Looks like a mechanical process, huh? Not so simple – mean mortals with several years of training, would take about 5 to 6 days of time to harmonize a typical Indian film song , with the hope that the end result is good. Of course, they would also attempt to try out their notes by playing some instrument as a validation tool. Very talented music composers can perhaps do this in 2 days or so, with a lot of trial and error allowed. Of course, none of these guys can mess around with CCM, without seriously breaking WCM rules as that is pretty hard stuff. Raja does all this magic in 45 minutes with no musical instrument. While some WCM trained professional music composer may find a few awkward intervals that they would stay away from, they cannot complain about any of the WCM harmony rules being broken (exception of intervals in heavily CCM based music). He keeps experimenting, but never stays away from documenting his music. Once his main tune is played back (the filmy style thathakaram) to him by his assistant, he starts writing his 4-part harmony after that – he simply says ‘music happens'. If you find everything that we have discussed in this topic way too technical, remember this – modulation and chord progression – Raja is the real king of this business.
What we have discussed still will create homophony. Think of adding counterpoints to this mix, and you can imagine the complexity. It is like adding another melody line to the score. He does not take additional time because he has counterpoints in his compositions! In his score sheet, he even notates which key on a Korg synthesizer should be used in a particular phrase! As his voice conductor Joseph Sabastian said in an interview,’ we have not seen Mozart, but I will tell my grandchildren proudly that I worked with Ilayaraja’.
It is important to understand that most MDs understand harmonization and chord progressions. Doing this is a matter of being a MD and does not make you a genius. How can you take up a CCM/HCM based tune and now start harmonizing it with the interludes being CCM/WCM or both? How can you do this so casually when others sweat over it? And while repeatedly doing it (honoring all harmony and CCM rules), how can one easily throw musically complex counterpoints to it and still come out with such pleasant melodious hits? There are several Raja songs where the counterpoint consists of more than two melodies, there are four at times! Think of imagining all this in your head before the first bow touched the string or the first breathe ever passed a flute. And finally, how can you do all this magic in 45 minutes and never go back to revise the composition? Here is a walking musicopedia who can easily write a score for a film song, an instrumental album such as How to Name it (this was written by Raja during lazy afternoon hours when he was supposed to take a break!) or a symphony or an oratorio (Thiruvasagam in Symphony). He says it’s all the same for him! He takes the flexibilities provided by both the systems (WCM and CCM) and does not worry too much about their constraints. He figured a set of unwritten rules for such a fusion and has been very successful in easily moving between both the systems, making some pundits from both the camps wonder at him and critics ridicule him at the same time – that’s perhaps a counterpoint of views! Fortunately, he documents his entire work – this should serve as research material for future generations. Going by the complexity of some of his compositions, it should take decades if not a century to figure out what he has already figured out!