Composer Christopher Tin has a funky message for APA Heritage Month

Christopher Tin Alfredo Chocano

May 20, 2021

Composer Christopher Tin has joined director Jon Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, G.I. Joe) in creating a message to help spread awareness for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Tin also recently worked with the Stay at Home Choir project to give amateur and professional singers a chance to come together virtually to make music during the pandemic.

What does Asian Pacific American Heritage month mean to you?

“I'll just speak from the heart on this one. A lot of times what you find among the generation of young Asian Americans like myself, those whose parents immigrated over to the United States, is that there's a messy embrace of our identity. On one hand, we are proud of being Asian Americans. We identify with it. On the other hand, being such a tiny sliver of the population growing up, we spent a lot of time trying to fit in. 

“The past few months have been a cultural reckoning moment for a lot of us and that story is still being written. We don't quite know where we stand in regards to the narrative but I am personally becoming more vocal about my cultural heritage. It's a complicated moment. That's just the nature of racial identity. Some days you feel like you want to talk about it, and other days you don't feel like you want to talk about it.”

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! (PSA)

How did the public service announcement get started from a musical aspect?

“Jon Chu is the director of the PSA, and he had directed the movie Crazy Rich Asians, which I had actually worked on. I wrote the opening big band tune that plays over the title screen. He messaged me late one night and said, ‘Hey, I'm doing this PSA for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. There's no pay. It's all volunteer work. Everyone's volunteering their time. Would you like to be involved?’

“This message came at the right moment for me, because a lot of Asian American musicians have recently been coming together online on Facebook groups to talk, share stories, experiences and concerns. Of course, I said, ‘Yes. I'd love to be involved in this PSA.’ The crazy thing was, there was a super fast turnaround and there was no real creative time for back and forth. Essentially, Chu was asking me to write the background music for the PSA in three days. 

“I wanted to promote the visibility of Asian American musicians at the same time. I reached out to one of these Facebook groups that I belong to and I said, ‘Hey, does anyone want to help me put together some music for this PSA?’ Cecilia Tsan, the principal cellist of the Long Beach Symphony reached out to me. Jenny Wong, the associate artistic director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, asked me if I needed a choir conductor. A lot of people stepped forward.

“I had more talent than I knew what to do with, but over the next three days, I had sketched together a few pieces of music. One was a funk piece, another was a Motown track and a third was a pop anthem. Then the volunteer musicians started to send me tracks. Alvin Wee, the engineer, put it all together. In the span of about two or three days, we put together the demos, and ultimately Chu selected the funk track.” 

Why did you choose funk as one of the demos?

“I'm a big fan of Motown, gospel, R&B and funk. The music needed to be sparse enough so that people could talk over it and a basic funk groove satisfied that need. On top of that, I thought it would be fun to do something that hearkens to the history of martial arts in cinema, from Bruce Lee-era action movies of the ‘70s, to The Karate Kid neon power rock of the ‘80s.

Can you talk about your project with the Stay at Home Choir?

“The Stay at Home Choir was born out of the pandemic. As many people know, choirs were suddenly the worst super spreader events anyone could possibly imagine. Basically, choirs around the world got shut down, which meant singers, both professional and amateur, were suddenly unable to do what they loved. The creators, Jamie Wright and Tori Longdon, have been doing various virtual choir projects, including Beethoven's - The Global Ode to Joy.

“At the beginning of a pandemic, they wanted to do my piece Sogno di Volare, which is the theme to the video game, Civilization VI. Approximately six months after they reached out to me, plans really started coming together. The project itself took about two months where they did multiple Zoom workshops with the singers that included Q&As with me to talk about the compositional process behind the work.

“So for two months, I got to work with thousands of singers from around the world and prep them for recording. Then they went off and recorded all of their parts individually and sent them to the Stay at Home Choir people, who then stitched together this giant video. It was an enormous production, and I'm just so honored that they chose one of my pieces. I think it's also nice for the gamer community to see pieces of music that's originally written for games find a life into mainstream culture or at least classical music culture. It was an amazing experience, and I hope to do it again sometime.”