T.V. Gopalakrishnan (Carnatic Musician and Raja's Carnatic guru, India)
He is one of my most hard working students ever. I still remember how he used to knock at my doors, as early as four o clock in the morning to learn (carnatic) music. He was very unique as a student. When you teach a particular phrase (in a raga), his mind would be busy anticipating/thinking about the next phrase. Sometimes it would make me wonder, if i am teaching music to someone who has already mastered it! And if he is not convinced by the way he has sung a particular line in a keerthanai, he would himself raise his hand and sing it again till he thinks it is perfect. I have seen him singing out tunes to playback singers and he would never be satisfied till they get it right. But when you listen to the finished song someday later, you feel that singers barely managed to get the effect that raja could conjure up through his voice.
He once called me in an an excited mood, and said,"I have composed one song in raga saramathi for a tamil film. And i find that the tune fits perfectly well with a krithi by Saint Thyagaraja (Mari Mari Ninnae). What do i do now?" The original krithi was composed in kambhodhi ragam. But I immediately replied "Please go ahead". When you sit in your house, and gaze through your windows, there is one type of view. Open the doors, there is another view and come outside, there is totally another view. Why get stuck with one view. Look at the possibilities of expansion. Raja is such a free spirit.
The way ilaiyaraja has handled carnatic music (in film songs) is very unique. If he has done 30 kalyani raga songs, each has its own character and styling. He would have expanded on the various characteristic raga phrases in each of those songs. There are even examples where you would never realise that the underlying melody is kalyani, unless you listen to the meticulous decorations that he has built-in into the tune. Even if it is not about carnatic music, or any other style of music, there would be something unique in each of his songs. The only song where i could never find anything unique was,"annae annae sippai annae". Just joking ! Well, even there, the song is sung in a coarse voice.