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Disneyland Looks to Recast its Band

April 2, 2015, 10:03 PM · The Disneyland Resort has informed the local chapter of the professional musicians' union that it intends to terminate the current incarnation of the Disneyland Band on July 16. The iconic band isn't going away, though. The resort will be casting a new Disneyland Band, to start work the day after, which not coincidentally will be the park's 60th birthday.

Disney earlier this week announced an expansion of live music at the resort, with additional performances by existing acts and "a new sound" for the Disneyland Band. The notice to the musicians' union makes clear that the "new sound" will be provided by new personnel.


Photo via Facebook from the Orange County Musicians' Association, Local 7, American Federation of Musicians

(Update: A Disneyland spokesperson confirmed that no current band members will lose their jobs with this change, and that members will perform in other groups if they do not choose to or do not win the re-audition for the new Disneyland Band.)

Before we proceed, some disclosure: My wife is a member of the American Federation of Musicians, the national musicians' union that represents the band members at the Disneyland Resort (among many, many others across the country). She also is a former Disney musician, having played in the Disney All-American College Orchestra at Epcot. And I'm a long-time follower of marching bands, watching some of the nation's best in the Rose Parade here in Pasadena each January. Plus, my old high school's marching band is a two-time Bands of America Grand National champion.

So here's my take: The current Disneyland Band, as beloved a tradition it represents, no longer looks or acts like a modern marching band. While its members are excellent musicians with great chops, the group lacks the diversity and the showmanship of modern bands. It's time for a reboot — one that will bring a infusion of more women, people of color, and performers from a wider range of ages into the band. New arrangements, new repertoire, new choreography, and new production values — with the same, enduring level of professionalism and musicianship — could help make the band an even more engaging and beloved part of the Disneyland experience.

But people who have devoted their careers to entertaining guests at Disneyland shouldn't be kicked to the curb after decades of good work, either. Live music makes theme parks even more entertaining places to visit. Yes, the Disneyland Band needs a reboot, and new members. But there remain plenty of places within the resort that the great musicians now in the band could continue to perform, playing new roles in new groups. Just because so many other industries in America have grown to treat employees as disposable commodities shouldn't lead to all employees in every field being treated that way. (Add: So it's welcome to see Disneyland honoring that commitment to these cast members.)

You only need to eat at the French Market two times to see and hear the positive difference that live music makes — once with the jazz band playing and once without. Live music at the Paradise Garden stage and Disneyland's beloved swing dance nights at the now-Fantasy Faire Theater further demonstrate the power of live music to please fans. The Disney Parks are cash machines for the Walt Disney Company. They can afford to invest more in live music and widen the gap between Disney and competing theme parks when it comes to live musical entertainment.

When it comes to the Disneyland Band, and live music in any theme park, the issue shouldn't be "either/or." The real issue should be "we need more!"

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Replies (15)

April 2, 2015 at 10:52 PM · I completely agree on the "we need more" front. Live music is essential to a truly great theme park. Disneyland in particular is a prime example.
April 2, 2015 at 11:14 PM · Yes, more. If they are being pressured for diversity, let them add more music/entertainment options - more value for the overly high prices to get in, too. The entertainment budget has historically always been the first thing to cut. They should be raising it for the 60th.
Also, the band, as it is, represents the classic Main Street look and feel.
I heard that the college band is different this year, too, since the Carnation stage has been over-run by princesses spilling out of Fantasyland...
April 2, 2015 at 11:17 PM · I would love to see some more dci/blast type of style implemented in the park. Watch this show of a group performing illuminations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXIcD__Z5ws
April 3, 2015 at 6:15 AM · Disney does a superb job of updating and refurbishing their attractions and should do as much with their entertainment. However, they should decide if they will continue to convey the hometown feel of the "Main Street" era or modernize the other musical acts as well. Will they replace the barbershop quartet with the new era of a cappella music (e.g. Pentatonix, Home Free); the ragtime piano with a jazz style, club piano?
As a music educator, I welcome all music, especially live music. In today's age, I don't think people get to experience "live" music all that much. We do need more!!
April 3, 2015 at 6:52 AM · The band is hard to see as it isn't on the entertainment schedule to specifically visit. You see it on passing through. It should be part of the parade. Whether a band should be modern is like asking for modern staging of Othello. It could help or could disappoint. Anyways, change happens.

BTW: Even live music isn't live.

April 3, 2015 at 10:29 AM · Updated our story with the news from Disneyland that everyone is keeping a job with the resort, even though the specific performing jobs might change, depending upon the audition. And that the band will be net adding members, though the specific number of new musicians overall hasn't been decided.
April 3, 2015 at 11:54 AM · The band is always listed on the entertainment guides distributed at the front gates.
April 3, 2015 at 9:40 PM · The decision to destroy the institution that was the Disneyland Band in Anaheim,California on the very eve of the 60th anniversary of their first appearance on July17,1955 is both cold and calculated proving that the present Disney management has completely lost sight of the Dream that personified the name WALT DISNEY. I think that Mickey and the spirit of Walt himself are both crying in sadness over this news.
The management at Disney is not making a lateral move to improve the product but instead they are getting rid of an institution that was once considered untouchable. Now as years go by so will the direction of live music within the parks. Management will get bored,budgets will fluctuate and a constant stream of musicians will be left in the unemployment line forced to learn a new trade. Is this the way to treat individual musicians who have sacrificed their entire adult life in dedication to their jobs at Disney? What a travesty!
April 3, 2015 at 11:52 PM · Bring back Future Corps!
April 4, 2015 at 4:02 AM · Disney should support, and encourage the marching arts in Florida. There are many talented brass and percussionist.( Drum and Bugle Corps)which could provide an excellent cast of marching musicians About 30% of the youth that participate in Drum Corps International competitions nationwide are from Florida-that, in itself, should tell you the level of talent in Florida.
April 5, 2015 at 8:27 AM · One of our favorite musical shows was Billy Hill and the Hillbillies which packed the Golden Horseshoe and Big Thunder Ranch every time they performed. Disney management still has not filled that hole in their music program. They have tried and we have not been thrilled with the results, for example the Holiday program at Big Thunder this last year had people wandering in and out of the area; the performance did not capture the audience the way the Hillbillies did during their last performance we watched at Big Thunder for the holidays. It is those small fun "discoveries" that make DLR a place people want to return too. Re-themeing the DL Band follows in their recent moves to "update" their entertainment offerings.
April 5, 2015 at 11:38 AM · Why not just keep this band while adding another? MORE is BETTER! Part of my love for Disneyland is the tradition. Makes me sad to see this band *dismissed* !!!
April 6, 2015 at 4:09 AM · How do we become a part of the band?
April 6, 2015 at 7:33 AM · I agree "more" live music...more, more more. However Main Street USA is a glimpse of the past and it is not a modern past. The cars, the train, the town square, the barbershop quartet, Christmas carolers, even the cast costumes within the main street shops and restaurants reflect a bygone era. The traditional American band "is" main street USA, and is what the Disneyland Band represented, as did a lot of its musical repertoire, along with the piped in music heard as you stroll down Main Street. It is what creates the atmosphere and transports you at the entry to the park itself. To eliminate it...(the band in its current form) well, that is a shame. Of course in other parts of the park, they could reappear in different costume performing theme appropriate music genre, addition movement, using a separate diversity of musicians...there are many possibilities that would be fantastic to incorporate into Disney's entertainment package at it's parks. But to eliminate what was the original style of American band is a great travesty. Except for our military bands, whose public exposure is increasingly limited, we have all but lost that original art form except in period films like the Music Man. Our children's children won't know what they've missed... but I will, and so will many others passionate about our American musical heritage.
April 9, 2015 at 10:12 AM · As a music educator, former Disneyland employee and father of 5 I am sad to see one of the few "original" groups of the park being "re-vamped". Also Main Street USA is supposed to represent turn of the century Americana when the Sousa Band and other groups toured the USA with some of the only live professional music available to smaller towns and cities. I went to school with Ken Whitcombs daughter, Ken wrote a large portion of the original band arrangements! They still sound fresh today! WE have the All American College Band in the summer months for more modern, DCI type of presentations, of which I am also a big fan. I teach band now and have personally brought hundreds of band students to the park and always make sure they at least witness Retreat, which I understand was one of Walt's favorite mainstays. Not everything needs to change with the times, how about saving some of our best of America for generations to come.

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