Vidya Rao is a leading performer of the delicate style of thumri-dadra singing. For many years the disciple of the late Smt Naina Devi, Vidya has continued her study of this form under Smt Shanti Hiranand and Smt Girija Devi. Her initial training in khayal was under the late Prof B.N. Datta and thereafter under Pandit Mani Prasad.
She has performed at national and international forums to appreciative audiences. Specialising in thumri, dadra, the allied folk-derived forms such as kajri, chaiti, hori etc, ghazal, she also sings the devotional poetry of the medieval bhakti and sufi saints. Her repertoire also includes Sanskrit verses from the Hindu and Buddhist texts, as well as the elegiac forms of soz, marsiya and noha, and praise-forms such as naat etc.
She has composed for and collaborated with other musicians and artists from other disciplines (painting, writing, theatre etc) to create innovative works for theatre, film and art installations. She has been associated with the Delhi-based theatre group Vivadi as a founder-member since its inception, and has researched and designed the music, composed, sung and acted in several of their productions.
The recipient of Fellowships for the intensive study of thumri from the Ford Foundation and the Indian Government’s Department of Culture, she has presented papers on music and the performing arts at several conferences and has been published in several academic journals and books. She has conducted workshops and lecture demonstrations with varied groups—school and college students, students of theatre, design and architecture, and with professionals from different fields. Her workshops include the SoundBody workshops developed by her that explore the nature and energy of sound as a tool for voice training and healing.
Vidya Rao has been Visiting Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, Delhi, Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Study, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, and is Visiting Faculty at the Deer Park School, Himachal Pradesh, and at Beej Vidyapeeth, Dehradun. She is also associated with the Adivasi University, Tejgadh, and Matrika, New Delhi, and is Consulting Editor for Social Sciences with Orient Longman , Publishers.