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Christopher Tin

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Christopher Tin
Tin in 2016
Tin in 2016
Background information
Birth nameChristopher Chiyan Tin
Born (1976-05-21) May 21, 1976 (age 48)
Redwood City, California, U.S.
  • Composer
  • conductor
  • music arranger
  • record producer
Years active2000–present
Christopher Tin

Christopher Chiyan Tin (born May 21, 1976) is an American composer of art music, often composed for film, television, and video game soundtracks. His work is primarily orchestral and choral, often with a world music influence. He won two Grammy Awards for his classical crossover album Calling All Dawns.

Tin is perhaps best known for his choral piece Baba Yetu from the video game Civilization IV, which in 2011 became the first piece of video game music to win a Grammy Award.[1] His Grammy win was considered a significant milestone for the critical acceptance of music from video games, and following his win the Recording Academy retitled their visual media categories to become more inclusive of video game soundtracks,[2] before eventually creating a dedicated Grammy award for 'Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media'.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Tin was raised in Palo Alto, California, by immigrant parents from Hong Kong.[4] He worked on his undergraduate education at Stanford University with a brief period as an exchange student at the University of Oxford, double majoring in Music Composition and English Literature, and minoring in Art History.[5][6] During this period he supplemented his classical studies by participating in various jazz, musical theatre, and world music student groups.[7] He graduated in 1998, receiving a BA with Honors and continued to study at Stanford, receiving an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities (with an emphasis in film studies) in 1999.[8]

In 1999, Tin was admitted to the Royal College of Music in London for their MMus in Composition for Screen program, and simultaneously received a Fulbright Scholarship, the first to be awarded for film scoring.[5] There he studied composition with Joseph Horovitz and orchestration with Julian Anderson, as well as conducting with Neil Thomson. He graduated with Distinction, also winning the Joseph Horovitz composition prize as the top student with the highest overall marks in his course.[8]


Early career (2000–2005)[edit]

While a student at the Royal College of Music, he completed his first commission, the string quartet 'Lacrymosa' for the US Embassy in London.[5] He also found his first professional employment as a staff arranger for Silva Screen Records; his job was to transcribe orchestral film scores (by John Williams, James Horner, John Barry and others) by ear so that they could be re-recorded by live orchestra for album release.[9]

He moved to Los Angeles in 2000 and continued to arrange scores for Silva Screen Records to pay his way while searching for more permanent employment.[8] His first internship was with Hans Zimmer.[8] Subsequently, he found freelance work with composers Joel McNeely, who hired him to make synthesized mockups of his film scores for a series of Disney films; and John Ottman, who gave him some incidental music to write on X2: X-Men United.[10] He also worked for record producer Michael Brook, who took him to India on tour as a keyboardist.[11]

In 2003 he participated in the Sundance Institute Film Music Lab[12] where he met jazz pianist Billy Childs, who referred him for his first composing job: scoring a documentary for NY Times Television.[13] This led to a period of modest success writing music for New York-based documentary filmmakers (notably Oscar-nominee Deborah Dickson) and advertising clients (notably Puma).[10][14]

Baba Yetu (2005)[edit]

Christopher Tin rehearses the Golden State Pops Orchestra, 2011

Tin's biggest break came in 2005, when video game designer Soren Johnson, his former roommate at Stanford, asked him to compose the theme song for Civilization IV.[15] Tin responded with "Baba Yetu", a choral, Swahili version of the Lord's Prayer recorded by his former a cappella group Stanford Talisman.[16] The song garnered a huge critical response, with over 20 reviewers of the game singling out the theme on IGN, GameSpy, and others.[17] The first live performance of the song took place on September 21, 2006, at the Hollywood Bowl, as part of a Video Games Live concert, featuring Stanford Talisman and conducted by Jack Wall.[18]

Baba Yetu has achieved enormous popularity outside of the video game industry, and has been performed at various venues and events around the world, including Carnegie Hall,[19] Lincoln Center,[20] Kennedy Center,[21] The Dubai Fountain,[22] and during multiple events at the United Nations.[23][24] On the 6th of August 2019, "Baba Yetu" was played at the signing of the Maputo Accord, which brought an end to the RENAMO insurgency in Mozambique.[25]

Notable ensembles that have performed the song include the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,[26] Metropole Orchestra,[27] Welsh National Opera,[28] National Symphony Orchestra,[21] US Navy Band,[29] and various YouTube artists, including Peter Hollens,[30] Maytree,[31] and Alex Boye and the BYU Men's Chorus.[32] It is also a popular competition piece: in 2014 the Welsh choir Côr CF1 won BBC Radio 3's Choir of the Year with their performance,[33] and in 2018 two separate contestants competed with Baba Yetu on the same season of America's Got Talent: the Angel City Chorale, who were awarded the Golden Buzzer by Olivia Munn,[34] and Zurcaroh, who reached the finals with an acrobatic dance performance to the song.[35] It was also featured on the TV show Jeopardy!, with the clue "Choir staple "Baba Yetu" means "Our Father" in Swahili and is basically this prayer."[36]

It is also one of the most decorated pieces of video game music, holding the distinction of being the first piece of music written for a video game to be both nominated for,[37] and win,[38] a Grammy Award (at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards in the "Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)" category). Additionally it won Tin two Game Audio Network Guild Awards in 2006,[39] as well as two awards in the 10th Annual Independent Music Awards ("Best Song Used in Film/TV/Multimedia" and "Best World Beat Song").[40] It also entered Tin into the Guinness Book of World Records as the composer of the first video game theme to win a Grammy Award.[1]

Calling All Dawns (2009–2014)[edit]

In 2009, Tin released his classical crossover album Calling All Dawns. The album is a song-cycle in three uninterrupted movements: Day, Night, and Dawn (corresponding to life, death, and rebirth). The twelve songs are sung in twelve languages, including Swahili, Polish, French, Persian, and Maori. The lyrics are taken from diverse sources, including the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita, Persian and Japanese poetry, and lyrics by contemporary writers. Appropriate vocal traditions are used in the performance of each song, and include African gospel, Beijing opera, medieval chants, and Irish keening.[41]

The album won two Grammys in the 53rd Grammy Awards for Best Classical Crossover Album[42] and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for the song "Baba Yetu",[43] and was nominated for the 'Contemporary Classical Album' category at the 10th Annual Independent Music Awards.[44] It features performances by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Lucas Richman), Soweto Gospel Choir, Lia, Aoi Tada, Kaori Omura (大村香織), Jia Ruhan, Dulce Pontes, Anonymous 4, Frederica von Stade, Sussan Deyhim, Stanford Talisman, and On Ensemble.

Despite the fact that Tin had never intended the work to be performed live, many ensembles have performed it. The first concert was given by Derek Machan and the Waterford Union High School chorus in Waterford, WI.[45] Subsequently, on April 7, 2013, New York-based concert promoters Distinguished Concerts International New York did the first of multiple large-scale productions at the Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, conducted by Jonathan Griffith and featuring original album artists Anonymous 4, Ron Ragin, Shayok Misha Chowdhury and Roopa Mahadevan.[20] On July 19, 2016, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed excerpts with the combined Angel City Chorale, Prima Vocal Ensemble and Lucis choirs at Cadogan Hall in London.[26] And on July 5, 2017, at the 70th Anniversary of the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, Tin himself conducted the entire work with the Welsh National Opera Orchestra and a group of international soloists, including Elin Manahan Thomas, Nathalie Pires, Joel Virgel, and Nominjin, and a mass choir made up of singers from Wales, South Africa, Taiwan, and the United States.[28] The concert was filmed and subsequently broadcast on Welsh television station S4C.[46]

The Drop That Contained the Sea (2014–2016)[edit]

Tin's second album, titled The Drop That Contained the Sea, premiered live at Carnegie Hall on April 13, 2014. It was performed by a combined chorus of multiple singing groups from around the United States, Canada, and England, as part of an all-Tin concert produced by Distinguished Concerts International New York.[47] It consists of ten songs, each sung in a different language, beginning with Proto-Indo-European and including Bulgarian, Turkish, Mongolian, Xhosa, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit. The song cycle follows the water cycle much like Calling All Dawns followed the day and night cycle.

The album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with Tin conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and features guest performances by the Soweto Gospel Choir, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Kardeş Türküler, Dulce Pontes, Nominjin, Roopa Mahadevan, Anonymous 4, the Angel City Chorale, and Norwegian chamber choir Schola Cantorum. Upon release, it achieved #1 status on the Billboard Classical Charts.[48]

Tin centered his first tour around the work, conducting it in three cities in the UK. The European premiere was given on July 16, 2016, at the Barbican in York, with the Mowbray Orchestra and combined Angel City Chorale and Prima Vocal Ensemble choirs,[49] followed by concerts at the Harrogate Music Festival, and in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.[26]

Sogno di Volare (2016)[edit]

Tin returned to the Civilization franchise to compose the main theme for Civilization VI, a choral anthem called "Sogno di Volare" (The Dream of Flight) the text for which is commonly, yet erroneously attributed to Leonardo da Vinci's writings on flight.[50] Tin explained in a statement that he hoped the piece would capture the "essence of exploration; both the physical exploration of seeking new lands, but also the mental exploration of expanding the frontiers of science and philosophy."[51] The piece was given its world premiere in concert on July 19, 2016, at London's Cadogan Hall, conducted by the composer himself, and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Angel City Chorale, Lucis and Prima Vocal Ensemble combined choirs.[26]

To Shiver the Sky (2020)[edit]

Tin released his third album, To Shiver the Sky, in August 2020 on the Decca Gold label.[52] Like his previous albums, the eleven tracks have lyrics in multiple languages based on existing texts, with a theme of the history of aviation, expanding from "Sogno di Volare". It was funded through Kickstarter in 2018, becoming the highest funded classical music project on Kickstarter.[53]

The album, like the previous one, was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with Tin conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and features guest performances by Danielle de Niese, Pene Pati, ModernMedieval Voices, Anna Lapwood, the Pembroke College Girls' Choir, the Royal Opera Chorus, and The Assembly.

After being postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, To Shiver the Sky was premiered live on May 15, 2022, at The Anthem in Washington, D.C. The premiere featured the United States Air Force Band, Choral Arts Society of Washington, and ModernMedieval. [54]

The Lost Birds (2022)[edit]

Tin’s fourth album, titled The Lost Birds, was released on September 30, 2022, on the Decca Classics label, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard Classical Charts.[55] [56] It was subsequently nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Classical Compendium.[57] The album is a musical memorial to bird species driven to extinction by humankind and a celebration of their beauty, while also presenting a warning about humanity's own tenuous existence on the planet.[58] It consists of twelve movements, ten of which use texts by poets Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Cristina Rossetti, along with two purely instrumental tracks.[58] Unlike Tin’s previous works, all movements of the piece are sung in English.[59] The album was funded once again via Kickstarter, and Tin broke his own record for highest funded classical music project on the platform.[60]

The Lost Birds features popular British ensemble VOCES8 and Tin’s longtime collaborators the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was recorded in two parts; the vocal elements of the album were recorded first at the VOCES8 Centre, conducted by Barnaby Smith, while the instrumental elements were recorded at Abbey Road Studios, conducted by Tin. This allowed better balance between the choir and the orchestra.[59]

The Lost Birds was premiered virtually by VOCES8 as part of their 'LIVE from London' series on October 15, 2022, featuring The VOCES8 Foundation Choir and Orchestra, with Barnaby Smith conducting.[61] The work’s live premiere occurred on February 25, 2023, at Stanford University, with Tin conducting VOCES8 and the VOCES8 Foundation Scholars, and featuring a reduced chamber orchestration performed by the Friction Quartet and pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi.[62]

Turandot (2024)[edit]

Tin's foray into opera came about when director Francesca Zambello, Artistic Director of Washington National Opera, heard his music coming from her teenage son's bedroom. Confused as to why her son was listening to classical music, she discovered that he had in fact been playing Civilization VI, which features Tin's piece "Sogno di Volare". She then reached out to Tin, and invited him to meet with her in San Francisco.[63]

The resulting commission was to compose a new ending to Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot, which was left unfinished upon his death in 1924. Zambello paired Tin up with playwright Susan Soon He Stanton, who wrote a new libretto to replace the ending written by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni.[64]

Tin and Stanton's new ending premiered at the Kennedy Center on May 11, 2024, and sold out its entire run prior to opening night.[65] The reviews were very positive:[66] Michael Andor Brodeur of The Washington Post called the production 'refreshing' and declared "Even without the new ending — and Tin’s splendid musical additions, which draw sensibly from Puccini’s score while applying an entirely new emotional finish — Zambello’s "Turandot" crackles with fresh energy".[67] Heidi Waleson of The Wall Street Journal wrote that the new ending "fits the opera neatly. Its sound and attitude, while contemporary, grow organically from Puccini’s original, like a savvy modern addition on a historic building."[68]

Collaborative projects[edit]

In 2009, Tin and multi-instrumentalist and producer Shoji Kameda formed a Los Angeles-based production duo, Stereo Alchemy. Their debut album God of Love, was released on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2012. It featured a variety of Renaissance and Romantic era poems (from Thomas Carew, Christina Rossetti, John Donne and others) reinvented as lyrics for trip hop and synth pop songs.[69]

In 2015 Tin composed the orchestral arrangements for trance artist BT's remix album Electronic Opus.[70]

In 2017 Tin announced an EDM-meets-orchestra collaboration with Australian DJ TyDi called Collide. Their first single "Closing In", featuring vocals by Dia Frampton, was released October 6, 2017.[71]

Tin collaborated with Lang Lang on the 2016 release of a piano and orchestra suite of music from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.[72] Additionally, Tin has collaborated with Danny Elfman and Alan Menken.[73]

Tin has received commissions by Stratus Chamber Orchestra, Bangor Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra at St. Matthew's and ISCMS Festival. He also co-created the startup sound for the original Microsoft Surface computing platform.[74]

Tin arranged a number of jazz tunes for 2018 film 'Crazy Rich Asians', one being based on the Chinese melody, When Will You Return?. This arrangement was chosen by director Jon M. Chu and Warner Brothers to open the film.[75]

Tin's other film credits include writing additional music for Sausage Party (2016), Suddenly Seventeen (2016), Tess (2016), Dante's Inferno (2010), Deadspace: Aftermath (2011), Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil (2011) and X2: X-Men United (2003).[76]

Television appearances[edit]

Tin was a judge on the 2017 season of the Welsh TV show Côr Cymru, a singing competition for amateur choirs airing on Welsh-language channel S4C.[77]

Other positions[edit]

Tin is Honorary Artistic Director of the United Nations Chamber Music Society, Honorary President of the International Choral Festival Wales,[74] and is a patron of El Sistema France.[78] He is also an honorary board member of the Chinese American Museum DC.[79]

Personal life[edit]

Tin married Dyna Kau in 2013 and they have a daughter together, Penelope Rose, born in 2018.[80]


GRAMMY Awards[edit]

Year Category Work Result Ref
2023 Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media Old World Nominated [57]
Best Classical Compendium The Lost Birds Nominated [57]
2011 Best Classical Crossover Album Calling All Dawns Won [42]
Best Instrumental Arrangement Won [43]

Video game industry awards[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref
2017 Game Audio Network Guild Best Original Vocal Song – Choral Sogno di Volare Nominated [81]
Game Audio Network Guild Music of the Year Civilization VI Nominated
Movie Music UK Award Best Video Game Score Civilization VI Won [82]
NAVGTR Award Best Song, Original or Adapted Sogno di Volare Nominated [83]
2016 Guinness Book of World Records First Video Game Theme to Win a Grammy Baba Yetu Won [1]
2015 VGMO Award Album of the Year The Drop That Contained the Sea Won [84]
2007 Game Audio Network Guild Best Arrangement of a Non-Original Score Pirates of the Caribbean Online Nominated [85]
2006 Game Audio Network Guild Best Original Vocal Song – Choral Baba Yetu Won [39]
Game Audio Network Guild Rookie of the Year Christopher Tin Won
GameSpy Best Music Civilization IV Honorable Mention [86]

Songwriting awards[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref
2015 John Lennon Songwriting Contest World Iza Ngomso Won [87]
John Lennon Songwriting Contest Lennon Award – World Iza Ngomso Won [88]
International Songwriting Contest World Music Category Iza Ngomso 1st Place [89]
Independent Music Award Vox Pop Contemporary Classical Album Iza Ngomso Won [90]
Independent Music Award Best Contemporary Classical Album The Drop That Contained the Sea Nominated [44]
Independent Music Award Best World Beat Song Waloyo Yamoni Nominated
2014 USA Songwriting Competition Best World Music Song Iza Ngomso Won [86]
2011 Independent Music Award Best World Beat Song Baba Yetu Won [44]
Independent Music Award Best Song Used in Film/TV/Multimedia Baba Yetu Won
Independent Music Award Best Contemporary Classical Album Calling All Dawns Nominated
2010 International Songwriting Competition Best World Music Song Baba Yetu 1st Place [89]
John Lennon Songwriting Contest Best World Music Song Baba Yetu Finalist [91]
USA Songwriting Competition Best World Music Song Baba Yetu Nominated [92]

Concert works[edit]

Tin's concert works are predominantly choral and orchestral, and often feature languages rarely used in the realm of classical music:[93][94]


Song cycles[edit]

Choral works with orchestra[edit]

  • (2005) Baba Yetu
  • (2009) Kia Hora Te Marino
  • (2009) Mado Kara Mieru
  • (2013) Temen Oblak
  • (2013) Iza Ngomso
  • (2016) Sogno di Volare
  • (2017) Silver Wing
  • (2017) Adain Can

Vocal solo with orchestra[edit]

  • (2013) Passou o Verao
  • (2020) Courage

Orchestra with soloist(s)[edit]

  • (2014) Shinobu vs. Ghost Warrior


  • (1999) Lacrymosa (string quartet)

Piano solo[edit]

  • (2009) Nocturne No. 2

Scores for Films and Video Games[edit]



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