Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shillong Chamber Choir at India's Got Talent

The latest buzz to hit Shillong has been the excitement over the progress on the Shillong Chamber Choir through the stages of the reality show, 'India's Got Talent'. As you walk out of the hospital, you will see a huge poster showing the choir and encouraging people to watch the programme and vote. Similar posters stuck on trucks and vans travel through the city daily. Processions have been taken out in encouragement and advertisement for the group. The whole of the city and probably some of the outlying areas as well are willing the choir on to win the competition. It is great to be part of this animation surrounding a choir with an inspiring story.

The Shillong Chamber Choir was the brainchild of accomplished virtuoso, Neil Nongkynrih. Trained at the Trinity College of Music in London, he left the life of a European concert pianist to return back home to Shillong, where he began to teach music. As the number of his students grew, he realised that some of them had major financial constraints and he offered to board them at his home, provide home education and waive the fee. In 2001 he began the Shillong Chamber Choir, which has now become probably the most famous choir in India. With a wide repertoire, the choir is as comfortable singing moving choral music as feet-tapping Bollywood hits. The trailer of a documentary made about the choir by the Indian Government can be seen here.

I heard the Shillong Chamber Choir when they performed with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra in Shillong as part of the 60 year celebration of Indo-Austrian diplomatic relationship. It was one of the best concerts I have attended. The Viennese musicians were, as expected outstanding and the Shillong singers more than held their own with these world-renowned performers. The maestro of the Vienna Chamber Choir himself said that he was amazed at their talent and versatility. And this ability was well-rewarded at the World Choir Games in China this year, where the choir was awarded 3 gold diplomas in the amateur(open) category and placed second in all the 3 streams they competed in - Musica Sacra, Popular Choral and Gospel and Spiritual (for more on the interesting award system, where every choir gets a diploma, see here and for the complete results in both the champions and open categories see here).

While this was widely (and erroneously!!) reported in the local papers as the choir having won 3 gold medals, there was hardly any comment or excitement about it until the start of the India's Got Talent Show. But reality shows have this ability to draw people in through the feeling that their vote will make all the difference!! I have heard stories of the last time Shillong got involved in a reality show. It was to support Amit Paul in Indian Idol 3. Did you know that for reality shows, every phone number is allowed 100 votes! And people actually spent their whole days sitting on their mobile phones and messaging in votes!! Some bought new SIM cards, so they could send in 300-400 votes. Others sat by landlines and called in their votes 100 times. Still others sponsored public phone booths - which meant that anyone could come in and vote for free at the booth. It is said that many people spent tens of thousands of rupees on getting Amit Paul to the final. But in the final, they were up against a redoubtable opponent. It seems that the people of Darjeeling and Sikkim had their own favourite - Prashant Tamang. And it seems that there was even more money spent there, for at the last count, it was Tamang who emerged victorious. It seems there were days of mourning in Shillong!! But my question is, with so many votes allowed per phone, how can we ever be sure that this is not some huge corporate conspiracy where the channel and its sponsors decide whose victory or loss will best improve the ratings?!! I guess we'll never know...

But, like all things in life, hope springs eternal. Maybe this time, the true talent of the Shillong Chamber Choir and its wonderful leader will be enough for them to win the competition. Whatever it is, at 10 pm every Saturday, I will be messaging 'SC' to 56882 (as I have been advised to do having never watched the show!) After all, you could never say. It just may be my vote that will win it!!

I leave you with the video shown on our local news channel of the choir with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, showcasing first the Khasi opera composed by Neil Nogkynrih and then, their 16 year old star, Ibarisha Lyngdoh. Watch for her solo at the end - it is said to be one of the most difficult pieces of music to sing.

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