Abba, Mozart, Rahman — The Shillong Chamber Choir had a little bit of everything and in medleys too

I avoid the peak-hour traffic to reach the venue, Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, Chetpet, well in time to listen to The Shillong Chamber Choir which is scheduled to perform. But I'm forced to wait for well over 20 minutes as the performance is delayed due to “heavy traffic on Sterling Road.” Murphy's Law in overdrive?

When the programme begins, I expect an a cappella performance, but I'm surprised to find myself humming ‘Chinna chinna aasai' and ‘Kal Ho Na Ho'. The men wearing blazers and the women attired in white robes and red shawls, the 16-member choir is all smiles. The audience is hooked by the myriad emotions that run through every song.

Two songs (Ave Verum Corpus and Deep River) down the line, I'm convinced that this is the best choir performance ever until Neil Nongkynrih, the pianist and conductor of the choir, says modestly, “This is just a warm-up.”

Having taught musicians such as Phil Selway of Radiohead, Neil set up the choir in 2001 in Northeast India. They won the World Choir Games in July last year and were part of President Pratibha Patil's banquet when Barack Obama visited India in November.

A perfect host, Neil not only plays the piano effortlessly, but also keeps the evening light with a few jokes and solos in between songs. “Just think you are in my living room. The only thing I can't do is offer you a cup of tea,” he smiles.

A lively opening number prima donnais followed by the title track from “Antichrist” in Baroque style, full of drama and dark emotion. As the evening mellows after the heavy song, the choir members clap their hands and tap their feet to a jazzy, upbeat number with staccato notes and peppy lines.

‘Poonguyil', their first Tamil cover, sung in a lovely a cappella style with a soft piano in the background makes the audience nostalgic, and the hall is filled with ‘oohs' and ‘aahs'. ‘Love Story', sung as a medley along with ‘Kodai Kaala Kaatre', has seamless transitions. ‘Chinna Chinna Aasai' with a Mozart touch evokes loud appreciation.

The Bollywood medleys are enhanced by the piano. ‘Dhoom Machale' and ‘Kal Ho Na Ho' are some of the covers interspersed with English numbers by artistes like Abba. The rest of the evening features Queen's popular hits, three short Mozart pieces and an Opera composition by Neil, which is emotion-packed.

And as you leave the hall, the soulful voice of the soloists and the delicate strains of the piano keep ringing in your ears. Language doesn't matter, after all.


Anusha ParthasarathyJune 28, 2012