NEW DELHI/ SHILLONG: In what may be termed as exciting news for Meghalaya, Neil Herbert Nongkynrih, founder and director of the now-famous Shillong Chamber Choir was named as a percipient of the prestigious Padma Shri award announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs on Sunday night.
Nongkynrih has been conferred the Padma Shri in the Arts category.
Besides Neil, five prominent personalities of the North East – National Award-winning Assamese filmmaker Jahnu Barua, renowned Assam environmentalist Jadav Payeng, noted Assamese writer Lakshmi Nandan Bora, Manipur’s medicine expert Sarungbam Bimola Kumari Devi and noted social worker from Arunachal Pradesh H Thegtse Rinpoche – have been named for the Padma awards.
Barua, a former Padma Shri recipient, will be conferred the Padma Bhushan while the other will be conferred Padma Shri.
Speaking to The Shillong Times, an ecstatic Neil said he feels elated. “This is one of those rare occasions I feel a sense of elation. However, this is not about me. It is about the State and my people. This award is also deeply connected to the Choir and the people who I have worked with. I would not have got it without them,” Neil said, adding that he feels emotional because of such goodwill from the Choir members who rejoice with him in this achievement.
Neil further stated that he would have to live up to the honour conferred on him. “The ring of that award is such that one has to sustain its prestige and dignity,” he added.
The Shillong Chamber Choir was founded by Neil in 2002 and since its modest beginnings has gradually grown into a highly decorated Choir not only in India but also in the international arena.
The Choir has had the honour of performing at the Rashtrapati Bhawan when US President Barack Obama and US First Lady Michelle Obama first visited the country in 2010.
Born in Shillong, at the age of fifteen, Neil won his first National Piano Competition and this led to further studies in London, at the Guildhall School of Music and Trinity College. His teachers included one of Britain’s foremost pianists, Phillip Fowke and the Viennese pianist, Katharina Wolpe.
His first public performance in the UK was in the presence of British Royalty and this led to further recitals in Europe. He has also produced a successful series of concerts in Oxford, which included performances by the Oscar Award winning actress, Vanessa Redgrave, the British pianist Joanna Macgregor and the American clarinetist, Gervase De Peyer.
Neil came back to Shillong in 2001 after 14 years in Europe leaving aside a promising career as a classical pianist. It was a humble beginning where he attracted a group of ordinary young people to form the Shillong Chamber Choir in 2002 and on their home debut was immediately well received.
The Choir participated in the World Choir Games in 2009 and in its debut appearance won silver medal in the folklore category of the competition. A year later, it bagged three gold medals, one in the Musica Sacra (Sacred) category, another in the Gospel and Spiritual category and the last in the Popular Choral category of the competition followed by scores of awards over the years.
Padma awards – one of the highest civilian awards of the country, are conferred in three categories, namely, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri and are announced on the occasion of Republic Day every year.
These awards are conferred by the President of India at ceremonial functions which are held at Rashtrapati Bhawan usually around March/ April every year. This year the President of India has approved conferment of Padma Awards to 104 persons including nine Padma Vibhushan, 20 Padma Bhushan and 75 Padma Shri awardees. 17 of the awardees are women and the list also includes 17 persons from the category of foreigners, NRIs, PIOs while four are posthumous awardees.