Remembering Aruna Sunderlal – The Bangalore School of Music mourns the loss of its Founder and Managing Trustee

The music fraternity in Bangalore joined The Bangalore School of Music to mourn the loss of its Founder and Managing Trustee, Mrs Aruna Sunderlal, who passed away in the evening hours of Thursday, June 23, 2016 after a brief illness.

She is deeply mourned by her children Shefali S Chandel and Vikram Sunderlal, Daughter-in-law Shalini Sunderlal, Grandson Vikrant S Chandel, Brothers Vijay James and Deepak Ralliaram, Sister-in-law Anjali Ralliaram, Brother-in-law George Kuruvilla, her nieces and nephews, the Trustees, Advisory Board Members, Faculty, Staff and Students of The Bangalore School of Music.

Reacting to the shocking news, MR Jagadeesh, Director, Operations, The Bangalore School of Music, said,

“Mrs Sunderlal was more than just our Music School Founder. To all those who knew her, she was our mentor; a warm and generous-hearted lady who took personal interest in each of us, whether student, faculty member or staff. Her untimely demise has left a huge void in each and every one of us but we are determined to strive even harder than ever to fulfil her dream.”

Narayanaswamy V, Musical Director and Conductor-The Chamber Orchestra of  The Bangalore School of Music added,

Aunty Aruna was a lady beyond compare. Under her constant guidance and encouragement, our Chamber Orchestra scaled great heights and has performed at major cities in the country with glowing reviews in major publications leading to our Chamber Orchestra being empanelled by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations! Aunty Aruna always maintained that our Chamber Orchestra was the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ in the achievements of the BSM”

Victor Thomas Abraham, Conductor-Senior Choir and Senior Faculty-Singing, had this to say,

“Being a trained operatic singer of such high caliber herself, Mrs Sunderlal took special interest in our Senior Choir and students of voice. She would often drop in either during practices or class and share her valuable knowledge and tips on better singing, thanks to which our singing students enjoyed an edge over others especially during the Trinity and ABRSM exams. Also thanks to her support and encouragement, BSM was one of the earliest in our city to start a Children’s Choir way back in the 90s.” 

Born in Delhi in 1939, of distinguished parents, father B.R. James (ICS) & mother J.L. Ralliaram, a freedom fighter. Was educated in Auckland House, Simla; Isabella Thoburn College, Lucknow & Christian Medical College, Ludhiana. Since an early age, she showed leadership qualities and was drawn to music, sports and community service. She studied singing privately in England and Germany and was one the few reputed operatic and classical concert singers in India.

In addition to musical activities, she has served in a voluntary capacity as Chairperson and Director of several social welfare Organisations for the past 25 years prior to founding The Music School, which include Homes for the Aged in Mumbai(1970) and Kolkata(1977), The YWCA Social Services(Kolkata 1968), Women Welfare Projects in the slums of the two cities and also as volunteer for Samaritans International, counselling drug addicts and suicidal youth.

Since 1970, Aruna has been a much sought-after artiste on All India Radio Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru and has presented numerous illustrated Talks / Lecture-Recitals and other scholarly papers on “Music and The Mind” ‘The Joy of Music’, and ‘Music Therapy’ for the British Council, Rotary & other cultural Societies & Institutions. In 1986, she moved to Bangalore and in early 1987, she founded the Bangalore School of Music, a registered charitable trust as the country’s third and youngest formal School of Western Music. Beginning with just three students in the first month, numbers soon reached 180 by the end of that year, the very maximum that could be accommodated. For 22 years the Bangalore School of Music functioned out of her home.

In 1990, she launched the East West Music and Dance Encounter, a month long biennial festival of concerts, master-classes, workshops, seminars, comparative studies and meetings of Indian and western musicians and dancers; aimed at fostering peace and harmony between the cultures of the east and the west through the medium of music and the performing arts. As part of the inaugural East West Festival, Aruna conceptualized the Choral – Dance Ballet ‘Song of India’ in 1990 and since then has been instrumental in putting together rare East West Fusion Concerts for these encounters with partners such as the Government of Karnataka, Ministry of Culture, New Delhi, ICCR, Alliance Francaise, Max Mueller Bhavan (Goethe Institut) other international Embassies in India. These Festivals have been widely covered in the press and media; both print and electronic.

In 2005, the Music School began construction of a modern building in R.T.Nagar as a permanent home for its expanding activities and was completed in early 2008 under her leadership, with support from Trustees, Board and music lovers. The 12,000sq foot facility which is fully equipped with classrooms, recording studios and its own 120-seater auditorium became functional in 2008 and now boasts 418 students and more waiting, with additionally 120 in the Music Outreach.

Over 9,500 students have been given formal music education training; both theory, practical & performance these 29 years and this has contributed to their total development, empowerment, enhancement of their intelligence quotient & linguistic skills.

The “OUTREACH THROUGH MUSIC INITIATIVE” began in 2003 and since then, has empowered and enhanced the lives of over 5500 underprivileged, blind, street and handicapped children through formal music education.

As Member of H.E. Ambassador of Poland’s CHOPIN 2010 Organizing Committee in India, 2009 – 2010, Aruna once again conceptualised a dance presentation of ‘Chopin in Indian Dances’, which toured 3 cities of India; Bangalore, Kolkata & Delhi to much acclaim, courtesy ICCR & the Embassy of Poland (2010), and was awarded the Cultural Medal of Honour given by the Minister of Culture, Poland 2010 for her efforts in promoting Polish Culture during the ‘Chopin Year’.

In 2010, Aruna mentored the 30 member Youth Choir, ‘Songbirds of India’ for the Internationale Choir Festival, Dresden Germany – May 2010, supported by ICCR & Festival Committee, Dresden.

In 2012, she accompanied the Carnatic Women’s Percussion Troupe to Canton of Vaud as part of the 3rd Indo-Swiss Festival in Bangalore which she too was responsible for initiating and organizing, as also the first Sweden in Bangalore event, the Polish Festival in 2008 and the first ever Festival of Portugal. Cultural Exchanges with the Conservatoires of Lausanne, Switzerland, the Goethe Institut : MMB in India and Germany, Music Education Exchanges with the Zurich University of the Arts (2014) the University of Seville, Spain and University of Rotterdam Holland (2015) the partnership between the National Youth Orchestra of Canada and the Music School(2013)are all thriving with much learning in these spaces, thanks to her single-minded drive and determination. She was also the force behind the mega-cultural exchange Program with the 55 member Winterthurer Symphoniker of Switzerland, comprising workshops, interactions and Indo Swiss Choral–Orchestral Concerts in 2013.

In 2012, in collaboration with the music school’s cultural partners and the Government of Karnataka, Aruna conceptualised and organised ‘Odyssey 2012 – Our Musical Journey’, 44 Cultural Events aimed at celebrating the Music School’s 25th Anniversary.

In addition, Aruna was a Member of the Organizing Committee of the World Festival of Sacred Music held in Bengaluru, Karnataka, Member of the Chief Minister’s Advisory Committee for the Bangalore HABBA Festival – 2002-03 and has received numerous awards, commendations, citations and plaques like Exceptional Service to Music Award by Musicians Karnataka (1997), Plaque of Appreciation from the European Union Delegation for the Visit and Presentation of the EU Chamber Orchestra & Delegation in 2001 in Bengaluru, Plaque of Appreciation from the Operafest Choir of Malaysia (2002), Rotary Bangalore Award & Honour as ‘Citizen Extraordinaire’ 2012 -13, International Excellence Award by International Business Council (IBC) 2015-16, National Mahila Rattan Gold Medal Award by International Institute of Education & Management (IIEM) 2015-16, Jewel of India Award by Indian Solidarity Council (ISC) 2015-16 and many more.


At 77, Aruna Sunderlal left only one unfulfilled wish – to take a bus load of musicians across the border to Pakistan for a concert called ‘Music for Peace’ and was keenly looking forward to the School’s 30th Anniversary Celebrations in February 2017.