several group numbers.

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