Shillong Chamber Choir founder Neil Nongkynrih dies at 51 Representational Image: iStock
RENOWNED Indian pianist Neil Nongkynrih, the founder and conductor of the Shillong Chamber Choir, passed away following a surgery in a hospital Mumbai in the western state of Maharashtra on Wednesday (5) after a brief illness.
Nongkynrih, who was fondly called ‘Uncle Neil’, was 51.
In a statement condoling Nongkynrih’s death, the Shillong Chamber Choir said, “It is with deep sorrow that we, the members and management of the Shillong Chamber Choir, announce the death of our beloved founder and music director, Mr Neil Nongkynrih.”
“Uncle Neil was the life force of our world, a towering personality whose music, through the choir he so fondly nurtured, reached the ears of Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ambassadors, and some of the biggest names in the worlds of sports, culture, business, music, and film.
“In 2010, he led his choir to win India’s Got Talent, catapulting the little Shillong unit to national and international stardom. In 2015, he was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award,” it added.
The win gave the group international fame. The same year, they performed for former US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama during their visit to India.
Also, the Choir’s rendition of ‘Vande Mataram’ was played during the telecast of Chandrayaan II’s launch in 2019.
According to reports, Nongkynrih was in Mumbai along with the choir for several months for recording of an album.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi mourned the death of Nongkynrih tweeting, “Mr. Neil Nongkynrih was an outstanding mentor to the Shillong Chamber Choir, which enthralled audiences globally. I have also witnessed some of their superb performances. He left us too soon. His creativity will always be remembered. Condolences to his family and admirers. RIP.”
Conrad Sangma, the chief minister of the north-eastern state of Meghalaya where the choir is based, tweeted condoling the death of Nongkynrih, a recipient of Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, “I am saddened beyond words by the sudden demise of Padma Shri Neil Nongkynrih, founder of the famous Shillong Chamber Choir. He was a mentor to the country’s finest choir that serenaded crowds wherever they performed. We have lost a gem today.”
Nongkynrih was born in Assam, which borders Meghalaya, in 1970 to AH Scott Lyngdoh, a former minister of Meghalaya, and Elvirial Nongkynrih. He never received any formal training in his young days and was introduced to the works of renowned musicians such as Mozart and Beethoven by his grand aunt. He reportedly got his initial music lessons from his sister Pauline Warjri, a jazz musician.
In the late 1980s, Nongkynrih left for the UK to study music at the Trinity College and Guildhall School of Music in London. He worked in the UK for many years where he played concerts and taught music and returned to India in 2001.
He started teaching piano in Shillong on his return and formed the Shillong Chamber Choir the same year. Besides winning India’s Got Talent, the choir also got three gold awards at the 6th World Choir Games for Music Sacra, Gospel and Popular Music.
In 2015, Nongkynrih, who also associated himself with many social causes, was conferred with Padma Shri for his contribution towards promoting India’s music, art and culture.