Shillong Choir hits high note, wins contest – and many hearts

Before the final results were announced on Saturday night on TV channel Colors' India's Got Talent, the Shillong Chamber Choir was huddled together backstage with its mentor Neil Nongkynrih, looking quite visibly nervous. The choir has won numerous international awards, including three gold medals at the World Choir Games, formerly known as the Choir Olympics, which were held in Shaoxing, China in July this year.

But singing and winning hearts on a talent hunt on an Indian television channel was a wholly different, and more challenging, feat for the seasoned performers. When the finalists were called on stage for the announcements, the tension was evident in the stiffness of their features and the way they crushed their fingers together. And when they were declared the winners of the three-month long competition, the joy was just as evident, as they jumped up and down on stage — the girls in their red heels and the boys in their shiny suits — and hugged each other.

Meghalaya's Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, who had come down especially to root for the Choir, declared it to be a historic day for the state. Quite visibly moved, he said, "They've made us all very proud." And that is only part of what the choir set out to do when they decided to enter the nationwide competition.

"It's true that we're well-known globally but it's also important to be known in your own country," said singer Donna Marthong, "It is very comforting indeed that our kind of music is accepted by the rest of the country. It gives us a great sense of identity. And of course there is no platform like television to present your talent to the whole nation."

It was in 2001 that Nongkynrih started the choir in his hometown Shillong — popularly known as India's music mecca. The former concert pianist had returned to Shillong after more than a decade in Britain, where he trained and performed. Coming back, after being dissatisfied with the growing commercialisation of music, Nongkynrih wanted to do something for his home, like setting up its own chamber choir.

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