The evening of the 4th of December 2017 would be an unforgettable date in my life. It was the day a long time dream of mine was realized. It was the day when any singer’s inspiration first set foot into a musician’s dream institution. It was the day for which we, the Berklee Indian Ensemble, had been waiting for. All those hours of practice and rehearsals were to bear fruit that very day. As soon as she set foot into the room, all attention was directed towards her. I remember my heart skipping a beat seeing her in person. I had imagined, even dreamt, of that moment and thought I would be well prepared to take it. I couldn’t sleep the night before as I was up imagining my first meeting with her. But, experiencing it in reality was so much better. For she was my inspiration, my idol, the one and only Shreya Ghoshal.
“Hi Everyone!!!!”, she whooped with joy to all the people present. Her smile stretched from one end of her face to the other. She seemed so approachable and excited; that evening, she was there to have some musical fun with us. I remember the doubtful voices rising in my mind. Do I really deserve to be here at this moment? Am I good enough? Trying my best to ignore those voices, I made my way to where my fellow singers were and took my mic for the rehearsal. We all introduced ourselves to Shreya. As each person before me told their name and where they were from, my heart pounded louder and louder and I felt my voice becoming dry. I doubted if I could speak, let alone introduce myself or sing. This was an unusual feeling for me. I have witnessed my fair share of celebrities up close but none of them made me as nervous as I was at that moment. Oh who am I kidding, it’s Shreya Ghoshal! Of course I would be nervous. I do not know if it was just nervousness. It was more than that. It was that impeccable feeling you get when a crazy dream of yours is manifested when you least expect it, in the best way possible.
“Hi, my name is Shradha Ganesh and I am from Toronto, Canada”, I said. However, I couldn’t stop myself from saying “I’m a big fan!” and the words just blurted out of my mouth. Surprisingly, that earned a laugh from everyone in the room including Shreya. I am sure she’s creeped out already. Oh great, they were back again. Better shut your mouth before you blurt out her history and creep her out even more, those voices warned me. I remember she sat on her chair and took her mic to start singing. The first song was Ghoomar from Padmavati. Each note she hit moved my soul. The very fact that I was there, hearing her voice that I had grown accustomed to hearing in my phone or laptop in person, made my hair stand on end. She sounded as perfect as the original recording of the song despite being jet-lagged and tired from just landing a few hours ago. She had so much energy in her that it transferred into her music. With each song she melted me, little by little. I tried to hold myself together and not start bursting into tears.
After rehearsing a bunch of the songs from our setlist, it was time for the Barso/Dola medley. Annette Philip, the director of the ensemble, said “Shradha, please go and take the mic next to Shreya ji”. I was frozen. That afternoon, Annette had told me that I might be singing Dola Re as a duet with Shreya ji but I somehow never took it too seriously. I always thought that she would want to render it herself instead of singing with a student from the college. So, I was startled. It was actually happening! How was I supposed to do that? Suddenly, I felt the intensity of The Shreya Ghoshal’s aura. As I made my way next to her, I realized how much of a powerhouse Shreya ji was and how small I looked next to her. It was intimidating; there was no comparison here. She is a legend, I am a student. Those doubtful voices started getting louder in my head. I started to question if I could really do this.
“Sit down”, I heard Shreya ji’s voice and then saw her tapping the chair next to her. My legs were shaking as I obeyed her. I saw my fellow singers looking at me intently with big smiles. They all knew how much I idolized Shreya Ghoshal. It only made things worse for me so I motioned them to tone it down. Vasundhara Gupta, one of the singers, had her phone out to capture the moment. Shreya ji caught on, smiled at me and put her arm around my shoulder and posed with her mic. My heart stopped. I couldn’t move. Everything started to become slow-mo for me. The Shreya Ghoshal, the melody queen of Bollywood, the reigning female playback singer of current times, had her arm around my shoulder. I felt blood rushing to my face and I was overwhelmed with surprise. That was when Vasu took the picture. Oh my god. ‘My first picture with Shreya Ghoshal and I probably look like an ecstatic monkey that found bananas’, I thought to myself. “I am a huge fan. This is a huge fan girl moment for me”, I told her, desperately trying to explain my awkwardness. “Aww, I’m happy! You’ll do well”, she told me. ‘Can’t you see that you’re killing me with your utmost humility?’, I thought to myself. It was then that the music started. I somehow gathered all my strength to keep myself together and despite hearing Shreya Ghoshal singing right next to me, I focused on singing my part correctly. I indeed surprised myself and pulled through it fairly well. I could sense Shreya ji looking at me with a smile when I sang. It was one of the most terrifying yet exhilarating moments of my life. I tried my best not to let that impact my singing.
After rehearsing the medley, Annette asked Shreya ji, “Please do tell Shradha how she can improve. It would be amazing for her if she could have a session later with you.” I immediately turned towards Shreya ji and said, “Yes please! I would love that!” She smiled and told me: “Oh, you are already singing very well,” and gave a thumbs up for having a session to guide me privately. This night was turning out to be extremely eventful. It was too much for me. Did she think I was good enough? Did I do ok? ‘I hope I didn’t mess up’, I kept thinking helplessly as I made my way back to where I was standing before, with the other singers. Somehow, the rehearsal really helped me not replay those moments again and again in my head. But of course, I had my fair share of replaying once I was back in my room alone.
The next day, before our second rehearsal with Shreya Ghoshal, I had the private session with the lady herself. I remember awkwardly sitting across from her in a small room with a piano, her father and Clint Valladares, the managing director of the Berklee India Exchange. How was I supposed to sit across my idol and not break down? Those voice of self doubt started rising in my head again. Am I wasting her time with my incapabilities? I started to feel her powerful aura and the intimidation began to creep in. I barely managed to phrase a sentence to start the session. Shreya ji helped me a lot with pronouncing some of the words and motivated me all along the process with words of encouragement . Never would I ever have expected a leading playback singer in Bollywood to take time out of her busy schedule to help a student like me and encourage them along the way. More than the amount of star value she has or even more than her musical prowess, it is her humility that served as the biggest lesson that I could learn from her. It made me wonder if she is aware of the crazy fan following she has all around the world.
We then proceeded to have a beautiful conversation about how she maintains her voice despite having so many shows, recordings and what not throughout the day. She was very open and shared a lot of her personal experiences with me. She gave me true insight on what issues she’s faced and how she’s dealt with them. I truly felt like the luckiest human being on the planet at that moment. It was a little scary actually. I tried my best to remain normal throughout the whole process, but I am sure she sensed how overwhelmed I was. Regardless, she spoke to me as a friend. She was very open to what I had to say. That is something very rare to see in a celebrity of her status.
Each rehearsal, I started to feel more and more emotional. I remember during our run-through of the show, I started crying a little when she sang our arrangement of Deewani Mastani and the beautiful Do Dilon Ke. These moments solidified that I belong to music; that music has chosen me and I have chosen music. Finally, the icing on the cake was the moment I had the incredible opportunity to share the stage with Shreya Ghoshal, singing the Barso/Dola mashup. At that point, I could be comfortable with her on stage thanks to how she broke barriers and treated all of us as friends.
All in all, her residency at Berklee served as a great learning experience for me. Beyond meeting my idol and fulfilling a long time dream of mine, I could see why she is a legend. I could experience her genius up close. For this, I would like to now take this opportunity to really thank the Berklee Indian Ensemble, the Berklee India Exchange and Berklee College of Music for bringing in such fantastic artists that are flourishing in the scene right now, for students to witness and experience their prowess in close proximity. For me, this whole residency will forever be an unforgettable memory.
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