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Disney through the eyes of teens
|Adrienne Krock, editor|
|Piano Man: Alan Thompson interviewed|
Walking down Main Street in Disneyland, your heart starts to dance to some music playing in the background. It's like nothing you've heard before, and it brings a smile to your face. Fascinated, you follow the music to Coke Corner where you spot a young man seated at the piano, his fingers fly up and down the keyboard. You ease into a chair to watch with awe as he plays Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," then transitions to "It's a Small World," then to a beautiful love song.
The most amazing thing about Alan Thompson is not his musical skills, but that this Cuban-Filipino 24-year-old has only been playing piano for six years.
Alan has a repertoire of about 100 songs, 80 of which he knows by heart. If we opened his CD player, we'd most likely find a Broadway Tunes piano CD, with all the songs from hits like The Lion King.
Alan is one of three performers at Coke Corner (Rod and Johnny are the other two), and he really enjoys his job. He feels it's quite simple. "It's just the fact that I can play slow music, fast music, love songs," Alan said. "There might be a couple sitting at a table nearby and they kind of start dancing. It's just fun watching people smile. That my music can make their day good, make them feel good overall... I love the people that work with me, I love the people who come see me, and most of the time it's groupies. It's kind of people who come every week, the same people."
"There's one thing we do every weekend there whenever I play. The Mad Hatter comes over, and he pulls up chairs and has everybody eating at the Corner play musical chairs. So the Mad Hatter has me play a song and then stop, so basically the kids have to listen to the music, when the music stops they race for the chairs. And then whoever loses, the Mad Hatter embarrasses them (typical Mad Hatter), so... that's kind of fun. It gets everybody involved and it gets a really big crowd."
Which songs does Alan enjoy playing most? "Preferably fast songs like 'Maple Leaf Rag,' anything from Scott Joplin. Who's my favorite composer? That would be Scott Joplin, because all he wrote was ragtime and, just the style and the personality that fits me would be ragtime because it's upbeat, it's a style that everybody likes, and it just has a very catchy rhythm... I just like the fast songs that I can show off and have people look at my fingers and go, 'Wow! I can really see his fingers go, that's so fast!' And it's just music that everybody likes."
So I wonder who Alan would go back in time and meet if he had the chance. "Probably Scott Joplin! That'd have to be in 1880, while Abraham Lincoln was president... Basically, all I would do is ask Scott Joplin to play for me. I would just want him to play me a concert. I would want him to play the songs the way they were meant to be played, or how he would play them himself."
Piano isn't the only instrument Alan knows. "I played trumpet starting in elementary school, and I finished in high school. All together I played trumpet for ten years, and was section leader in my junior high and the last three years in high school."
But music has been part of his life even longer than that. "Since I was four years old... I think it has to do with my mom. My mom believes, because she used to whistle to me and sing me songs when I was just a baby all the time, she feels that if you sing to your child at a very, very early age, that music that your mother sings to you will stay with you at heart, as you grow up, and it stays with you and it develops into a talent--if you decide to pursue it. I think that her singing to me constantly every day, every night when I was small, kind of got me interested."
"Actually, I had a next-door neighbor, he played the trumpet. So once I saw him play the trumpet, because he used to always practice outside in the front yard and wake up all the neighbors, but anyways, I liked it, and just watching him play the trumpet and seeing how beautiful it sounded to my ears, it kind of got me interested in music. Not necessarily the trumpet, but I knew I wanted to do something with music."
Obviously, Alan has decided to pursue what has stuck with him, because he is quite talented. What's the best part about being a musician? "Probably just showing people my talent. Not showing off and bragging about it, but just having people enjoy the music. I don't need a big crowd of people watching me for me to feel good, as long as even one person comes up and they can smile at me and say, 'Wow, that sounds really good.' For me that's an accomplishment, and for me it's worth every hour that I play at Disneyland."
Every successful person has been influenced by people along the way, and for Alan, that person was George Gullett. Although Mr. Gullett is now vice principal at Nogales High School in La Puente, he was Alan's band director at Rowland High School. "[Mr. Gullett] was very strict. He's one of the strictest band directors. He kind of disciplined me a lot, so it kind of helped, you know, getting me musically mature enough to be the best that I can be and play the best on the piano that I know how."
Mr. Gullett is also Alan's role model. "He taught me all the maturity factors of being a musician, and how seriously to take it, and how not to give up when you practice and you get frustrated. He was just very supportive. He always told me not to quit, so I've been taking his advice and lately it's been working really well. So, I don't think I ever plan on leaving the piano, or stop playing music... I want to play piano for as long as I can, until my fingers fall off."
Since many fond, or at least distinct, memories are made in band, I asked Alan to share one with us. "Well, I once got my whole band in trouble. We were on a field trip and I was on the bus and I threw potato chips out the window, landed on the floor. Well the band director caught it, but he didn't know who it was. He just saw the trash fly out the window. I never admitted what I did, so basically I ended up getting everybody in trouble, and we all had to do a two-minute drill. Basically you just run in place for two minutes, but everybody had to do it because I didn't admit what I did wrong. Anyways, I didn't hear the end of that for about a month."
So what advice of his own would Alan give to aspiring musicians? "Actually, and this is kind of something I realized just recently, if you have a piano teacher, and you don't like the music she's teaching you, or you don't feel like the style of music fits you, I just don't believe you need a music teacher to improve. I believe music comes from the heart. I mean, yes you need a piano teacher to learn the names of the notes, to learn how to read music, to learn how to play, but I think music comes from the heart and you don't need someone to tell you which notes to press. It should come naturally. Once you know the basics of the piano, once you know all the names of the notes, all the scales and things like that, I think it should come from the heart and no one should tell you how soft, how loud, what key to play in and so forth. I think anyone who's a critic of musicians, basically they should prove to me how a good musician plays, but they should play it themselves. If they can't play it themselves, they have no right to be critiquing anybody's talent. I don't believe it's very fair."
"If you could perform anywhere in the world for one night, where would it be?" I asked Alan.
"I guess everyone wants to play at the Hollywood Bowl, because once you play at the Hollywood Bowl you've got it made. It's kind of the place to go, and every type of musician, everybody goes there to watch the best orchestra, the best singers, and the best piano players and the best musicians perform. So I think that would be a real thrill; I'd get really nervous considering how big a crowd I'd have to play for but, it'd be worth it."
So next time you're walking down Main Street, and find yourself skipping to the beat of a Scott Joplin rag or snuggling just a little bit closer to your sweetheart, check out Coke Corner; it may be the handiwork of the one and only Alan Thompson.
If you'd like to enjoy Alan Thompson's music at home, you can purchase his CD at MouseShoppe. On Four-Hand Piano, Alan and Rod Miller, another well-loved Disneyland pianist, share their unique renditions of favorites, including "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "I Got Rhythm," "The Entertainer," and, of course, "Maple Leaf Rag.
I am 13 years old, and a typical junior high student. I live with my mom, dad, and little brother. My family and I have annual passes to Disneyland so we go quite often. I love school, and science has always been a favorite subject of mine. I am in band and hope to be involved in music for the rest of my life.
Right now, my career goal is to become a deejay. In my mind, that is the coolest job in the world! My hobbies include: listening to and playing music, reading, writing, messing around on the computer and hanging out at Disneyland. We have seven cats (four of them found us), a black Labrador, and I have a goldfish.
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