I have distinct musical memories from visiting my grandparents’ house when I was younger. We’d enter the living room and there would be my grandfather, reclining in this horrifically tan Lay-Z-Boy chair, a book of crossword puzzles open on his lap, listening to classical music on massive tower speakers that dominated either side of the TV.
I couldn’t tell you what pieces he was listening to. I couldn’t tell you who composed them. I certainly couldn’t tell you if it was good or not. But I can still hear the essence of that music. I can still recall the sense of peace that he always seemed to have in these moments. This little smile on his face, like the music was creating a space for rest and convalescence, a bubble of serenity in an otherwise noisy and chaotic world. I would occasionally sit on his lap and listen, even though I didn’t really ‘get’ the music. It undoubtedly influenced my tastes, as I’ve continued to listen to contemporary classical music off and on most of my life.
My own early musical journey is deeply entwined with my grandparents—we would always bring our instruments over during the holidays to have mini “recitals” and perform what we were working on. It’s partly due to their influence and her own musical upbringing that my mother encouraged both my brother and I to take piano lessons. Grandma and Grandpa would come to piano recitals and concerts when they could. Music was as much a part of being at their house as Monopoly, Mr. Rogers, cinnamon rolls, or waffle breakfasts. And their house was a refuge of comfort, joy, and peace, partly because it was always filled with melody.
Fast forward a couple decades, and like many people, I first became aware of the music of Christopher Tin through his work on a video game franchise, Civilization IV. Baba Yetu was transcendental. Since then, I’ve followed his work closely. I’ve backed new albums on Kickstarter. I have signed handwritten score pages hanging up in my living room. It’s with eager anticipation that I’ve awaited his latest album The Lost Birds – An Extinction Elegy which just released this morning. A musical love letter to birds of times past that no longer grace the Earth—it is a deeply important work as we continue to wrestle with the impact human beings have on this beautiful blue marble that we share. I’ve followed the composition process closely through Kickstarter, and as someone who doesn’t get to play much anymore it’s a rare treat to have such a backstage look into how it all comes together.
I got up early this morning to start listening. And here’s the thing. I could tell you how stunning this album is. I could tell you how important it’s subject matter is to me personally, given my love of nature. I could go on and on about the collaboration with VOCES8, one of the best choral groups of our day. I could literally run myself out of adjectives and adverbs. I could describe how parts of it moved me to goosebumps or tears. I could talk about how I think it’s his his best work yet, and that you absolutely must give it a listen. I could talk about how music reaches towards truths that we cannot otherwise share, and how this album soars among the clouds. I could talk about how it fills me with sadness and hope and peace.
But the best compliment I can give The Lost Birds is this: Christopher, this morning you and your team transported me back in time 3 decades to my grandparents house.