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The Geetmala Foundation has been instrumental in supporting the Michigan Association for Physicians from India for the past several years. The Geetmala radio show host Narendra Sheth has been entertaining the Indian community for the past 34 years. Mr. Sheth will be taking the community on a Musical Odyssey on November 15th at Seaholm High School, Birmingham. The show promises to be scintillating and refreshing as Geetmala singers blend their talent with the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra. The annual fundraiser is the most keenly awaited event for the musically savvy audience of Michigan!

Narendra Sheth is not an unknown name in the Michigan community. Here is a short excerpt from his conversation with Anupama Gopalakrishnan, for and Rockin’ Raaga (WPON 1460 AM)

When did you realize your interest in music?
I come from a musically vibrant family. My parents were into music and they made sure I was part of this whole culture. I was exposed to classical music at a very young age. Dad played the harmonium really well and I keenly watched the movement of his fingers. I started playing the harmonica and gave several performances during my college days in Mumbai. Harmonica and the Keyboard were my favorites.
What kind of shift did you notice with your listeners since you first started Geetmala?
Frankly speaking, there were a couple of individuals who ventured into the radio industry prior to my arrival. Sadly, they could not pursue it. I started Geetmala in 1974 and since then, the content of my show as well as the audience listening habits have changed. I have started presenting my show in thematic formats using the basic classical ragas and concepts via back door without compromising the entertainment segment. The show is set apart due to its value related to literature. The audience began to feel the depth of my presentation.
Tell us more about the Geetmala foundation. What is its objective?
I have personally been doing these kind of music events for the past 55 years. I started organizing community programs with a musical touch while in India. I also presented and organized variety entertainment programs at University of Michigan. I have been working with the community since I graduated from U of M. Geetmala Foundation was basically formed to help organizations serve the lesser privileged. Through music, I help organizations achieve their objectives in raising monetary funds to specific projects. Of late, the foundation has helped MAPI’s free medical clinics program. 
And you have been associated with MAPI for a long time.
My association with MAPI goes back to many years, probably over a decade. AAPI (American Association of Physicians from India) and MAPI came together in 1995 with SPB and that was the only show done in Fox Theater. As a chief organizer, thirteen years ago, the team collected $250k for charitable purpose. Prior to that event, AAPI conducted a convention at Hyatt. There was a lot of confusion about the audio system. I pretty much jumped into the crisis and sorted the technicalities out. Since then, I have been a part of FOMAPI, the charitable leg of MAPI. The association has been organizing at least one fundraising event annually. I have been asked to present the event six years ago and since then it has been an enjoyable journey. The Musical Ultimate event in 2006 raised a lot of funds and the proceeds went to free charitable clinics for the financially challenged. The free medical services were provided by FOMAPI who ran over 12 charitable clinics.
What caused the show to be a hit year after year?
The whole concept of bringing video clips, synchronizing the same with live music was sort of a pioneering effort in the United States. A lot of local people who criticized me at the beginning started complimenting this effort of mine and the shows became an instant hit. More so, even today, a large group of the medical community looks forward to this event because of its orchestration, precision in sound and the local Michigan Indian talent.
How do you see the singing talent in Michigan?
Promising! I must confess that the singers in Michigan are among the best Indian singers in the world. They are very hardworking and committed and their professionalism is commendable.
Has your team performed outside of Michigan? Any future plans?
No. We did think about growing our roots. We have not performed outside Michigan for the simple fact that organizations outside Michigan go after big names like Sonu Nigam, Sunidhi Chauhan and the like. As a team I must say that we present a lot better and we are more entertaining. I am not comparing singers but I am comparing the overall treatment and presentation. I think this team is the best you would see.

With my show I try to make small improvements every year. The entire show which kept growing and growing due to these small improvements made every year has reached the highest stage that it has now become the best in the entire country by any local group. Musicians come from the other parts of the country to sing in this show. Improvements are made in all segments of the show- musicians, percussionists, management tasks etc. Unless an organization like MAPI has a conference for two to three days, I don’t see much happening outside Michigan.

How did the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra blend with your Musical Odyssey?
Well, I have to thank my grand daughter. She was learning to play the violin and I happened to see her music teacher perform. Her teacher was doing a real good job and this happened around two years ago when I gave the teacher a violin piece from Lucky Ali’s Sur. In this movie, one full song was based on violin and I was totally floored when the teacher could actually present the whole piece. Immediately, I requested her to be a part of our group. I wanted to showcase her talent to the community. It was difficult initially as I did not have any western notations for the song. She came to my home for practice and there you would see her just fit into her role seamlessly.

The following year, I insisted that she bring her companions and slowly we have western violinists, cellists on stage playing impeccable Indian tunes. In 2006, The EMU president and his wife John and Sydney Fallon agreed to have the music professor along with their students in the 2006 Musical Ultimate.

After Musical Grandeur and Splendor and Ultimate, the only thing I could think of at the current state was a Musical Odyssey. I contacted the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra as I came across the group at the Fusion festival. After a lot of struggle and challenge, at least 17 out of the 45 performers will be the Symphony artists. The music notations have been written by Shekar Vaidyanathan, who is a close associate and part of AR Rahman’s music group. His brother Sridhar Vaidyanathan would be the music coordinator. Jay Antani will be the Percussion coordinator. Nan Washburn will be the Producer of the Symphony. There will be violins, trumpets and cello. Popular musicians like Suresh Yadav who used to play the saxophone for RD Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal would be performing as well. Apart from all these well known names, we also have a talented group of singers from Michigan who have won awards in various music programs.

That is definitely an interesting blend of musicians. What do you have for your audience?

The audience can get to listen to a symphonic approach and ambience with a wide range of orchestration of old and new songs. There are a lot of harmony singers, huge orchestra, violins and cellos.. And the specialty of the event is the large canvas of multi-media video productions with video clips synchronized spontaneously. Talented singers will be performing to the tunes and music composed by Shankar Jaikishan, SD Burman, RD Burman, to Naushad, A.R.Rahman, Vishal Shekar, Monty Sharma and more. There will be a total of 60 people on stage and back stage.

As Narendra Sheth I can promise one thing. If any one from the audience feels that this show was not enjoyable, I will return his/her money back.  
Would you like to share your thoughts about the event to the community?
All the local talent and the symphony artists have put a valuable amount of time and the musical evening is a chance for the musically inclined community to come together to support a good cause. The endeavor is to raise funds to support the free clinics. This event, you can also call it a medical crusade would bridge the gap between MAPI and non MAPI members to provide good health for all. I request all our Michigan Indian community members to support this non-commercial cause. All proceeds go toward the free medical clinics. This is my contribution to uplift the cultural and musical values to a point that it is in the top of the country. It is my guarantee that you will enjoy the show. 

Mr. Sheth has made an effort to bring community members together for a great cause. It becomes natural for us to join this crusade and help this Musical Odyssey set an example to various other societies within the country. From what I gathered, Mr. Sheth’s Musical Odyssey represents the journey over time, over boundaries. The Musical Odyssey will begin its journey on Saturday, November 15th at Seaholm High School Auditorium, 2436 W. Lincoln Road, Birmingham, MI from 6:30 p.m. b> href=""> Buy tickets.

Interviewed by Anupama Gopalakrishnan exclusively for, © 2008

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