RIP Neil: Tributes pour in for founder of the Shillong Chamber Choir

The founder and musical director of the Shillong Chamber Choir, Neil Nongkynrih, passed away on Wednesday evening in Mumbai, leaving behind a memorable legacy. According to a statement from the members and management of the choir, the recipient of Padma Shri died at 51, from “sepsis due to perforated peritonitis”.


The multi-genre choir, created by him in 2001, rose to fame after winning India has talent in 2010. They also performed Rashtrapati Bhavan for US President Barak Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during their visit to India.

Nongkynrih, who was a Western classical pianist in London (UK) for 13 years, returned to Shillong, Meghalaya, in 2001. William Richmond Basaiawmoit, the lead vocalist of the choir, who joined the group in 2018, said : “It will take a long time, maybe a lifetime, to understand what he had done for us. Those years with him changed my life. I can say I am who I am because of the love he showed. He had an enormous love for his fellows, which I did not see in people. When he hired us, we were just young men and women. It was a journey where he raised us all on his own, and not just musically. Musically, doing it was the easy part, but it was as human beings and men and women of character and a solid moral foundation, which he never compromised on. These principles are something that we will continue for the rest of our lives.


Calling him “a prodigy, an absolute musical genius,” Basaiawmoit adds, “When he returned to Shillong, he was already seasoned and recognized, and had embarked on the concert pianist circuit. Returning to Shillong, he left it all. He saw the immense talent, especially in singing and music, in Shillong and always said, “I came to replace the sound of guns with the sound of music.” Since it was the time when Shillong was going through huge insurgency issues.

Referring to the opera project, which Nongkynrih had been creating for a few years, Basaiawmoit said: “This opera is one of the greatest artistic showcases to undertake. He wanted to create a powerful opera and bring an element of our Khasi folklore to it. So, for the first time in the history of the world, he began to write operas in Khasi. With great pain in my heart I call it an unfinished opera. He finished a huge amount of it, and that was to start going around when the pandemic hit … It was his biggest contribution. And he brought the name of the Northeast closer to the rest of India. He did it with so much class and dignity. Even having the name Shillong in the name of the choir said a lot about him.


The choir is in Mumbai to create a spiritual album in Khasi, English and Hindi, and will be returning to Shillong for the funeral.

After the news of his death, tributes started pouring in. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Mr. 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 be forever remembered. Condolences to his family and his admirers. TEAR.”

Actor-filmmaker Farhan Akhtar wrote: “Saddened to hear that Neil Nongkynrih is no longer with us. His passion for music and his dedication to the Shillong Chamber Choir, which he founded, were inspiring. We will miss you sir. TEAR. “


Author’s tweets @siddhijainn

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