Friday, March 1, 2013

WALT DISNEY: Revolutionizing the World of Animation (part 2) "The Magical Music"


"There's a terrific power to music. 
You can run any of these pictures and they'd be dragging and boring,
but the minute you put music behind them, they have life and vitality.
they don't get any other way"
- Walt Disney -

Walt Disney didn't read or write music. In fact, he never even played an instrument. And yet. his influence upon music was, and continues to be, so profound that the great American composer Jerome Kern was moved to say, "Disney has made use of music as language. In the synchronization of humorous episodes with humorous music, he has unquestionably given us the outstanding contribution of our time."

Still, the question remains:
"If Walt didn't write any songs or compose any scores, 
how could he have had such a deep and lasting impact on music?"

The answer, simple enough, is the same way in which he had such a profound effect upon animation without so much as drawing even one mouse or dwarf.

Walt was the mover and shaker, the man of vision who gathered around him some of the most talented writers, artists, composers, and musicians, who bought into his dreams and schemes and made them happen, all under his watchful eye. 


He was stumped one day when a little boy asked, "Do you draw Mickey Mouse?". He had to admit that he doesn't draw anymore. "Then you think up the jokes and ideas?" "No", he said. "I don't do that". Finally, the boy looked at him and said, "Mr. Disney, just what do you do?" "Well, sometimes I think of myself as a little bee. I go from one area of the studio to another and gather pollen and sort of stimulate everybody. I guess that's the job I do."

So although he didn't write "When You Wish Upon a Star" or any other hundreds of tunes that make up the Disney cartoon, his imprimatur is stamped onto every song and score. When you hear "Whistle While You Work," you may not know that the words were written by Larry Morey and the music by Frank Churchill, but you certainly know it's a Disney song.

It didn't matter what a composer's background was, whether he was a honky-tonk pianist from Los Angeles, a jingle writer from New York's Tin Pan Alley, or a pop star from England, when he wrote for Walt Disney, he wrote in a style that was, consciously or not, immediately recognizeable not as his own, but as Walt Disney's.


"No matter what I or anyone else in the music department wrote, people always recognized it as being the 'Disney sound'," says Buddy Baker, a longtime Disney staff composer. "But if I was asked to define the Disney Sound or how we got it, I would have to answer that I didn't know. It's not something I thought about while I was writing the music. I think a clue to the Disney sound, though, comes from the man himself," he adds.

Walt Disney had a wonderful concept of what the music should be, which is a great cue for the composer. For instance, if he wanted a big, symphonic score, he'd tell you that and he'd even tell you what he'd want it to sound like.

Disney songs represent a style that makes them eminently hummable and totally unforgettable. They were very much a reflection of their patron, who concentrated on melody and didn't like anything that was too loud or high-pitched. Even the "Disney" songs and scores being written today, decades after Walt Disney's death, reflect the spirit and influence of this man who had a special ability to recognize what kind of music best fit a scene or situation and, more importantly (and more to the point), what was good.

It was Walt's direction and influence that led his composers and musicians to pioneer musical concepts and technologies that influenced both the film and music industries for decades - and continue to do so to this day. It was arranged in such a way that it sounded as if it just might have been. For instance, "Steamboat Bill," written in 1910, was whistled by the mouse himself during the opening moments of the cartoon. The sound that played the key role in Disney cartoons was music. The Disney musical legacy begin with Walt himself.

Perhaps it was Walt Disney himself who summed up the best reasons for the important role and the incredible success music has enjoyed in Disney animated features, live-action motion pictures, and theme parks:

"Music has always had a prominent part in all our products from the early cartoon days. So much so, in fact, that I cannot think of the pictorial story without thinking about the complementary music that will fulfill it... I have had no formal musical training. But by long experience and by strong personal leaning, I've selected musical themes, original or adapted, that were guided to wide audience acceptance.

But the credit for the memorable songs and scores must, of course, go to the brilliant composers and musicians who have been associated with me through the years."