Christopher Tin: World Music for a Global World

Georges Sakr

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Christopher Tin is the American Dream impersonated, and his is a story that will resonate with many an AUB student.

An American composer born to immigrants from Hong Kong, he graduated with an MA in Humanities from Stanford and then an MMus from the Royal College of Music, in London. He then went on to intern with such famous names as Hans Zimmer (“Gladiator”) and Joel McNeely (Disney’s “Mulan II”). You may also be familiar with his music if you use Apple’s GarageBand, or if you watch certain TV series produced by PBS, The History Channel, or the Discovery Channel.

It wasn’t until about 2005 however, with the release of Sid Meier’s Civilization IV game, that he came to international prominence. He composed “Baba Yetu,” a Swahili translation of the Lord’s Prayer, which then became the first piece of music composed for a video game to be nominated for, then win, a Grammy Award.

Tin then went on to craft his first true masterpiece. Released in 2009, the album “Calling All Dawns,” which starts with “Baba Yetu” (“Our Father”), features twelve songs, each in a different language (including Irish Gaelic, French, Portuguese, Maori, Latin…) and a different vocal style, most with lyrics from traditional sources.

The album tells the story of life, death, and rebirth, and its songs are thus built as three distinct movements in which each song fades into the next.

Over 200 artists have worked on the album, which helps make it different than anything you’ve ever heard before.

In 2014, Tin released his second masterpiece, the album “The Drop That Contained The Sea.” Each and every one of the ten tracks on the album was commissioned by a separate entity; which is to say, ten entities decided Tin’s work was good enough that they would pay him to compose pieces before even hearing them.

Again, each piece is in a different language (Xhosa, Bulgarian, Turkish, Mongolian…) and performed in a different style. This time however, Tin also composed works in languages that aren’t even spoken anymore (Old Norse, Ancient Greek) or that might never even have been spoken (Proto-Indo-European, a theoretical ancestor for most languages currently spoken around the world).

The story he intended to tell is one of a Sufi concept: every drop of water contains the essence of the sea; likewise, every human contains the essence of humanity. The musical themes in the Proto-Indo-European song are subtly woven into the other songs, in a way that seems to say: the parent language can somewhat be found in each of its descendants (even though some of the languages on the album are not related to PIE).

With the calibre of his last album, music lovers and members of the academic community studying the humanities eagerly await Tin’s next album, with their only fear being that he may finally have set the bar too high even for his next composition to follow.

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