Video game music is hardly the most prestigious or recognized form of art. Sure, it’s music, but it’s not a very common definition of “art” or “beauty”.
Christopher Tin composed the first ever piece of music written for a video game to receive a Grammy – Baba Yetu. Some of you might recognize it from our choir performance at the end of last year. This song was not only the theme music for Civilization IV, but also the first song on Tin’s album Calling All Dawns. This album, started in 2005 and released in 2009, features twelve songs in twelve languages with lyrics coming from all over, including sacred texts, prayers, blessings, proverbs, and traditional poems. The album is done in the form of a song cycle. The songs are divided into three movements: Day, Night, and Dawn; corresponding to life, death, and rebirth.
The first movement, Day, has five songs – Baba Yetu (Swahili), Mado Kara Mieru (Japanese), Dao Zai Fan Ye (Mandarin), Se É Pra Vir Que Venha (Portuguese), and Rassemblons-Nous (French). These songs are about the future, joy, mystery and mortality. To me, all these songs make you want to move.
Night, the second movement, has three songs: Lux Aeterna (Latin), Caoineadh (Irish), and Hymn do Trócy Świętej (Polish). They are about death and sorrow; Caoineadh is even a traditional grieving song. These ones would fit perfectly in a sadness montage in a movie. Reflective and sobering.
Finally, we come to Dawn, the final movement of the album. Hayom Kadosh (Hebrew), Hamsáfár (Farsi), Sukla-Krsne (Sanskrit), and Kia Hora Te Marino (Maori). They are triumphant, joyful, and bring the cycle back around to life. In fact, the last song ends with the same chord as the first song opens with. All the songs flow through each other almost seamlessly – not only representing the circle of life, but also making it all one song, when it all comes down to it. It’s unifying – all the languages and styles together as one, even text from different religions’ holy books. To add to that, bits and pieces of some songs find their way into others, tying the whole thing together even further. To me, the whole album is like a journey. You are led through different emotions, countries, cultures and styles. The feeling I get at the end of Kia Hora Te Marino is the same as when I hear the finale of a musical as the curtain closes, or after I’ve watched a great movie or read the last few pages of a really good book. This album has even been described as “a musical story” in some reviews.
The mystery of hearing the music and lyrics in a foreign language is beautiful already. But upon reading the translations and meanings of the songs, they take on another level.
I find it beautiful in a descriptive way: this is my kind of music, and it makes me feel. It’s not your average piece of classical music, yet it’s so much more than just another pop song about another breakup, it’s about life, death, and the future. It makes me feel happy, energetic, pensive, peaceful, sad, welcomed, hopeful, and triumphant; all throughout these 45 minutes of art. This is one piece of art and beauty that makes me feel strongly again that art is anything that can make you feel like that. Many people who know me will remember me trying to tell them about this album at some point or another. I know that every time, I try to convey just how pretty it all is and how it makes you feel, but there aren’t really words for it. You just need to hear it yourself. So I think Tin really used a thirteenth language – music.
It’s also beautiful by normative standards: Calling All Dawns has won two Grammys and every review I’ve read has been outstandingly positive. Tin, Baba Yetu, and Calling All Dawns seem to have a massive fallowing on the internet as well. Not bad for a composer’s debut album.