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Tyrant lizard king


Composed in 2009

For grand organ

Duration: 6:00


When I was eight years old, I wanted to study at Yale University.  I did not, however, want to study music. No, I wanted to study dinosaurs with one of my childhood heroes, Yale Professor John Ostrom. I used to dream of visiting the Peabody Museum of Natural History, and of discovering new dinosaurs, all while simultaneously being a world-famous cellist like Yo-Yo Ma (my other childhood hero).


When I began at Yale after growing up in San Diego and Houston, I was confronted and inspired by the rich history and traditions of the place. Alongside the great tradition of paleontology at Yale is the history of the awe-inspiring organs that reside on the campus, of which the Newberry Memorial Organ in Woolsey Hall is undoubtedly the grandest. I wanted to write a piece that was equal to the power of the instrument. In other words, I wanted to create a monster.


Tyrannosaurus rex was one of the largest carnivores ever to walk the earth.  It could reach a length of 43 feet and a weight of over 7 tons.  Its largest teeth were over seven inches long, and those teeth could crush bone. And one of those powerful teeth resides at the Peabody Museum. It was sent to Professor Othniel C. Marsh (the Peabody’s first director and the first professor of paleontology in America) in the 1870’s, before T. rexhad been officially discovered. While Marsh recognized it as a large carnivore, he did little else with the fossil.  Nearly 100 years later, the specimen was recognized as the first discovered remains of a Tyrannosaurus anywhere. 


So it all comes back to history and traditions. Yale’s paleontologists and its organists, the king of dinosaurs and the king of instruments, my childhood dreams and my new realities—this is the stuff that forged this piece. And for those who aren’t total dinosaur nuts like me, just know that the English translation of the scientific name Tyrannosaurus rex is Tyrant Lizard King.



First Performance: March 2nd, 2009

Newberry Memorial Organ, Woolsey Hall, Yale Univ., New Haven, CT

Chelsea Chen, organ


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