SHILLONG, Jan 1 � They went, sang and bowled everyone over. A choir made up almost entirely of ethnic Khasis conquered the nation through their new genre of flawless western chorals and in between effortless Hindi classics, bringing the hills alive with music in 2010.
Shillong Chamber Choir�s honeymoon began with three gold medals at the World Choir Games in China and prolonged as they went on to win the �India�s Got Talent� reality show.
The crowning glory came when they performed for the visiting US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle at the Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet.
More laurels awaited the group as they wrapped up the year with the special achievement award in the CNN IBN Indian of the Year awards, 2010.
The group led by Neil Nongkynrih, a music maestro himself, created waves in the country singing to the soul the popular Bollywood numbers of yesteryears, blending them with classic Western oldies.
In July, the choir was India�s lone representative in the 6th edition of the World Choir Games. They bagged the top position in the Musica-Sacra (sacred music), Gospel (medley of few songs) and Popular (medley of Bollywood and English numbers) categories in the mega event that witnessed 20,000 participants in about 400 choir groups from over 82 countries.
On October 2, Shillong, a hill city which falls silent after dusk, went into frenzy half an hour past midnight, as soon as the choir group from Shillong was adjudged the best among the nine finalists of the �India�s Got Talent Khoj II� reality show of Colors TV.
They were selected partly through SMS votes and scores of the three adjudicators. The festive season set in much early with the pine city resounding with fire crackers and groups of people - some in motorcycles and some in cars - coming out on streets in cheers like �We did it�, �Who�s the winner, Shillong Choir�.
The group was then selected to perform before the Obamas at the presidential state banquet, and they serenaded the audience with Sholay�s �Yeh dosti� glorifying the friendship between the two countries.
�The whole evening would have not been the same without the performances of the Shillong Chamber Choir,� Congress president Sonia Gandhi said after the performance.
�I wanted to meet you guys, you�ve made our country proud,� Rahul Gandhi commented.
The roots of the Shillong Chamber Choir go back to 2001, when Neil left his promising concert career in London because he did not find it satisfactory. He handpicked a group of singers who wished to come together to produce a variety of music, rather than being limited to only one kind.
The Shillong Chamber Choir preferred versatility and variety and thus the group of 25 soloists made their first debut performance at Pine Wood Hotel on January 14 and 15 2001.
The choir�s versatility, which is arguably its biggest strength, comes to the fore when asked to perform before different audiences. They are open to all kinds of music.
Their repertoire now includes pieces from Handel, Bach, Gershwin, Mozart, Neil Nongkynrih�s compositions, Khasi folk songs and contemporary music. The choir has won hearts in Switzerland, London, Geneva, Poland and also of the President and the Prime Minister of India.
This well-selected and trained group of 20 singers will perform at upcoming concerts in India, Europe, Sri Lanka, the US and China.
The choir, which celebrated this Christmas by releasing an album of 10 rhapsodic songs on the festival, is, however, humble in their success. �There�s nothing special about us. We represent the very ordinary people, most of us are not even known singers in Shillong itself,� says Neil, a musical genius in his own rights.
�The beauty of our group is that we are together in harmony. Nobody wants to be a star,� Neil, an internationally accomplished pianist said.
The choir is now being approached by global companies. �We do not want to shift gears. Touching hearts of people is more important than making money. Celebrity type of life is not for us,� the master pianist said. � PTI