Saturday, September 26, 2009

Calling All Dawns

Day. Night. Dawn.

Life. Death. Rebirth.

The circle of life, the inter-connectedness of human life and society. These are themes explored by Christopher Tin in his debut album, Calling All Dawns.

The album is a song-cycle in three uninterrupted movements: day, night, and dawn (corresponding to life, death, and rebirth). It is a tapestry of interconnected motifs, the main melody of one song becoming the instrumental interlude in another. The last song fades seamlessly into the first, reflecting the cyclical nature of the universe.

The twelve songs are sung in twelve languages, ranging from Swahili to Polish, from French to Farsi to Maori. The lyrics are from sources as diverse as religious texts like the Torah and Bhagavad Gita, to ancient Persian and Japanese poetry, to lyrics by contemporary writers. Vocal traditions include African choral music, opera, medieval chant, Irish keening, and more.

The opening song, Baba Yetu, is familiar to all players of the Civilization 4 video game. This award-winning song (The Lord's Prayer, sung in Swahili by the Soweto Gospel Choir) sets the initial tone perfectly, with its thrilling drums and stirring music, celebrating life. (If you are unfamiliar with the song, think The Lion King - Circle of Life.)

The second song, Mado Kara Mieru (Through the Window I See) is also stirring. The lyrics are adapted from a Japanese haiku series that looks at Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring again. Third is the Mandarin Dao Zai Fan Ye (The Path is Returning), also a poem on the cyclic nature of life.

Fourth is the Portuguese Se É Pra Vir Que Venha (Whatever Comes, Let it Come), with its theme, "I do not fear life, nor its counterpoint. Whatever comes, let it come." The final song in the "Day" movement is French, Rassemblons-Nous (Let us Gather). It is another strong celebration of Life.

The "Night" movement begins with Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light). The words are from the Requiem Mass, "Let eternal light shine upon them, O Lord, grant them eternal rest." This piece, while still showing some of the triumphal horns of the "Life" movement, is clearly a transition to a slower, darker phase. The seventh song is Caoineadh (To Cry), an Irish keen, a most haunting, yet beautiful piece. The last piece of "Night" is the Polish Hymn do Trójcy Świętej (Hymn to the Holy Trinity). It starts out quiet and somber, but as it progresses, there are hints of the dawn to come, the triumph of light over dark, the rebirth of life.

"Dawn" begins with the Hebrew Hayom Kadosh (Today is Sacred), from the Book of Nehemiah. "Do not mourn and do not weep, for this day is sacred." It is definitely a turn back to the light, to the new day. It segues into the Farsi Hamsáfár (Journey Together), easily on of my favorite pieces from this work. The music is a celebration of this new day, this rebirth on the universal wheel.

The Sanskrit Sukla-Krsne (Light and Darkness) is the penultimate piece. Probably one of my least favorite pieces, yet it fits musically into the whole, and the work would be diminished without it. The final piece is Kia Hora Te Marino (May Peace be Widespread), from a traditional Maori blessing. It gathers together threads that have run throughout the cycle, and wraps them up in a grand finale. The cycle is complete, the new day has dawned bright and full. It ends with the opening notes of Baba Yetu, and if played continuously, smoothly flows into that song once more.

To check out samples from this album, please visit Christopher Tin's website.