MAKING MUSIC-THE ILAIYARAAJA WAY!
In Western classical world there are two distinct classifications of music. One is 'program music' and the other is 'absolute music'.
The first one is the idea that music should describe stories and concepts. The other one is making music as it comes to your mind without any preset ideas. That is the belief that music should exist solely to express musical thoughts.
What Ilaiyaraaja does in films is basically 'program music' as he does them for a given situation or scene or emotions.
In films there are two classifications. Creating song music and creating background score for the completed feature film. In the industry parlance scoring for the background music is also called as Re-Recording (RR)..
Ilaiyaraaja has a sitting with the Director/Producer when the entire script is narrated to him. Then they explain the significant cues in the story where a song may fit in. Some times when they are confused and can not decide a cue for a song, Ilaiyaraaja with his experience suggests appropriate slots in the story where a song can be used. Some times they may have two sessions-one to narrate the story and the second session to compose tunes for the songs.
Now assume that they have identified five song situations in this film. Now they start the process of finalising a tune for each song.
Ilaiyaraaja sings aloud with his Harmonium various tunes for a given situation. Every thing is recorded on tape. Some times this session will go on with endless tunes from Ilaiyaraaja and finally the director/producer deciding on one. Some times the session will be over in less than 45 minutes as happened with Director P Vasu for Chinnathambi. Vasu says "One by one as we went through the situations, Ilaiyaraaja started churning out tunes and then and there we decided very fast and every thing was over so soon".
When they agree on a particular tune for that song then that tune is recorded in a separate tape. A copy of which will go to the lyric writer. During this session itself they will decide the lyric writer for this song. During this composing session, Ilaiyaraaja will have only his assistant in-charge of vocal section Mr. Sundararajan. This old man is in-charge of maintaining the tune tapes library.
Once the tune is finalised then Sundararajan will write down the tune in the swara notation form. This will come in handy to him when he sits with the singers during the voice recording and also during the song recording with the orchestra.
As I said, the day of actual recording of this tune may be on the same day or quite some time from the time they had the composing session.
On the day of recording when Ilaiyaraaja arrives at the studio at 7 am, Sundararajan is ready with the particular tune tape in Ilaiyaraaja's room. The director is on hand to give him a gist of the situation again and also his idea of the song and the way in which he plans to picturise it.
For example, if the director says that while the heroine sings this song he is going to intercut the scene and going to show some approaching tragedy, then Ilaiyaraaja has to take care of this fact in his interlude music in the song.
Example is Paadava Un Paadalai song in Naan Paadum Paadal. When Ambika sings this beautiful melodic song at the studio, the director intercuts and shows the scene where Mohan rushing in his car which would eventually get into an accident and kills him. The interlude music will be appropriate to the scene. There is another similar song involving Mohan and Ambika; in the song Yaar Veettu Roja Poo Poothatho.. in the film Idhaya Koilwhere Mohan sings the song in the studio while Ambika is shown in trouble. Of course, this song also has some memorable string passages. Similarly, another good example is the beautiful song Vaanil Vedivelli sung by Janaki/Mano in Honest Raj. The wife is singing the song, in a flash back sequence, and when Vijayakanth sings in the present, after the death of
his wife, the rhythm changes totally. The whole song scenes will go back and forth from the present to the past. In the same way if the director says that he plans to use a big group of dancers for this duet, then Ilaiyaraaja has to use chorus voices positively and then he has to structure his orchestration in such a way.
With all this inputs in mind he listens to the tune once again (he has to, as in between the time of composing this tune and the day of recording, he must have composed many any other tunes and also heard many other stories and seen many other films for re-recording).
Normally the string players- Violin, Viola, Cellos, DoubleBass, Brass section, etc. are not part of the regular orchestra for songs. So if he is going to use strings and any other special instruments like Sitar, Veena, Sarangi, Shehnai, etc. then he informs his Programme assistants Kalyanam and Subbiah. It is their responsibility to get the players in time for the rehearsals and recording.
Now he starts writing the entire song with orchestration in his bound pad. Ilaiyaraaja's musicality is more than a talent. The ideas that come to him are, in reality, completed in his mind and only had to be written down on paper. This is composing at the higherst possible level. This is the gift that has won him honours as he has time and again demonstrated that he could provide embellishments or variations for a piece without prior notice or preparation. This is always evident when he makes on the spot corrections or modifications to the score for a song or background music as he takes the orchestra through the score for the final take. Contrary to popular belief that because he writes music and hence he is too theoretical in his music making, he is capable of making and does make mind boggling changes to the
score at the last minute with out it affecting the over all control of the composition.
He says that once he sits with all these inputs in mind, the entire song comes to him as a flash at three distinct levels. On the one hand, the complete rhythm pattern of the entire song. The second is the entire orchestration. And the third is the entire vocal patterns needed. His problem is the usual one-the mind is faster than his hand. So he says, "As I start writing, the entire pattern keeps changing dynamically. So what is finally turned out is not the one I got at the first instance. I don't know whether the final one is better or the first one would have been the best combination." He used to ask jokingly, "Is there any equipment available that would get the entire score from my mind at one go when it strikes my mind at the first instance?".
As is his practice, the score sheet will contain the session time on the top-right hand corner-whether it is a 7 AM session or an afternoon 2 PM session. Till 1989 Ilaiyaraaja used to record two songs per day. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. Some times, he has even recorded four songs a day with two orchestras in adjoining studios. The top left-hand corner will have the singer name for this song. He also writes the production company name and the song name if it has been finalised already with the lyric writer.
Now it is 7.45-8 AM. The score is ready.
What Ilaiyaraaja writes is called Short-Score format in music parlance. That means it is not a full score yet; still there are a few things that he takes care during the rehearsals/recording. More over, because the players are all with him for many many years and the chemistry is very strong, he can take the liberty of leaving certain things unsaid on the score which the orchestra players will make out on their own or Ilaiyaraaja can verbally fill those missing pieces during the rehearsals.
On the other hand what he wrote for his work with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) was in full-score format. Because it was a concert hall music that he wrote. Once the score is published any orchestra in the world could play that music in their programmes. Hence that score would contain every thing. What the conductors normally change is the tempi and other minor things in the score.
In a studio recording short-score format, for example, if a flute joins the violins in the middle of a passage and goes out, Ilaiyaraaja need not bother about writing every thing there. If he has written the melody that the flute player has to play, then the tempo and scale and pitch etc. he can verbally instruct during the take. And from his mixing console he can adjust the flute channel volume with reference to the volume of the violins so that he can decide which should be in the foreground and which should be in the background.
But in concert music full-score format, this balancing of various instruments has to be on the score. Writing for live instruments is not an easy task, as it requires deep knowledge about the range of each and every instrument and also the capability of the players available with you. You can not write some thing for the violin and ask the sax player to play it (there is no electronics in a classical Symphony Orchestra, you remember, because in electronics you can do any thing you want).
On top of this, writing for concert hall music requires a very strong imagination. What do I mean? Imagine, when the full brass section is playing this passage along with the string section and if I want to write this flute melody interlude, I should know the level at which to write the flute portion so that the flute will be heard amongst other instruments in that particular passage. Do you understand the complexity of writing concert music for a classical symphony orchestra now?
The score will contain every thing. Including the chorus portions, the words or phrases for the chorus parts, male/female, solo/group, every thing will be there. If he wants a double or treble flute or some other things like mixing of a solo violin in multiple tracks, every thing will be clearly written there.