If you haven’t noticed, my middle name is Michelle. My dad’s favorite band of all time is The Beatles.
My middle name is a beautiful song and my dad sang it to me every night when I was little. I was always surrounded by music as a child, a fact for which I’ll never be able to thank my parents enough.
Granted, my parents were never big on listening to classical music when I was a kid. I didn’t necessarily seek it out frequently, but I always enjoyed it… or at least I enjoyed familiar programmatic and Romantic period pieces, though I didn’t know what they were at the time. My dad always liked smooth jazz, which, for obvious reasons, I’m none too keen on. My mom likes bubblegum pop. And she’s tone deaf. Bless her heart, I love her so much, but I’m working on making a YouTube Caraoke channel starring her that she’ll never be able to find.
So glad she doesn’t read this.
Anyway, I was raised listening to a rather broad range of musical styles. My dad loved classic rock, my brother liked ska & punk (among other styles), my mom liked bubblegum and oldies, and my sister and I loved everything we were surrounded with. Like most children, we lived in a world of cartoons and Disney movies, and 15 years ago, children’s programming was still musically rich.
One day, when I was about 6 years old, my parents were flipping through radio stations while we were in the car. They stopped briefly on a classical station and moved along once they caught the sound of strings. From the back of the car I asked them to stop and go back, and after flipping around from a couple of the stations prior, they were surprised to find out that the classical station was the one I meant.
I demanded that they listen because it was the “hippo dance.” It goes without saying that they were confused, but I was a kid. Most things that I said at that point were confusing. I was, however, quite aware that I confused them, so I went on to explain that the song was from Disney’s Fantasia.
We listened for a bit longer and flipped on, but once we got home, I pulled out the video cassette and fast forwarded it to “the hippo dance,” better known as “The Dance of the Hours” from Ponchielli’s opera La Gioconda.
I blew my parent’s minds – they didn’t know I actually listened to this stuff. They just thought it was something my sister and I would plop down and watch because it was a Disney movie.
Now I have to back up here – of course, I loved the Princesses (I’ve always been a Belle type, though I love me some Aurora) and The Lion King was a suitable explanation when I didn’t understand why the bunny my cat brought me was dead. I mean, who doesn’t like Disney movies?
But my favorites were (and still are) the old cartoons and kids features, especially Silly Symphonies. Among my favorites were the short films Tubby the Tuba and Disney’s Peter and the Wolf.
I never considered that they were orchestral pieces set to their corresponding animated story lines. I thought the music was really pretty, and I did realize that the music was like an aural animation in and of itself. However, I just thought it to be like the background music for any movie.
My mind was blown to realize that the pieces and the story were there far before Disney ever was. But it was because I saw them as cartoons that those pieces were a part of my consciousness.
And this is where we flash forward about ten years (kind of.. I still watch these when the mood strikes and I’ll be devastated when I ruin the VHS tapes that I have of these gems). While I was in high school, I found the album “Peter and the Wolf – Carnival of the Animals” featuring the CSR Orchestra conducted by Ondrej Lenard in my local library’s CD section.
I sat down and listened to the whole album, paying close attention to Carnival of the Animals since I hadn’t heard it before. I noticed something peculiar about the Aquarium movement of the Carnival of the Animals. It was SO familiar, and before I could even formulate the notion, it struck me. Beauty and the Beast. Aquarium was clearly an inspiration for The West Wing theme.
Now keep following me here.
A few years later, I started college as a music major studying percussion performance, hoping someday to perform with a major orchestra. (Things change… obviously.) I was flipping through a book of xylophone excerpts and stumbled across the name Tubby the Tuba. I thought it was just a coincidence, but as I started to skim the music, it was too uncanny. I took it to the keyboard to confirm that it was the same Tubby the Tuba that I knew and loved. Who would have thought that this seemingly silly children’s movie would later become a part of my professional studies?
These isolated moments brought something else to my consciousness: an awareness that my musical background has been incredibly rich. My parents are not musicians by any means. Though my dad can sing and play guitar, he never formally learned either. My mom… I love my mom.
That’s all I got to say about that.
Anyway, despite their lack of a musical background other than being lifelong listeners, I was raised as an aware, cultured listener. One of the biggest reasons and influences in that is Disney.
Everyone knows the songs, of course. I mean, how can you NOT sing along? But to recognize elements of the background music is what makes Disney Disney.
People often wonder why I’m so fanatical about Disneyland and why I’m such a firm believer in the Disney magic.
It’s music. The music is the magic.
Everywhere you go in Disneyland and California Adventure, there is a soundtrack to guide your experience.
I played the first movement of the Pines of Rome for a group of 6-10 year olds. Their immediate response was that it was from Disney (with a smattering of Harry Potter’s thrown in there). Why?
Because it sounds bright, lively, magical. The high metallic timbre of the glockenspiel & triangle paired with upper winds and brass playing a bouncing, driving theme over a bed of rolling high strings, no voice higher than the french horn, reminds them of something sparkly and extraordinary.
When I explained what the piece was written to depict, we listened again. This time, they pictured the children chasing each other, playing soldier among pine trees and gardens.
Just as Fantasia 2000 took us under the sea and into the sky with a pod of whales with the same piece of music, the children were brought to a new place where they once saw magic and mouse ears.
See how I brought that all full circle?
Long story short, music is a universal language, speaking beyond the realm of the tangible. It tells stories, it It lends itself to interpretation and opens the mind to possibility. My path to it was paved largely by my experiences with Disney movies and music. It’s the entire reason that I appreciate “classical” music the way I do. It just dawned on me that it’s quite likely the reason that I have a strong sense of musicality and phrasing, and that I’m able to connect with black marks on a staff emotionally. It’s the reason music isn’t simply a science of sound but it’s an art to cultivate and share.
I believe in magic because I believe in music.
“Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here.”