RTP Structure & Appreciation
(For the beginners by a novice with a lot of listening experience)
Ragam dileanation or Alaapanai (Alaap) is done in three parts.
1) Madhya Sthayi or the mid octave
2) Ucha Sthayi or the higher octave
3) Mandira Sthayi or the lower octave in that order, normally. Sthayi refers to the pitch.
All three parts will be rendered at slow/vilambit and 2 higher speeds. Beginners will find Ucha sthayi exhilarating. In terms of duration, madhya sthayi will take 40% of alaap, ucha sthayi will be take another 40%and mandira sthayi will take the remaining 20% of Alaap. Percussion Instruments are not used in alaap.
Thanam: This will take about sametime as the third phase of alaap. Thanam is singing the same raagam using the word Thanam several times in a nice rhythmic way. Normally no percussion instrument is used while singing thanam.
Palghat KVN, during his visit to Blore circa 1983 under the aegis of SPICMCAY while performing at the IISc, sang a unique Todi RTP, during which he had Trissur Narendran playing the Mridangam , while singing .Thanam, He explained to the stunned audience that this was an old practice of the Trivandrum Palace, It was so good and different, I feel somebody can reintroduce the idea. Wonder, if any trade-mark or Royalty (pun un-intended) issues would be there!
Pallavi & Niraval
Pallavi is usually, a one liner or two at best like a Doha or Thirukural. The musician will play around with the pallavi line presenting to the audience all his wares (acquired skills through rigorous practice/Sadhakam /Riaz) – Left Brain component) and interpretation of the raagam by bringing out all possible hues of the Raga (Creativity which is the Right Brain Component) This stage is called the Nereval. For Nereval the musician will choose the phrase to end each line of the Neraval. Neraval in general and particularly Use of Aahkaram ( Singer will introduce Between each letter of the phrase chosen for nereval .for e.g. if the chosen phrase is Amba Kamakshi, Aahkaram will be ‘aahaha’ Mahaha’ ‘Bahaha’ ‘aahaha’ etc) will make the session exhilarating .
Completion of the neraval, will lead to Swara-prastharam, which is again a type of Neraval, but the singer uses the basic Swaras that make the raga. Chosen word will be the same and the musician uses the given swaras for the ragam. It is a big-time mathematical exercise. You can see Sanjay Subramanian’s 25 min talk on a documentary on GN Balasubramanian’s music where he says for the great master Math (Kanakku-the Tamil word for Math) effortlessly falls in place. The last iteration of swaram would be longish, covering all three octaves in all the speeds and not a single beat missing for anyone on stage, will whip up the kind of frenzy that you experience when you have had some weeds and listen to lead Guitar towards the end of the song Hotel California or Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits, my ring tone for over 20yrs.
This is a percussion ensemble, where one or more percussionists (Mridangam, Ghatam, Mohrsing, Kanjira, Thavil, Tabla) they play on their respective instruments whatever the mridangist plays. Each phrase will shorten as the percussion war escalates. In between there would be dialogues between them and Ghatam guy can steal the thunder by throwing the pot (the Ghatam, not to be mistaken for the weed!) and catching it with out missing the beat. People with a good sense of thalam (like peole who have learnt music properly or Bharata Natyam Dancers) can appreciate the Thani-Avardhanam better. Usha can and I can’t. But I dont walk out of concerts during Thani which is happening even now.