Shillong Chamber Choir a multi-genre choir based in Shillong, Meghalaya was founded in 2001 by Neil Nongkynrih. It shot to fame after it won the reality talent show, India’s Got Talent (Season 2) in October 2010, where it performed western chorals, as well as choral-style revamps of Hindi film classics. The fusion of western classical and Bollywood numbers that are performed by Shillong Chamber Choir are at times soulful and always interesting, taking the audience by surprise. Their USP has always been their ability to give an interesting twist to medleys that offer listeners a blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar. The melody that surpass from the high pitched opera and cascades to soft tenor is a fusion of the genres that so define music. Young, vibrant, these are the members of the Shillong Chamber Choir.
The choir made its debut performance at Pinewood Hotel in Shillong, dubbed as rock capital of India, on 14 and 15 January 2001, with Neil Nongkynrih, a concert pianist as their conductor, and continued performing ever since. In 2009, for the first time in the musical history of northeast India, the Shillong Chamber Choir collaborated with the famed Vienna Orchestra for a couple of concerts in Shillong and Kolkata and was invited to perform in Sri Lanka. It received fame after winning the reality talent show, India’s Got Talent (Season 2) in October 2010, on Colors TV, part of the Got Talent franchise, where it performed western chorals, as well as choral-style revamps of Hindi film (Bollywood) classics. The same year also saw the choir being awarded three gold awards at the 6th World Choir Games in Shaoxing, China for all the three categories in which they had participated: Musica Sacra, Gospel and Popular Music. They have also teamed up with other recognized names like Shankar Ehsaan Loy and Usha Uthup. Their Christmas album in 2011 became the highest selling in the country for non-cinematic music.
It was after winning the reality talent show, India’s Got Talent, that the choir finally shot to fame. They held a nation spellbound with their exuberance and delightful repertoire of western chorals and classics from Indian cinema. Their repertoire of gospel, jazz, popular, musica sacra, and western classical won them laurels at an international choir competition. The Shillong Chamber choir collaborated with known icons like Amitabh Bachchan for the opening of Kaun Banega Crorepati season 6. The show is said to have had the highest opening in 2012 across all shows on all general entertainment channels, breaking all previous records. A notable collaboration that took place on the 1st of March 2013 was seeing Neil Nongkynrih on the piano, the voices of the Shillong Chamber Choir and Ustad Zakir Hussain on tabla. They also performed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan for visiting US President Barak Obama and Michelle Obama during their state visit to India.
The Shillong Chamber Choir has always been on a jammed schedule, with concerts lined up. Over the years, the choir’s repertoire has expanded rapidly. They have performed extensively in India and toured all over the world gaining fame and recognition and has also been recipients of several accolades.
Let’s start by talking about how your band was formed, how long have you all known each other, how did you meet and what inspired you to perform together?
Mr. Neil Nongkynrih founded the choir in 2001. The present members however, were a gradual amalgamation of different singers at different times. Some of us have known each other since 2006; some joined the band- wagon in 2008 and so on. Some came to learn music while some of us basked in the comfort of togetherness and fellowship. Music was then just one of the recreations we enjoyed.
Who are your biggest influences?
Since Mr. Neil was classically trained at the piano, the choir too has its roots in Western Classical Music. We began with Mozart, Handel, and Bach and topped it off with some Queen and Abba. Bollywood music came along only much later. The different colours and tones to the voices is what bring versatility to the band.
Please elaborate on the initial success of the choir.
The choir had represented India in winning three Gold Awards at the World Choir Games in 2010 and prior to that was already a known name in the choral scene, but it gained recognition and popularity across the country with the winning of India’s Got Talent Season2. Success however, comes with dedication and sincerity and it has been a gradual process. We have a long way to go and much to learn. It is not just about the physical achievement but also to do with overcoming one’s self, which makes the journey so much more interesting.
What would be your fondest memory as a band and your best gig?
Each gig has its own factor, whether it’s a boisterous crowd of thousands or a dignified seated audience that we perform to. However, a truly fond and touching memory as a band would be the finale performance on the IGT stage, singing, ‘To God be the Glory’ and our selves awed by the very spirit of the hymn. It did not feel like a ‘competition’ at that moment.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so how?
Opinions are usually the challenge, whether it’s a big or small band. How we overcome it, is by not being strong in our own opinions. Being strongly opinionated is pride, selfishness and being small minded. The interest of the team must always be above any personal ambition. Then and only then will a group survive, or else it will soon form cracks which will destroy everything. We’ve been together for the past 12 years now and, even though it is a daily endeavor, it’s worked, so far. Humility is being another key to the same door.
Where all have you performed? What are your favorite and least favorite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?
We’ve performed in 18 countries across the world and some of our favorite venues are:
The Forbidden City Concert Hall at Beijing, The State Capella Theatre at St. Petersburg, The Esplanade Theatre at Singapore, The National Centre For Performing Arts at Mumbai. Regarding what’s upcoming, an opera being composed by Mr. Nongkynrih is getting us all excited. Several tours abroad, concerts, movie projects and much more.
Do different venues affect how the choir performs? Which songs do you perform most frequently?
Venues do make a difference. And it takes a lot of experience and grit to learn to adapt as a performer. Stadiums to concert halls, award ceremonies to music festivals, every venue presents a different sound setup, different weather conditions and most challenging would be the variation in audiences and how we as performers have to change our approach of song and speech so as to connect with our crowd.
The most frequently performed songs are the ones frequently asked for and interestingly enough they date back all the way to our IGT songs to some newer ones as well: Ajeeb Dasta/Ye Dosti, Vande Mataram and some classic oldies like ‘Baar Baar Dekho’ and the all time favorite ‘Dil Tadap Tadap’.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you have a set time each week in which you practice or are rehearsals more spontaneous?
Rehearsals usually depend on how busy our schedule gets and how demanding a show would be. More demanding shows would have us rehearsing for several hours a day, six days a week, but yes, spontaneity does play a role as well.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened on tour?
The craziest thing that has happened to my knowledge was the time when we had two consecutive shows on that same day. It was in two different cities that required us to take a two and a half hour flight. I remember making a dash for the airport immediately after the morning show, in our full costume and stage makeup and having to take turns changing in the flight washrooms while all passengers and flight crew gawked at us in complete wonderment!
What’s your ultimate direction for your band? Are you seeking fame and fortune?
When the choir had first begun, fame and fortune was not on its list of directions, and it is not till date. We’ve experienced and believe that when you don’t seek after it but you put your heart and soul in what you do, fame and fortune will come to you.
We are well aware that fame and fortune is a good servant but a dreadful master.
What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?
It is not easy. But the key is to listen. Opinions do matter and a love for the truth goes a long way.
Humility, would be a key role each member plays in contributing to the success of any band, choir, team or any field for that matter and a must is to practice, practice, practice, no matter how talented one maybe.
Last, but not the least, is sharing the same goal and a mind set to work towards that goal. Having this vision will knit members together and eventually become a success. It should always be the team over the individual, that’s a fertile ground for growth.
Being successful does not only mean fame and fortune- it is getting through life together, overcoming yourself and all that comes your way as a team, as a band, as one.