Neil Nongkynrih, founder of the world-renowned Shillong Chamber Choir that once performed for US President Barack Obama, says he owes his Padma Shri to god and the support of his ensemble and family.
"Obviously god! In my case, my lord and savior Jesus Christ. And then, of course, to the firm support of the choir, my family and all my other friends and fans of our music," Nongkynrih told IANS after it was announced in New Delhi that he was among those named for India's fourth highest civilian honour.
"I am humbled that the country appreciated the contribution I've made to this wonderful nation through the gift god has given me. May this be an inspiration to those who wish to take Indians to higher heights," he added.
Speaking about the choir, he said the idea was born in 2001, when he returned from England and "saw a lot of talent".
"But there was a lack of people to hew it and give them the right grooming. It never started with a big ambition, definitely not the way the choir is going the last few years," he said.
The journey, Nongkynrih said, "has been organic. It has been one thing after the other and, of course, the biggest breakthrough was when the choir won 'India's Got Talent' and that launched us into the mainstream arena".
The choir performed for the Obamas at Rashtrapati Bhavan during their previous visit to India in 2010.
"Singing for the US president gave the choir exposure on the national and international level as well," Nongkynrih said.
He thought "there was a definite shift from 2010 onwards, whereby the choir became a brand that is most appreciated by the music industry in our country and has since won numerous accolades".
The choir, which comprises of 13-22 people, has performed all over the country and especially in Delhi and Mumbai.
"We do on an average 3-4 performances a month. There are times we take a break for a month or two to learn new material and to re-vamp the choir. That usually happens during February-March," Nongkynrih said.
Nongkynrih took to the piano at an early age and had a passion for making a difference. He won his first national piano competition at the age of 15 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 Britain 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, British pianist Joanna Macgregor and American clarinetist Gervase De Peyer.
Nongkynrih is the sole representative from India in the World Choir Council.
The choir was awarded three gold diplomas at the 6th World Choir Games (2010) in China and a silver medal at the 2009 World Choir Championships in South Korea, among many other awards.
(Raymond Kharmujai can be contacted at email@example.com)