SMMUSD HDQTRS — Tuesday, 240 of Santa Monica Malibu Unified’s best elementary school musicians traveled to Anaheim to do what people their age only dream of — play at the Disneyland Resort.
Of course, for these students, “playing” can be work, too.
Members of the honor band, orchestra and choir — and nearly 50 parental chaperones — piled onto four school buses to participate in a Disney-led educational workshop, where professional conductors guide the children through music used in Disney films.
The students get to sit down in a professional studio, equipped with headphones, music stands and sheet music they’ve never seen before.
After a few rehearsals, the kids record the music, and then watch it play back over the actual Disney film.
“It really is the same music recorded for the film,” said Ben Goodner, manager of Disney’s guest talent program. “You wouldn’t hear a difference, other than it’s a different group playing it.”
Schools have to audition for the opportunity to participate in the program, which makes the presence of the SMMUSD bands even more special — they are the only elementary school students that use the program.
“It’s designed for middle and high school bands,” said Tom Whaley, SMMUSD’s visual and performing arts coordinator. “Our district is the only elementary group that does these workshops. It’s a testament to the quality of our music program.”
A music program perpetually on the chopping block given school funding cuts, he noted.
The workshop takes place over three rounds — first the band, then orchestra and finally the choir.
Each session takes approximately an hour and a half. While one group is playing, the others get to explore the park.
Students come in, sit down and are presented with closed folders on music stands or chairs. The guest conductor — always a leading professional in the field that has worked with Disney’s professional bands — talks the kids through the music before recording.
“You get three minutes to look at it, and then we’re going to record, go,” Goodner mimicked.
The musicians play through the first take immediately, then listen back and receive constructive feedback on their performance.
Depending on the level, students will play two or three pieces which increase in difficulty as they go.
“We pull things out they didn’t know they had in them,” Goodner said. “It sounds great with the film.”
The professionalism of the atmosphere at Disney really makes the experience special for the kids, Whaley said.
“I worked as a professional for films for years, and it’s exactly the same procedure used for the pros,” Whaley said.
Maria Dastur and Dariush Sayson are both fifth graders that made the trip down to Disneyland.
Their band took on two pieces, “Simba Ascending Pride Rock,” from the Lion King and “A Check to the Village,” from the more recent Emperor’s New Groove.
“The conductor made comments that helped us in music in general,” Dastur said. “It was challenging to sight read.”
Sayson, a bass clarinet player, preferred the Lion King tune, while Dastur, a flutist, enjoyed the more difficult “A Check to the Village.”
Both agreed on their favorite Disneyland ride, however.
“Big Thunder Mountain!”