It is appropriate that the first entry in the new Discoveries series of posts should have a global influence. Christopher Tin‘s Calling All Dawns is a massive song cycle that features over 200 musicians from 5 continents, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 4 choirs, 17 soloists, numerous percussion and other ethnic instruments.
The piece consists of 12 songs, each with its own language, from Mandarin and Sanskrit to Hebrew and Farsi. The lyrics are taken from religious texts such as The Torah and Bhagavad Gita, as well as ancient Japanese and Persian poetry and contemporary lyrics. A number of vocal traditions are featured, including African choral music and medieval chant, Irish keening, and Indian Carnatic improvisation. The three movements—Day, Night, Dawn—“a metaphor for the cycle of life,” said Tin, flow seamlessly into each other and correspond to “life, death and rebirth.”
“The message of the album is that we are interconnected a s a people,” he continued, “and despite our differences in culture, religion and belief, we all share the same common human experiences. Thus, the album is a tapestry of interconnected motifs—the main melody of one son will become the instrumental interlude of another, etc.”
Tin has composed for film, television, advertising, and video games. In fact, the first song, “Baba Yetu,” was the theme song to the 2005 video game Civilization IV, which won him two awards from the Game Audio Network Guild in 2007. The lyrics are a Swahili adaptation of “The Lord’s Prayer,” and the Grammy-winning Soweto Gospel Choir give a spirited performance that enhances the infectious rhythms and soaring melody. The song is also used as a featured segment for the Dubai Fountain, the world’s largest choreographed fountain, situated at the base of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper.
Instrumental interludes in songs like the Latin “Lux aeterna” feature more traditional film music orchestrations. But perhaps the most moving track is the final song in the middle Night movement, “Hymn Do Trojcy Swietej,” sung in Polish by legendary singer Frederic von Stade. Flicka’s burnished mezzo lends a haunting poignancy to this Catholic hymn to the Holy Trinity.
The album closes much as it began, with yet another infectious track, this time a traditional Maori blessing, “Kia Hora Te Marino.” The combination of the lyrics–“What is the greatest thing in the world?/My answer is,/(All) the people, the people, the people!”–the voices raised in joy, and some fantastic French horn riffs can’t help but give you goosebumps.
If you listen closely after the final cymbal crash, you’ll hear a lone voice quietly intoning the opening theme of the piece. “If you play the whole album as a loop,” says Tin, “the last song will fade seamlessly into the first, reflecting the cyclical nature of the universe.” Try it. It works and it’s truly haunting.
Lucas Richman leads an impassioned performance from the Royal Philharmonic and the other musicians. The album was recorded at Abbey Road in London, with additional recording in Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York, Johannesburg and Montreal. Engineer John Kurlander, best known for his work with The Beatles and Grammys for the Lord of the Rings albums, brings clarity and warmth to the sound of the album.
The piece sounds like a unique cross between world music and film music, but Calling All Dawns defies all labels. It’s just great music, period.