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A Technical Celebration of Music - Part II
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Song: Vae Vaela Varnala...(Telugu)
Film: Sankeerthana
Scale : Mohanam

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

This is the second in the series of articles celebrating the music of Maestro Ilayaraja, from a technical standpoint. The article treats the Maestro's music as a textbook on music composition and presents certain technical and non-technical nuances in his music that may be of interest to students of music composition and orchestration as well as to listeners with a technical background in carnatic and western classical music.

The content presented in this article is just an observation made by the author. Please feel free to indicate any analytical errors that you may find.

This song has been composed for a joyful situation, wherein the character in the film describes the natural geographic beauty around him. The character expresses his feelings (of surprise and happiness) while sailing in the fast moving river water. Notice that the flow of tunes in this song is "musically" very close to the flow of the river water.

Based on a symmetric pentatonic scale called Mohanam (SRGPD - CDEGA), this song is a perfect example that describes how controlled deviations from a selected scale should be handled, to create variety in film music. This scale originally (according to carnatic music theory) contains A natural (chathusruthi dha). But the composer has made careful usage of A flat (shudha dha) at several places in the song. The pallavi of the song begins with wonderful slides woven with the notes surrounding the higher C. The second tune (Alalu silalu...) is unique in that it sounds both A and A flat, in a sequence.

The charanam maintains the high spirits of the character by beginning in the higher octave. The composers' creative mind can be seen at the end of this tune, which flows down to A flat and finally touches A (natural) before a tentative halt, after which the next tune continues to the middle C.

The amazing note combinations that constantly keep shifting between the two kinds of A, are beyond the scope of any kind of description. These shifts in particular, express the feeling of surprise (as implied by the wonderful lyrics) and happiness in the mind of the character in the film. The charanam ending on the higher E is the most unexpected musical surprise in this song. The lyircs for this last tune in the charanam, being a question (yaedha kae kanuluntae….?), demonstrates the composer's ability to grammatically blend a tune with the meaning of its lyrics.

(Note: I'm note aware if the song was tuned to the lyrics or the lyrics were written to the tune).

The use of vocals in the prelude and interlude, the chosen pitch and tempo for this situation, are noteworthy. In this song, the composer shows the importance of a prelude. Note that he brings the listeners to the mood of the song as the song opens up with a wonderful vocal hum and a bass back up. The colorful orchestration of the prelude (vocals, keyboard, flute and tabla) sets the theme for the rest of the song.

The composer fuses the music to the situation in the film with a folk tune in the interlude. The female chorus backed up by a folk percussion, followed by the flute, gives a true "classical telugu folk" color to the song.

Thanks to Maestro Ilayaraja for giving us yet another song to celebrate.

- RS Balaji

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