‘Chura liya he tumne’, a la Shillong style, bowls over the world

While choir groups and Kishore Kumar’s popular song Chura liya he tumne may not exactly have a lot in common, in the hands of acclaimed concert pianist Neil Nongkynrih a blend of this evergreen Bollywood hit with songs of ABBA can surely bowl people over.

Neil receiving the award

And that’s exactly what happened when Neil and his famed Shillong Chamber Choir performed last week at the World Choir Championships at Bejing in China and created a record of sorts by winning three gold medals.

The World Choir Championships — also known as Choir Olympics — brings together choir groups from all over the world. While the Shillong Chamber Choir had to meet with dejection last year on account of the championships being cancelled due to the outbreak of bird flu, the group this time made a clear sweep of the entire games. The championship is divided into three categories – the first called ‘Musicasacra’, the second for ‘gospel and spiritual music’ while the third is devoted to experimental blend of music. Neil Nongkynrih and his group bagged the gold in all three categories this time, clearly outshining the delegates of the other countries who had assembled there.

Joining the family and group of well-wishers who had come to receive them at the Guwahati airport, I watched as the members of the Shillong Chamber Choir followed their guide Neil Nongkynrih with their heads held high, feeling comfortable and firm in their belief that their leader will help them scale new heights. “It’s yet to sink in,” Neil literally shouts with a grin on his face as I make my way past the crowd to him. Of course, that is perfectly understandable. After all, it is not always, just like it is not everybody, that one and his group is declared the best among representatives of as many as 82 countries, on this occasion totalling to a staggering number of 4,000 choir groups and 20,000 choral singers!

What makes the achievement of the Shillong Chamber Choir all the more special is the fact that this genre of music has very few practitioners, as also takers, in the country. “The last time this genre had come into focus was when a choir group based in the Southern city of Chennai had won some championship,” said Pauline Warjiri, a music educator in Shillong and also the director of Aroha choir. The Shillong Chamber Choir had last year also collaborated with the famed Vienna Orchestra for a couple of concerts in Shillong and Kolkata, a first time in the musical history of Shillong.

The Shillong Chamber Choir

Formed in 2001 by acclaimed concert pianist Neil Nongkynrih, the Shillong Chamber Choir started off as a humble attempt to bring together some like-minded singers so as to produce a variety of music, rather than being limited to only one kind. The choir’s versatility reflects itself in the age of the members: while the youngest member is a 13-year old, the oldest is all of 27 years. The group’s debut performance saw 25 soloists assembling at Pinewood Hotel in Shillong on January 14 and 15, 2001 for the first performance of a chamber choir in that city, and the same was a resounding success. There has been no looking back for the choir and its members since then. Their repertoire now includes pieces from Handel, Bach, Gershwin, Mozart, Neil Nongkynrih’s compositions, Khasi folk songs as well as popular adaptations of Queen and ABBA. As Neil says, “We play all kinds of music; the sole criteria for selection of the music is its possession of positive vibrations, which uplifts one.”

Remembering the world choir championships, Ike Sinha, the manager of the choir group, tells me, “The news is yet to sink in. We are still educating the people about the enormity of our achievement.” The World Choir Olympics is organized by Inter-Kulture, based in Frankfut, Germany. Each group was allotted a time of 15 minutes in the time frame of which they had to perform four songs. The scores were then judged by a set panel of judges. “We are thankful to Inter-Kulture president Guentner Titsch, Indian coordinator Jelena Dannhacrer and Nirupama Roy for all their support,” Ike added.

Ike feels that the clear speech of Shillongites in general was a major factor in their victory. But Aubrey Scott Lyngdoh and Bill Richmond, whose support to the group has been enormous, feels otherwise. “Clear speech is of course a factor in point. But it is more of a commitment towards excellence and music and a lot of practice.” The members of the Shillong Chamber Choir put in around 6 to 7 hours of practice every day.


About Aiyushman Dutta

Who am I? Yet to find the answer. For the time being, u can call me a writer, maybe a journalist and a music entrepreneur or an errand boy! Whatever suits your fancy!

Posted on July 30, 2010, in Concerts/ Reviews, Day-to-Day, Musicians/ Bands, Personalities/ Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Wow!!! Great… I am also a Shillongite and I feel really proud of the Shillong Choir… God bless!!! Hope their performances will be even better as years go by… I also want to wish them All the Best for the show ‘India’s Got Talent’. Hope they win and let Shillong shine… Way to go, guys!!! Keep it up!!

  2. It was a great excitment to experience the performance when I was watching Indian Khoj Talent 2 in colors. I was not aware of such programme. The performance was magical . The boys & girls were too cute.

  3. Fortunately I heard you first time on TV. It was realy so soul touching that I can’t express. God bless you all .May all your dream be full filled

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