One of the joys of venturing far from home is the opportunity to seek out "tokens and treasures" to take back with us as reminders of our travel experiences. At the Walt Disney World Resort, there are many opportunities to purchase just about "anything and everything a chap can unload."
After each visit, my family and I consistently bring home our share of collectibles, toys, books, and gifts from the Vacation Kingdom of the World. Of all my many Disney souvenirs, I have to say that the ones I treasure most are the ones that help capture that feeling of being in "the Disney zone."
And nothing seems to encapsulate the "magic" of the Disney parks for me like music.
It occurred to me, during our most recent visit, that the annual release of an "official album" seems to have stopped several years ago I miss them, even though, truth be told, these collections rarely offered many new or different tracks. The Walt Disney World Forever "music on demand" program that allowed guests to create their own compact discs of Disney theme park music is now part of Walt Disney World history. This breaks my heart as these musical treasures are among my most treasured possessions. Here’s hoping that something along the line of the 2005’s A Musical History of Disneyland complied by Randy Thornton with an accompanying book by Stacia Martin will come our way someday.
During our most recent visit, however, I managed to discover a wonderful title that has somehow escaped my notice when it was released in 2011. While strictly not a theme park soundtrack, this particular title captures that elusive magic of Disney in a memorable, unique, and truly unforgettable collection.
The title? Wish Upon a Star: A Tribute to the Music of Walt Disney by classical violinist Jenny Oaks Baker. Composer, conductor Kurt Bestor orchestrates memorable arrangements that showcase the depth and range of Jenny Oaks Baker’s talents. The album features an inspired mix of selections from the Disney cannon and includes selections from more recent Disney films as well. What follows is a track-by-track commentary that I sincerely hope inspires you to seek out this wonderful work of art.
Beginning with an ethereal quality that captures many authentic musical sounds associated with Native American culture, this interpretation of the haunting song from Pocahontas creates a feeling of being outdoors surrounded by the natural beauty that this song’s lyrics celebrate. Jenny Oaks Baker’s playing, combined with a strikingly original arrangement, pronounces clearly that his album will be anything but simple background music. Rarely has the violin "sung" the lyrics of a song with such effectiveness and emotion
The quintessential Disney song composed by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington is appropriately dreamy and lush. There are a few musical surprises here and there—a note held longer than usual, an unexpected tempo change, or an emphasis on a note that one may not have noticed before. All in all, Oaks Baker presents an inspiring and refreshing take on one of the world’s most memorable-and beloved- songs.
A purely straightforward version of this Menken-Ashman favorite, presented with such spirit and depth that the listener experiences a feeling of waltzing with Belle and the Beast under that delicate, golden chandelier.
After an unexpectedly spirited introduction, this award-winning love song from Aladdin settles into a more familiar feel. That said, there’s a lightness, an airiness here that reflects Aladdin and Jasmine’s flight on that magic carpet. The listener can almost feel the wind in his face and experience the sensation of dipping and dropping over, under, around, and through those cloud-filled skies.
An appropriately calm, hushed feeling begins this lovely hymn originally sung by Esmeralda inside the nave and through the North and South Transepts of La Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. Again, Jenny Oaks Baker manages to capture the lyrics in her playing in a way that is authentic and sincere. This all-too-often overlooked song deserves the loving attention the artist devotes to it here, and Miss Oaks Baker’s rendition is moving, meaningful, and important. It is one of two standout performances on this stunning album.
Beginning with a lovely piano introduction, this beautiful song from Cinderella captures the feeling of entering Cinderella Castle and strolling past the sparkling Dorothea Redmond mosaics–it is truly that lyrical and enchanting. It’s a simple song, really, with a very simple message. This simple, tasteful arrangement encapsulates that message and presents it in a memorable way.
From the opening strains of "A Spoonful of Sugar" blended with "Let’s Go Fly a Kite" that echo the original overture arranged by musical genius Irwin Kostal, this medley captures the mystery and heart of one of Walt Disney’s most memorable films. After referencing "Spoonful" and "Kite," Jenny Oaks Baker launches into a hauntingly simple interpretation of "Chim Chim Cher-ee," capturing the waltz temp in an interesting way. At times subdued and ethereal, sudden bursts of joyful energy capture the wonderfully uplifting quality of this classic Sherman Brothers song. A highly spirited version of "Step in Time" follows, one that replicates the energy of the film sequence as well as the Broadway musical. A reprise of a very spirited "Spoonful of Sugar" follows, conjuring images of a magical nursery were toys pick themselves up and beds make themselves.
A beautifully musical bridge leads into the haunting melody of "Feed the Birds." Jenny Oaks Baker manages to once again capture the depth, the meaning and the timelessness of this lovely song’s timeless message. The arrangement echoes that of Irwin Kostal, but does not mimic it. As the music soars, the chorus repeats, and the emotional builds, Jenny Oaks Baker meaningfully interprets what has long been believed to have been Walt Disney’s favorite song.
After a clever "Step in Time" reference, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" bursts with energy and fun. With another musical bridge worthy of a film composer, this song blends seamlessly with "Let’s Go Fly a Kite" which ends this medley just as that song ends the original film. One can see Mary Poppins herself floating across the London sky as the music ends.
A masterpiece of musical interpretation worthy of the film that inspired it.
Ariel’s classic "I wish" song is interpreted with taste and restraint by Miss Oaks Baker. It highlights one of the strengths of this album: moving, emotional interpretations that avoid the saccharine, over-the-top gooeyness that mar too many covers of classic Disney songs.
A showcase for the classical talent of the arranger and violinist, this lively version of the classic Tchaikovsky piece from Sleeping Beauty captures that soaring feeling of excitement and joy felt by the young lovers Briar Rose and Prince Philip as they meet in an enchanted forest. Classical, but assessable, this interpretation sends the heart soaring.
The most contemporary feeling of all the selections here, the classic Elton John-Tim Rice composition is appropriately tender and warm.
Jenny Oaks Baker, the mother of four children, contributes a soothing version of this memorable lullaby from Dumbo. This has always been a sad song in my mind, but this version-with its tender violin strings and its quiet piano accompaniment-is anything but sad. It is a joyful celebration of the bond between parent and child, wonderfully realized here with retrained emotion that makes it all the more meaningful.
This is an album for the ages. It is classical without stuffiness; emotive without maudlin sentimentality; whimsical without childishness. I highly encourage that all admirers of the wonderful world of Walt Disney music add this gem to their collections
(Send an email to Tom Richards)
Tom Richards is a life-long admirer of Walt Disney, something of a Disney historian, and a free-lance writer. His Disney interests include but are not limited to: Walt Disney World, classic Disney animation, live-action films made during Walt's lifetime, and Disney-related music and art.