Composer Spotlight – Christopher Tin

christopher-tinOctober 2011, Composer Spotlight: Christopher Tin

Scores by Composer Christopher Tin are Naturally Engaging Matches for Young Performers

The Grammy award-winning composer Christopher Tin’s career in music composition spans film, television, video games, advertising, and the record industry. His debut album Calling All Dawns was the recipient of two Grammys at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards: Best Classical Crossover Album, and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists (for the song ‘Baba Yetu’). ‘Baba Yetu’ is the theme song to the video game Civilization IV. Its win at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards made history as the first video game piece ever to receive Grammy recognition.  His scores, particularly pieces such as ‘Baba Yetu’ which students may already have encountered and enjoyed as gamers, are naturally engaging matches for young performers.  

Initially educated at Stanford University and Oxford University, while studying Music Composition, Conducting, and English Literature, Tin won a Fulbright Scholarship and continued his studies at the elite Royal College of Music in London. There, he earned an MMus with Distinction, graduating with the highest marks in his class, and winning the Horovitz Composition Prize. He is also a Sundance Institute fellow.

His music has been performed live by many orchestras around the world, including the National Symphony Orchestra, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Philharmonia, Metropole Orchestra, and hundreds of amateur choirs around the world. He has contributed to scores for such Hollywood blockbusters as X2: X-Men United and Lilo And Stitch 2. His music has also played a role in major ad campaigns for brands like Puma, Verizon, The Gap, and others.

Tin’s music is marked by a natural ease of melody, economy of gesture, and a flair for the dramatic. As a native Californian, born of Chinese descent, and educated in England, his aesthetic sensibilities are a blend of his diverse cultural background.

CSIC interviewed Christopher Tin in the fall of 2011.

CSIC: What style of music do you compose for?

Christopher: My music is a blend of orchestral and world music, featuring prominent solo and choral vocals.  It tends to have a strong epic, filmic quality to it–emphasizing strong, sweeping melodies and bold, dramatic gestures.  In fact, when I’m not releasing my own albums, I compose music for movies (like X-Men), video games (like Civilization) and commercials (for Apple, Verizon, Puma and more).  I’m also a pop songwriter/producer.

CSIC: How did you choose this style?

Christopher: It was really a blend of my upbringing.  I had a classical education, but in college I dabbled in world music, leading an award-winning a cappella group (Stanford University’s Talisman A Cappella) and playing in a Japanse taiko ensemble.  Later on, I got one of my biggest breaks when a college friend, who remembered my diverse classical/world education, called me up and asked me if I’d be interested in writing a piece of music for a video game he was designing, Civilization IV.  That piece of music became ‘Baba Yetu’, which has since become my biggest hit, winning me the first of my two Grammys earlier this February.

CSIC: Tell us about your audio sample and how it’s a good fit for young performers.

Christopher: ‘Baba Yetu’ is a translation of The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili, and it features a driving beat, energetic call-and-response vocals, and an optional sweeping, epic orchestral accompaniment.  The fact that it’s the theme song to a popular video game adds to its appeal.  The choral sheet music is released by Alfred Publishing in two editions: an SSATBB + piano choral octavo, and an SATB divisi a cappella arrangement.  There are numerous accompaniment scores and parts available for rental as well–there’s an orchestral accompaniment, as well as a concert band accompaniment for those schools wanting to try a combined choir/band performance.  A standalone concert band version is coming soon too.  Finally, for those really ambitious schools who are interested in trying something more grand, a full score and parts to ‘Calling All Dawns’, the Grammy-winning song cycle that ‘Baba Yetu’ comes from, is also available.

CSIC: How do you envision composers and high school music programs collaborating?

Christopher: I’ve often done residencies where I come to high schools and chat with the students about being a professional musician.  I often do Q&A sessions that touch on a number of topics–anything from composition techniques, to what to study in school, to the music industry as a whole.  The idea of being a living, working composer may be a little foreign to high school students, so the opportunity to meet one–especially one whose music they’re performing–can be fun and educational.  Recently I started bringing one of my Grammy statues around with me too, and taking pictures with all the kids.  For many of them, it might be the only chance that they’ll have to hold something like that.. and maybe for a few of them, that memory will inspire them to pursue musical careers of their own.  (For information on residencies, I can be reached at

CSIC: Do you have any advice for young composers?

Christopher: One of the most common pitfalls of being a beginning composer is that you question every note that you write down, and give up too early because everything you write doesn’t sound as good as your favorite composer, or even worse, sounds a little too much like your favorite composer!  My advice is just to accept that at first, you’ll be writing bad music, but you have to get through that before you start writing good music.  Just tell yourself that the first 10 pieces that you write will be bad.  Allow yourself that luxury, get those bad pieces out of your system, and then by your 11th piece you’ll feel much more comfortable with the process of making composing decisions.  Need more than 10?  No problem.  Take 20, or even 30.  The goal, though, is just to get yourself feeling comfortable with composing.

CSIC: What projects are you currently working on?

Christopher: I’m working on a number of projects at the moment.  I’m scoring two video games, and have some movies that I’ll be writing for looming in the near future.  I’ve also got a concert commission for a new piece combining African vocals and percussion with string orchestra.  I’m also working on an electronica/alternative collaboration at the moment; called ‘Stereo Alchemy’, it’s a more pop-oriented project, where we’ve taken Romantic-era poems by Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson and more, and turned them into gothic electronica.  It’s a pretty diverse workload.

CSIC: Will you share an audio file with our readers?  What can you tell us about it, and where can our readers rent or purchase it?

Christopher: ‘Baba Yetu’ is the theme song to the video game Civilization IV, and the opening song on Christopher Tin’s Grammy-winning album ‘Calling All Dawns’.  It’s performed by the Soweto Gospel Choir and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and its lyrics are a Swahili translation of The Lord’s Prayer.  The song itself also won a Grammy at the 53rd-Annual Grammy Awards, and made history as the first piece of video game music ever to gain Grammy recognition.

To purchase or rent Christopher’s scores, please go here: