View Full Version : Classical Crossover music by IR (kiru)

30th August 2005, 01:24 PM
Classical Crossover music by Ilayaraaja: A perspective

Indian film music was founded on the basis of providing light Indian classical music with the harmony of western classical music. From the days of G. Ramanathan one can hear strings-backed songs in Tamil film music. IR continued this tradition and continued to evolve the usage of strings in a more complex fashion, especially more contrapuntally. He also later expanded his repertoire to include all sections of an orchestra, to make the songs more symphonic. These developments in the music of Ilaiyaraaja, led to the development of almost a new genre of music, which can be identified by a strong Western classical personality to them but maintain an Indian raagam/scale as the base. Since these were being made available to film music listeners, the songs also had the normal rhythm arrangements commonly found in popular music. This genre could be called ‘Classical crossover’. Here classical, refers to western classical music. Indian classical music is usually accompanied by rhythm instrument (thaala vaadhyam). The polyphonic nature of western classical music, with many instruments playing, does not require the use of a rhythm instrument to maintain time. It is only in popular music, that a rhythm instrument is used. So a ‘classical crossover’ is predominantly western classical music, accompanied by rhythm instruments. The release of Thiruvasakam in Symphony (TIS), publicly proclaimed, the usage of this genre classification, for the first time. In this article, let us look into a list of few songs which can justify this classification but precede the TIS release.

en kanavinai kEl nanba – dEsiya geetham Listen (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/l/26/s/movie_name.4348/)

With a very dynamic range, where the quite first line of the pallavi, with piano note harmonies, shifts to higher octaves, with the help of the horns and later strings and the chorus, this song in unmistakably classical in character. The bass guitar and drums in the charanams give it a popular music appeal. Not to mention the ‘rapping’ by the children.

dEva sangeetham nee – Guru (Malayalam) Listen (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/l/20/s/movie_name.3330/)

Operatic in character, symphonic in texture this masterpiece from the Guru (Malayalam) movie would be the choice of a classically minded, film music listener. It is worthwhile to point out that this movie’s songs were made with the help of orchestra members from the Hungary Budapest Orchestra. This later led to the whole album of TIS being produced in Hungary.

chiragattakilli - My dear kuttichaathan Listen (http://malayalamsongs.allindiansite.com/my_dear_kuttichathan.html)

The symphonic opening of this song, does well in adding grandeur to India’s first 3D movie. The kick drum and the tambourine rhythm make it very comtemporary sounding, even though the song was done 20 years ago. The first part of the charanams have string harmony. In the rest of the charanams, the orchestration plays counterpoint to the main melody.

magaLir mattum - magaLir mattum Listen (http://www.tamilmega.net/page/build/album/Magalir_Mattum/) (last song)

Can a orchestral movie soundtrack be turned into a song? Yes, that is the thought that would occur to a film music listener when he or she listens to the pallavi of this song. Ilaiyaraaja pulls of this feat with the help of the chorus in this song. The interludes starts after a few seconds of silence. This music director himself has claimed, he uses silence to create music. Decide for yourself how effective the silence is in this song.

Enna solli paduvatho – En mana vaanil Listen (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/l/26/s/movie_name.4389/)

A 50 piece string sections gives the drums rhythm backed song a fine classical touch. The strings sing along with the main singers and sometime play ahead of them, with the flute filling in. The delays (echo of the singers’ voice) and harmonium notes add harmony in this song.

Undhan rajyathil - aandaan adimai Listen (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/l/26/s/movie_name.4156/)

This unique song where the pallavi is completely sung by a chorus of children is impressively backed by the orchestra all through. This is usually not the case with other film songs. In most of the film songs, the strings are used only for a part of the song, usually the later part of the charanams. The transitions to the charanams and the rhythm is typical of a film song (of IR). Contrast, this song with other songs in the same movie, and the classical nature of this song, comes out clear.

Idhu thaai pirantha dEsam - siraichaalai Listen (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/l/26/s/movie_name.5372/)

This song starts with a contemporary synth drum beats, a two part vocal harmony, leads to the pallavi. The unique string phrases lead to the nationalistic chanting of vandE mataram. The charanams are sung just mainly with vocal harmonies and a bit of bells. The heavy kettle drums bring in the chant again. When the pallavi is finally sung with the brass section in full force, the synth drums are nowhere there to be heard. Has IR converted a lay film audience to a classical music listener in one song?

Aruna girana – Guru (Malayalam) Listen (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/l/20/s/movie_name.3330/)

Again from the same movie, as dEva sangeetham, this song has a pleasant woodwind and brass orchestration. The standard drum rhythm gives it a popular music appeal. The chorus and horns add uniqueness to the song. Note, the harp notes are played alone. This is one of the basics of writing a score for an orchestra, the sounds of various would have to be naturally balanced, with resorting to the mixer to adjust the relative volume of various instruments.

vandE mataram – bharathi Listen (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/l/26/s/movie_name.4294/)

This song is less classical in structure than the one in dEsiya geetham. The flowing rhythms, surprisingly not done like a march with snare but with thavil, is more like popular music, than a rhythm added to more classical composition. But the complexity and quality of the orchestration gives it a classical flavor than would any groove-based melody common in film music.

sundari - thalapathy Listen (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/l/26/s/movie_name.4357/)

The prelude of this song starts with the strings playing a standing note on which is overlaid the flute phrases. There are so many songs in film music with flute ‘fills’ but the ‘flute’ fills in this song have a special appeal. The Mahler like start of the interlude transitions to a chorus harmony typical of this music director’s other works. It is only the charanams with the tabla rhythm that makes this song sound like any other film song. But the audience would have enjoyed the beauty of a western classical orchestra in this one.

dEsiya geetham - dEsiya geetham Listen (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/l/26/s/movie_name.4348/)

A classic arrangement of brass, strings and a choir lend this song, the revolutionary feel. Note the use of chorus in the latter part of the charanams. If only the song had been done with a real orchestra instead of synthesizers, this would have been an acoustical delight.

thenRal vanthu – avatharam Listen (http://www.musicindiaonline.com/l/26/s/movie_name.4209/)

Multi-part vocal harmony with the traditional tamil music notes (thana thana ..) gives only a weak indication of what more is to come. This folksy song has been given a very baroque feel with rich orchestration full of counterpoints. The charanams are done with string harmony and drum rhythms making it more easy listening,

The author has tried to bring the predominantly orchestral nature of these songs. It should also be noted, the composer has resorted to a western classical approach, only in certain conditions. The song situations have been either for expressing nationalistic sentiments, different time period or something very unique.

Though many of these songs were composed for movies in which a western classical approach was consciously adopted (Guru, dEsiya geetham) many were done for regular movies in which other songs followed a more standard approach. It is not very clear whether the audience appreciated these unique songs or these songs did not get enough exposure because the movies themselves failed. It is also possible the Indian ear used to listening to melodies, where the next note or slide is what surprises and fascinates the mind, is not appreciative of a western classical approach, where many instruments are playing musical notes in parallel. Maybe some of these songs had a strong melody and the orchestration was complex in the interludes alone (eg. sundari from thalapathy), where the melody guaranteed the success of the song. It probably required a TIS with classic poetry, extreme emotion drenched devotion and full-fledged orchestration to capture the mind of the Indian audience. Will a western classical orchestrated album on a secular subject, with contemporary lyrics be successful with the Indian audience?