Civilization IV Theme Song (Baba Yetu) Composer Christopher Tin


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In today’s episode, Mr. Henry and Mr. Fite talk with two-time Grammy-Award winning composer Christopher Tin. Learn how he got started in music and the story behind how he wrote the theme song for Civilization IV. Be sure to leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks so much for listening!

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Just Chattin’:

Christopher Tin is a two-time Grammy-winning composer of concert and media music. His music has been performed and premiered in many of the world's most prestigious venues: Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, and the Hollywood Bowl. Mr. Tin’s music can be found in video games such as Civilization and films such as Lilo and Stitch 2 and X-Men United to name a few. He also has incredible classical crossover albums which we learn more about in this interview! Be sure to visit for more information.

We have a very special guest with us today on The Music Podcast for Kids! Christopher Tin, thanks for being on the show! Glad to be here.

Since we are a music podcast for kids, we always like to ask our special guests how they got started with music. Can you tell us how old you were when you got started? Did you take private lessons? And where your musical journey took you through your growing up years?

I started music when I was 5. My parents enrolled me in piano lessons, and you know that's kind of like what you did right? Put your kids into music school at that age. I really enjoyed it and I found that as I got older my curiosity with other instruments sort of expanded. So I started playing trumpet maybe in third grade or something like that. I started playing guitar in high school and bass in high school, started singing in high school. And writing music. And all these other things in high school. And it just kind of blossomed form there. So from an early age I was exposed. So you've received many awards including two Grammy Awards which is amazing but I first would like to ask you about the Guinness Book of World Records award that you received. Could you tell us more about that? That was for winning the very first Grammy award for a piece of music written for a video game. That was my song Baba Yetu which was written for the game Civilization IV. It became kind of a hit. And when I re-released it at the opening track on my debut album it won a Grammy. And the album also won a Grammy so that's what my claim to fame is. Yeah cool. So speaking of that, an album you wrote called Calling All Dawns in 2011 that won the Grammy for the best classical crossover album. First of all can you educate us about what a crossover album is and then when you were creating the album were you specifically trying to have your music cross over to another genre? Well I was absolutely trying to make my music cross over to another genre. I mean that it is essentially what a crossover album is, it's a piece of music that brings together two different genres of music. And in this case Calling All Dawns was an album that fused various World music traditions with sort of a classical sensibility. So it was just a crossover between you know non-western folk music and classical music, hence, classical crossover. That's great. So alongside composing music, you’re a conductor, artistic director. I’d like to learn more about your conductor director role in two different scenarios. So first, responsibilities for like a live concert and what you would tackle within a recording session with studio musicians. Would you say those scenarios have a big difference as to like what a conductor would do or is it kind of the same thing? Yeah could you elaborate on that? Well the only real similarity they share is the mechanics of conducting. You know your baton technique, where the orchestra is placed around you. But beyond that they are very different tasks. When you're conducting a concert for one thing your rehearsal time is very limited. Everyone is watching you, you're giving feedback because you're, you know, you're the person in charge of the sound that is coming at you. And then you try to figure out the balance issues as best you can on the podium. But when you're in the recording studio it’s a completely different story because a lot of times everyone's wearing headphones you know they're trying to hear each other. Sometimes there's a click track sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes you have to record the orchestra separate from the choir and in fact usually you do. you record the orchestra separate from the soloist and the choir and other special ensembles. And frankly when you're in a recording studio with an orchestra around you can't really hear everything the same way the people in the control room can hear everything. So a lot of times your main task in that recording session is just to get an inspired performance out of performers. But it's hard to really know if that was a good take or not because frankly I can't hear everything because the way everything is baffled off, like screened off right. That's when you rely on your producer who is sitting in the control room to help tell you whether that was a good take or not. That's cool. And does that feel different too? I imagine when you're not responding to the having all of hearing all of the sounds do you have to kind of creative almost a pseudo inspiration to you know to to keep the emotions there throughout throughout the pieces when you're in the studio or do you have enough information to go for a measure as you're conducting to to keep it real and what was the feeling that you you want to get from it? I think your thoughts are on very different things. I mean when I'm in a recording studio I know there whatever is being performed is being captured for posterity and so my mind is actually less on trying to Inspire an emotional performance and more on listening to what's coming back at me as best I can. Right? And I'm trying to decide whether this is good or not. Whereas in performance you know that whatever they play that's it you know what to do with it is done with your moving on. So you’re actually thinking ahead in the piece a little more in performance. You’re thinking about what is coming up and I know that this is a tricky temple change and the harp really needs to stay with me. So I need to know to look at the harpist and and and you know get a good performance out of them. So in a way in live performance I'm a little less aware of what's actually going on. My mind is sort of thinking ahead and trying to steer the performance as best I can. So we’re always really interested in the process a composer takes when getting started and working through their own process. We spoke with Eric Whitacre a while back, a choral composer and he was telling us that he draws sketches that eventually will be represented by the music he creates. So what kind of process do you have to get started as you're piecing your music together? I think I have the complete opposite process as Eric. I have never warmed to the draw a sketch of your piece and then sort of fill-in-the-blank later. I have more of a general sense we are going to end but start and then start writing from the beginning and move forward and try to end up there. I’m really more that person because that’s how we experience music. We experience music from the start to the end right? And so if I write the first 30 seconds of a piece of music I want to be able to sit back and reflect on how those 30 seconds make me feel before I tackle the next 30 seconds and calibrate those next 30 seconds accordingly. So I’m very much a start from the beginning and more forward sort of person. And when you’re doing that are you typically at the piano kind of coming up with an arrangement on the piano and then adding orchestration to it or just straight writing it down or how do you tackle that? In recent years I've started staying on the piano as long as I can and sketching things out and then tackling the orchestration. I think that comes from a bit of a position of self confidence and experience. Because I know that as I'm sketching things out on piano I already have a sense of what the orchestration is. I don’t really feel the need to go down and notate it. I'm not going to forget what the orchestration is going to be. I also like to stay unencumbered by minuscule decisions for as long as possible. Orchestration is one of these very bogged down with like how am I going to to bow this and like is this the right notation for this. I would much rather kind of sketch a really sloppy piano sketch out from start to finish and then go in and refine it. And in the process of refining, actually ideas get revisited and revised and you know you throw out some ideas that maybe you sketched out on piano. relaxing idea that maybe you expand certain sections you know a way to have a second pass at your material having already had the benefit of sketching everything out. Going back and saying now that I know how I’m filling in the blanks, now that I know how the whole thing is going to be laid out, how can we adjust knowing that we’re going to do this later on. So that's sort of the way I like these days. So you’ve written many pieces of music for video games. First is writing for video games something that you were always interested in like as a kid growing up like I want to write for video games? I hear kids saying that all the time. Is that something that you were looking to do? No not at all. If you asked me as a kid what I wanted to do with my life it wasn’t that. I wouldn’t want to write music for video games, it’s totally to play video games. Truth be told the video game thing sort of stumbled across my desk randomly. I went to my college reunion and I bumped into my old roommate who was now a celebrated video game designer and then we connected and just talked about his next video game. And that next video game turned out to be Civilization 4 which I wrote the song Baba Yetu for. That was the first piece of music I ever wrote for a video game actually. It was never a lifelong dream of mine. I love it. I love writing for games and I love the industry. I think there’s really great talented, smart people in the business. But I like doing a lot of things musical. Like recording albums. I like you know scoring films. I like conducting my music. I like teaching. I like a lot of different things. It’s never been you know I want to be a video game designer. That’s just one component of the whole thing. The piece Baba Yetu recently celebrated its 15th year anniversary. And this piece also won a Grammy in 2011 which is incredible. And to give some context to the audience Baba Yetu was the theme song for a popular game released in 2005 called civilization 4. You were just talking about that. Could you explain the characteristics of the piece and how it translated so well to that game civilization 4? The piece itself is a bit of a crossover piece like we talked about before. It's a fusion of African Gospel vocals, Orchestra, and big cinematic percussion. And these are actually three different areas of music that I have a lot of familiarity with. In college I directed an a cappella group that specialized in African and African-American music. And then I studied composition orchestration. You know the classical way right. And then I also played Japanese Taiko in college. The giant Japanese drums that you see. That was I played in an ensemble and I typically played the largest drum. It’s the o-daiko drum that you play sideways like this. So these are things I very much know about already. I was given the chance to sort of synthesize them all into one piece for this video game. Yeah that's kind of a sound of Baba Yetu this fusion. And why it works so well for Civilization, this particular video game. Civilization is a video game about founding a civilization from the earliest days to modernity, right. And sort of this world music but classical sweep of the piece just lends itself very well to this idea of fusing cultures across history. So you recently released an oratorio about the history of flight called To Shiver the Sky. And first can you educate the audience a little bit about an oratorio? So oratorio is a large-scale work, uses of the orchestra and voices focusing on a particular theme but no costumes and production acting that kind of stuff. Can you tell us more about To Shiver the Sky? Well, yes like you mentioned oratorio. I call it an oratorio. Oratorios typically deal with sacred subjects. I like to bend definitions a little. So Handel's Messiah for example is the most well known oratorio. It is with soloists and choir and different vocal groups. And tells the story of Aviation from the earliest days from Leonardo da Vinci sketching in his notebooks about a flying machine all the way up through Jules Verne writing fantastical stories about exploring space. To Amelia Earhart and her solo flight across the Atlantic to Yuri Gagarin being the first man launched into outer space. And finally when John F. Kennedy in 1962 said we choose to go to the moon before the end of the decade. We’re going to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. And in my mind that is one of the greatest achievements of mankind. The fact that we were able to pull together and say you know what we're going to do this crazy thing. We're going to put a man on the moon within 8 years and by the way we have no idea how we’re going to do this. The technology, the science had not been invented yet. We don’t know anything about this. But we’re going to do it. This is just an amazing sort of example of leadership and vision right. Beside that and the entire nation pulled together behind this visionary president and we made it happen. And it was an amazing story. And I think it's an amazing story to reflect on, especially in this world we live in now where we still have lost a bit of our confidence as a people to do the big difficult amazing things. It’s a nice reminder that you know what? We’re still those people and really do the great things. The piece is just great. I've been listening to it and just such a cool idea. I love the idea and I love how people can be educated and learn about all these different you know all these different examples of the progression of flight to of course getting to the moon so just think it's just fabulous. Well, thank you I appreciate that. So many of our listeners are kids. What advice our bit of wisdom would you share with our listeners as they explore music around them? My advice to young musicians is to stay curious about music and to foster that curiosity. And you know explore the world of music around you because as we all know there are so many different types of music genres, of music instruments that you can play, pieces that you can write, formats that you can write in. You can be a recording artist. You can write musical theater. You could score films, you could score video games, you can do anything right? It's an amazing playground in a world to live in. And the way you stay happy living in that world is to always foster this lifelong excitement about discovering and doing new things in music. So I would say soak it all up you know like practice being a hungry musician and devouring all the music around you. You know, cultivate this curiosity. I think and that'll keep you engaged and excited about music for the rest of your life. That's great Christopher Tin, we want to thank you again for your great music and for taking time out to chat with us on the music podcast for kids and wish you all the best as you continue inspiring, entertaining and educating the music world. Thanks so much. Thank you for having me.

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