WEST ORANGE, NJ - West Orange music students, faculty and local musicians showcased their talents at the fifth annual Music for Nikhil Music Celebration and Tribute to Nikhil on June 13 at Liberty Middle School.

The event honored the memory and spirit of Nikhil Badlani, an 11-year old musician and student in West Orange who died in 2011 in a car accident. This year’s event was also dedicated to Mackenzie Fitschen, a 16-year-old West Orange High School student and former classmate of Nikhil’s who passed away in March following a battle with a rare form of cancer.
The event featured performances from over 65 students in grades 6-12 participating in the Music for Nikhil program, which provides lessons from professional musicians and music educators on all instruments at a free or reduced cost. Soloists and small group ensembles performed a diverse range of traditional and contemporary music, from classical arrangements and jazz standards to modern pop songs and funk grooves. Stage management, lighting, and sound were handled by high school and college students who were close friends and associates of Nikhil’s.
Nikhil’s cousins Sreya Chhugani and Ntin Jethmalani hosted the event, entertaining the audience with light-hearted banter in between performances and introducing performances alongside the President of the Nikhil Badlani Foundation and mother of Nikhil, Sangeeta Badlani.

Following student performances, a slideshow was presented in Nikhil’s memory, highlighting the successes and importance of the Music for Nikhil program in helping to spread Nikhil’s passion for music.
The finale of the night came with the performance of a Stevie Wonder Medley by an ensemble of faculty and guest performers, under the direction of Liberty Middle School band director Ryan Krewer. Afterwards, all of the Music for Nikhil students joined the musicians on stage for a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”.
“It keeps getting better and better every year,” said Nikhil’s father, Sunil Badlani. “It’s really amazing to see how the kids have developed musically over the past five years of this program.”
In addition to promoting music education, the Nikhil Badlani Foundation provides scholarships to college-bound seniors and actively works to advocate traffic safety awareness. Last year, the Badlani family worked with local state legislatures to pass Nikhil’s Law, which expands the New Jersey state driver's examination to include a question asking whether the driver is aware of the consequences of failing to adhere to traffic laws, and gives them the option to take the Stop for Nikhil Safety Pledge.
The organization’s hallmark event is the Annual Stop for Nikhil 5K Run/3K Walk, which will be held for its sixth year on September 18 at Suriano Stadium at West Orange High School.
For more information on the Nikhil Badlani foundation and its activities, visit www.nikhilbadlanifoundation.org.
 (Austin Bartola is a rising senior at West Orange High School participating in the newly-formed Woboe News Team. Look for sports and event coverage from our talented students in the fall.)
All photos courtesy of Mary-Lauri Bartola.