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The upside of living with Down syndrome

By Darryl McPherson

Sujeet plays the Bb and bass clarinet, alto saxophone, violin, trumpet and piano. He is one of few musicians who has the ability to play both sax and trumpet. (Photo by Denise M. Godfrey.)
Sujeet at the piano. (Photo by Denise M. Godfrey.)
Sujeet plays violin (some call it the fiddle) for a performance by bluegrass singer Candye Kane.
Sujeet on clarinet with famed
saxophonist Kenny G on alto sax.

For some people, things come easily and all the breaks seem to go their way. This is the guy who always gets the girl, money seems to fall into his lap and glamour is a way of life. The rest of us have to work and struggle to achieve any level of accomplishment.

Take, for example, Sujeet Desai, a 31-year-old musician and motivational speaker who moved to the Niagara region, the Town of Wheatfield, about two years ago. He came here when his parents retired and wanted to be closer to their family. Sujeet has performed in 14 countries and 39 states within the United States. He plays seven instruments, performed with jazz saxophonist Kenny G, among others, holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and has Olympic medals in swimming and alpine skiing.

It’s just curious that he also has Down syndrome.

Admittedly, he has had some help along the way, particularly from his parents, but that should not take away from the fact that Sujeet is a determined young man who will not let his disability get in his way. “[People with Down syndrome] can work hard and make it possible. People should know that the truth of the person is within and not based on their looks,” he says.

His biggest cheerleader is his mother, retired dentist Dr. Sindoor Desai. “He’s just a wonderful person; he doesn’t carry the things we do on a day to day basis like jealousy, hate; he’s just nice,” she says.

Raising a child with Down syndrome is not easy. Dr. Desai and her husband went through a learning process. “We had no life; it was a struggle. Even though he’s highly accomplished, his basic concept of life is to live an independent life. He’s a victim of Down syndrome, though he struggles. We’re lucky to be in New York State, where a couple of people come to help him to cope.”

With such assistance, Sujeet is able to live in his own home, separate from his parents, though they are close by. It was a process that started with roommates initially, but eventually led to living on his own.

His introduction to music as a child was originally meant to be therapeutic. Playing musical instruments can improve one’s hand-eye coordination and enhance breathing. For Sujeet, it became a hobby and then a vocation.

Once it became known how prolific he was, (he plays seven instruments), organizations associated with helping the developmentally disabled sought him out as a speaker.

His mother notes, “We travel around the world with this message that people with disabilities can do this. It sends a message through the community that brings hope to parents and educates the community. That’s what we’ve been doing all of our life.”

Traveling the world (with cost borne by the requesting organization, not the family) has afforded Sujeet with opportunities to meet and perform with world class talents like Quincy Jones and Jamie Foxx. His favorite performance was with Kenny G at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games Opening Ceremony in Nampa, Idaho.

“It was very challenging and cool to play with him,” he said.

Sujeet also had challenges at the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Raleigh, North Carolina. He won gold and silver medals for swimming and has medaled in alpine skiing, bowling and cross country running. His athleticism continues on to this day, with his recent achievement of being the highest belt rank student in Master Chong’s Tae Kwon Do school on Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Invitations to perform have been decreasing lately, globally because of the economy and locally because he is not a known quantity. “It was never our intention to make money,” Dr. Desai explains. “Our main goal is to spread inspiration.”

In his former hometown of Syracuse, Sujeet built up a following as a performer. His ultimate goal is to repeat that success in Niagara Falls. “I want to play music in churches, nursing homes, hospitals and to speak in schools here and Buffalo and [provide] entertainment at large in the community,” he says.

Dr. Desai says, “Because people don’t know him in Niagara Falls, they don’t offer him jobs. He’ll do things for $25 to $35. He’ll play nursing homes every couple of months, but he can’t get on their activity calendar because they don’t know him like he was known in Syracuse.”

Nonetheless, one can only expect that for Sujeet Desai, he will find a way to meet this challenge and come out on top. He seems to have the knack for it.

Anyone interested in sampling Sujeet’s music or booking him for a performance should check out his website www.sujeet.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sujeetmusic or contact him at sindoordesai@roadrunner.com.



Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Dec 04 , 2012