Neil Nongkynrih, pianist who led the Shillong Chamber Choir to glory, dies in Mumbai

Neil Nongkynrih, the Shillong-based pianist who transformed a group of Shillong musicians into a world-class multi-genre choir, died Wednesday evening in Mumbai. Nongkynrih, founder, conductor and mentor of the Shillong Chamber Orchestra, was admitted to Reliance Hospital in Mumbai after a sudden ulcer rupture, which led to emergency surgery.

But according to William Basaiawmoit, the group’s lead singer, the damage was too great and Nongkynrih could not be saved. He was 51 years old. “We’re still in shock and can’t seem to figure out what happened,” he told The Indian Express.

Lovingly called Uncle Neil, Nongkynrih, with the full chorus, was in Mumbai to record their next “spiritual album”. “This album was Uncle Neil’s dream. The only thing I feel is that at least he could finish it, ”said Basaiawmoit.

Nongkynrih grew up in Shillong and was introduced to the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven by one of his great aunts in addition to understanding the basics of music he received from his sister and jazz musician Pauline Nongkynrih. He then moved to London to study at Trinity College and the Guildhall School of Music. He worked for many years as a concert pianist in Europe before returning to India in 2001 and started a small school at his home to teach music. In the same year, he founded the Shillong Chamber Choir.

The choir was in the spotlight after winning India’s Got Talent in 2010 after winning the World Choir Games. The choir was also chosen to perform at Rashtrapati Bhawan on the occasion of the visit of former US President Barack Obama. What was interesting about the choir’s music was their diversity – they collaborated with philharmonic orchestras as fluently as singing Ye Dosti by Sholay and collaborating with tabla magician Ustad Zakir Hussain. For Obama, the choir had sung Deep River, an African-American hymn, believing that it would find the most resonance. Nongkynrih received the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honor in 2015.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi regretted the death of the pianist.

“Sir. Neil Nongkynrih has been an exceptional mentor for the Shillong Chamber Choir, which has captivated audiences around the world. I have also witnessed some of their superb performances. He left us too soon. His creativity will remain forever. engraved in the memories. Condolences to his family and to his admirers. RIP, “Prime Minister Modi said in a tweet.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma offered his condolences on Nongkynrih’s passing and tweeted: “I am saddened beyond words by the sudden passing of Padma Shri Neil Nongkynrih, founder of the famous Shillong Chamber Choir. He was the mentor to the best choir in the country who made crowds sing wherever they performed. We lost a gem today.

In 2020, Nongkynrih created a groundbreaking album called Christmas Come Home and pushed the boundaries by including Christmas hymns and carols in Urdu, Farsi, Aramaic, English and even Khasi, the native language of most of the choir members. . He was also writing an opera in Khasi called Sohlyngngem, with the aim of reviving the dialect. He was also a member of the board of directors of the Central Board of Film Certification since 2017.

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