Neil Nongkynrih - the North-East-India's Chopin and the founder of Shillong Chamber Choir

Neil Nongkynrih and A.R. Rahman (Image: Facebook)
Neil Nongkynrih, also Uncle Neil to his pupils, is an award winning concert pianist from Meghalaya, a state in North-East-India. He is the founder, mentor and conductor of Shillong Chamber Choir (SCC) which won the reality show India's Got Talent in 2010.

Neil was born in Jaiaw Langsning, East Khasi Hills in Meghalaya. He did his initial studies in Meghalaya and learnt most of his initial lessons in music from his sister Pauline Warjri, a jazz musician. He was introduced to the works of Mozart, Beethoven and other counterparts of their era by his grand-aunt. Neil is the son of AH Scott Lyngdoh, a former state minister of Meghalaya and the convener of the Meghalaya chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage (INTACH) and Elvirial Nongkynrih.

Neil NongkynrihIn 1988 Nongkynrih left for United Kingdom as a young man to study music, against the wishes of his father. He joined Trinity College and later Guildhall School of Music in London to pursue his music in Piano. After passing out as a graduate in music, Neil did numerous shows as a concert pianist in United Kingdom. His first public performance in the UK was in the presence of British Royalty. Apart from the concerts, Nongkynrih was also teaching music in London. One of his many successful pupils is Phillip Selway, member of the popular British band, Radiohead.

In 2001, Nongkynrih returned to India and became a music teacher in Shillong where he converted his residence in Pokseh, an area in Shillong City, to a home music school. In the same year he founded the renowned Shillong Chamber Choir. In the initial years as a choir leader, he found children from villages or from modest backgrounds and trained them in music. His lead singer, Johanan Lyngdoh, is a former drug addict.

Neil Nongkynrih, Kirron Kher & The Shillong Chamber Choir (photo - Deepak Singh)
Shillong Chamber Choir performed for the first time at Pinewood Hotel in Shillong on January 14 and 15, 2001 with an assembling of 25 soloists. There was no turning back after that. The choir mainly plays the pieces from Handel, Bach, Gershwin, Mozart and Neil’s compositions. Apart from the classical stuff, the group also plays Khasi folk songs, popular adaptations of Queen and ABBA as well as choral-style revamps of Hindi film (Bollywood) classics. In 2009, the Shillong Chamber Choir had collaborated with the famed Vienna Orchestra for a couple of concerts in Shillong and Kolkata, a first time in the musical history of North-East India.

The choir group shot to fame after it won the reality talent show, India's Got Talent (Season 2) in October 2010, on Colors TV, part of the Got Talent franchise. The choir participated in the 6th World Choir Games held at Shaoxing China (Shanghai) in July 2010 and was awarded Gold in all three categories - Musica Sacra, Gospel and Popular. The SCC has performed extensively in India and toured Europe, Canada, North America and South East Asia. The choir also performed for US President Barack Obama when he visited India in 2010. SCC has been featured as a study chapter in the English Syllabus of the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) in 2013.

Nongkynrih is presently trying to revive the Khasi language, with a Khasi opera. Neil says, “The voice of north-easterners, especially of the Khasis, has elements of a certain kind of sorrow in it, an unique emotional appeal. It perfectly complements the Khasi folktales which are mostly tragic in nature.”

Honors and accolades

U Tirot Sing Award, 2011
Kalabaaz of the year - Big TV Awards, 2011
2nd ICC North East Excellence Award for Music, 2011
Forbes Person of the Year, 2010
Indian Chamber of Commerce Musician of the Year, 2010
CNN IBN Special Achievement Award for Indian of the Year, 2010
Member, World Choir Council

O Mor Aponaar Dex (state anthem of Assam) - by Neil Nongkynrih, Dipak Sharma and the Shillong Chamber Choir