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Acclaimed Mother And Daughter Sing Classical Music From India

University of West Florida

An evening of “Classical Music from India” is the next event in the University of West Florida Pace Symposium Series. It’s set for this Saturday evening at 6:00 at the UWF Center for Fine & Performing Arts.

The concert features a performance by the internationally known mother – daughter duo Sarojini Sundaresan and Leelaa Rao. They are very accomplished Classic Carnatic vocalists and composers, who now make their home in Pensacola. 

“We’re from India, a town called Chennai now. It used to be called Madras. It’s actually a city rich in culture. You can call it as the headquarters of the culture in India,” said Rao.

Both mother and daughter started their training in Classical Carnatic Music at very young ages. “Since five years old,” said Sundaresan, who began her daughter’s continuous training at the age of three.

Sundaresan and Rao have performed all over the world including the United Kingdom, Germany, Holland, and Switzerland. Rao says the Carnatic music they sing and compose is particular to southern India.

Carnatic music is actually very rich in the rhythm aspect and also the scale,” Rao said, noting that there are 72 different scales originating from what’s called “parent” ragas, the basis for thousands of scales that exist today.

Sundaresen’s musical career spans over five decades, and she is believed to be the only female torchbearer of the famous Alathur style.

Credit Sandra Averhart
Sarojini Sundaresen and daughter Leelaa Rao at WUWF.

“She learned from Alathur Venkatesa Iyer, who was actually one of the doyens of Carnatic music,” said Rao. “He’s a direct disciple of one of the trinities of Carnatic music, and she carries forward the legend and has now propagated it all over the world.”

From her CD “Alathur Favourites,” the song “Tillana” is a good example of the Alathur style. Rao says it’s a rhythmic exposition of the scale that was written by Sundaresan, who often composes her music in the middle of the night.

In addition to performing, Rao owns her own wealth management firm, Goodwin Asset Management, Inc. in Pensacola. Also, she and her mother Sarojini Sundaresen are co-founders of the non-profit Raagalaya Foundation, which was started in order to promote Indian Classical music and dance, particularly in the United States, the U-K, and their native India.

Saturday’s Pace Symposium Series event is being presented by the UWF Office of Equity, Diversity, and International Studies. Rao says they’re excited to be performing here for the first time in ten years.

Sundaresen and Rao will be singing in six different Indian languages and in 12 different scales. They’ll be accompanied by Dr. Ram Sriram on the Mridangam, which is an Indian percussion instrument. Papanasam Gokul will accompany on violin.

The free concert is set for Saturday evening at 6:00 at the UWF Center for Fine & Performing Arts, Building 82.   

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.