Visually impaired pianist thrills masters and audience with his talent and perseverance
"Once, I caught Nitesh Sonawane practising alone at Happy Home and School For The Blind. He was mastering a difficult piano exercise and kept stumbling at a difficult note. He kept at it endlessly. He would come back to the point, flounder and try again. I stood there silently watching that extraordinary moment, " recalls pianist, Zubin Balaporia, acclaimed musician and Indus Creed band member. 36-year-old Sonawane, of course, would not have known about his presence. He will, in fact, never see the admiration in the eyes of listeners when he is at the keys, breaking notions about the visually impaired and pooh-poohing challenges. Sonawane, who has earlier performed for Udaan, a band of visually impaired musicians, is now a full scholarship student at the True School of Music as a student of the 2.2 pro course, designed for career musicians. He was the only student in a band of faculty members during True Showcase, an event of the school, in January in 2016. Since then he has had paid performances for two corporate shows for Piramal Real Estate.
Nitesh Sonawane at the Kawai-Upright piano at Happy Home and School For The Blind in Worli. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
After performing on request for a few minutes, Sonawane says that music came to him early in life. "When I was six years old, I was gifted a small piano for my birthday and I loved playing it. And then, by the age of eight, I was playing the harmonium at school," he recounts. It was at this school, Happy Home And School For The Blind, that his music teacher encouraged him to also try his hand at keyboards.
Nitesh Sonawane plays the B.Steiner piano at the True School of Music. Pic/Satej Shinde
"Our teachers took us for many music events and workshops and by the time I was in Class 7, I was a part of the school choir. I was also a part of a band when at Swami Vivekananda Junior College," he says.
After college, he started teaching music at Happy Home. True School of Music happend to him when Zubin Balaporia dropped by to meet Meher Banaji, the director of Happy Home and heard Sonawane play. Balaporia was thoroughly impressed and asked him if he would like to join True School. He agreed readily.
When asked about his struggle with disability, he says the biggest battle was to get people to teach him. "I had earlier asked many teachers but was refused. They wondered how it works. But then there were some teachers who took up the challenge," the Dahisar resident smiles and adds, "It works with sound. Listening carefully is all that matters."
But as technology races ahead to aid the visually impaired with gadgets, there is not much help for the blind musicians. "Keyboards are complex because besides the black and white keys there are patches and it is getting more difficult with modern technology like the touch screen. That is why I prefer playing the piano," he points out. But there is no stopping this juggernaut. His immediate dream, he says, is to perform for a houseful auditorium. "I see myself as a live performer. I see myself performing to a houseful audience in an auditorium as a solo performer." We hope to see that soon.
When in college Sonawane did not enjoy Jazz. But after Zubin Balaporia introduced him to the music of the likes of Miles Davis, he grew increasingly attracted to the genre and plans to make a career in Jazz now.