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The Magic Years
Disney through the eyes of teens
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Adrienne Krock, editor

Art Dragon: Band Leader Extraordinaire

Disneyland Band conductor brings musical magic to park guests

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
by Jewel, Magic Years writer

The Disneyland band, originally intended to last only two weeks as a part of Disneyland's opening celebrations, is now as much a part of the Park as King Arthur Carrousel.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the conductor of the Disneyland band, Mr. Art Dragon, fifth in the line of Disneyland band leaders.

Art is one of the nicest, most sincere people I have ever met, and by the time our interview was over, I felt that I had made a new friend. Two things that struck me about Art were his genuine desire to see the band better itself through individuals growing in musicianship, and his hope to keep music alive in the hearts of the next generation.

Art has been involved in music since the fifth grade, beginning on trombone, and taking up a variety of brass instruments. He hadn't always planned on being a professional musician, though. In fact, he went to school on a chemistry scholarship. Then he became aware that there were careers available in music, and went on to earn his bachelor's degree in music. Art also went to law school for a short time after that.

First coming to Disneyland in 1971 to perform in a Golden Horseshow show, he later moved to California from Massachusetts. Art played with the band from 1973 to 78, and decided to join them permanently in 1982. He accepted the job as conductor about seven years ago.

When asked who stood out in his mind as an inspiration to his musical career, Mr. Dragon said she was a high school music teacher who taught him to love music. His grandmother was also an inspiration. Claiming a 60-year career in music, she did such things as play piano in silent movies.

The Disneyland Band performs in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle. MousePlanet file photo.

So what is it that's so charming about Art's job at Disneyland? Part of the fun is seeing the band's youngest fans get excited about the music, and being able to talk with the guests who stop to listen. Art really loves the people who make his job so much a part of the Disneyland tradition. “The best thing about my job is coming in and seeing all my best friends for 30 seconds. You can be that to someone for 30 seconds, and then they're gone, but it's fun doing that.”

Another thing that makes Art's position as conductor much more than just a job is a strong conviction in Walt's dream of Disneyland. “I really respect the tradition of what the Park was intended to be. I'm a big believer and a big supporter of that.” He adds, “I think we're getting back to that.”

As do all experiences in life, Art's role as the Disneyland band director has taught him many lessons. He's learned to have patience, to trust each of his musicians to take care of business, and to listen openly to their suggestions. He doesn't take things too personally either company-wise or in issues within the band, and he's learned a lot about tenacity. “Getting through parts of this that are tough,” he said.

Art also realizes that he acts as an intermediary between the company and the musicians. “I try to get on a level where, when I say something, it's to preserve our job. It's not anything personal against anybody.”

The life of a Disneyland musician is very routine, performing the same songs everyday. Therefore, it is left up to the individuals to improve their technique and musical ability. Art encourages every musician to seize every opportunity to perform in a new setting, and acquire new artistic ideas through exposure to various musical styles.

The Disneyland Band performs at their regular spot in Town Square. Photo by Jewel.

The same advice goes for young musicans. “Play in every possible setting you can. There are fewer and fewer chances to get experience, so just get it in any way you can. Don't turn anything down, and practice your scales. It comes down to that: scales and longtones.” It is comforting to know that even accomplished musicians still practice the basics.

One good memory Art has with the Disneyland band is of an outreach for second graders. The band was performing “it's a small world,” when the multitude of children in the audience began to sing! “It was just so moving to have all these kids singing,” he said.

Art has traveled with the band twice: once to New York for the opening of Pocahontas, and once to Danville, Kentucky for a band festival. He would like to make further trips to Kentucky with the band. He would also like to see the band work with young musicians. “I would like to see us go on a tour. Say we went to a school, did a clinic, visited with the kids, played with the high school band a little bit, and maybe that night did a joint concert with the band. I'd like to see us do that kind of thing.”

As for performing around the world, Art said, “Paris would be great. It'd be great to go to all the Disneyland parks.” Disneyland is one of the three Disney parks lucky to have a band. The parks in Paris and Tokyo currently have bands, but Walt Disney World no longer does. Art doesn't foresee the future Disneyland Hong Kong having a band, as it will be a smaller park.

At Disneyland, the band works an eight-hour day, including a one-hour unpaid lunch. They play about eight sets a day, which equals close to three hours of performance time. For a musician, this is a long day.

The most popularly requested song is, flat out, the “Mickey Mouse Club March.” A close second is “Happy Birthday.” The band only rehearses together when learning new music, so once again, it is left up to the musicians to develop their skills. “It takes discipline,” he said.

The band breaks down into smaller performing groups, adding drummers or other musicians here and there as they are needed. “We combine the skills that we need, and get guys who are versatile and can play a lot of different styles. It's hard to find those guys, and we're very fortunate with the musicians we have. The Disneyland band itself is a grand compromise.”

The band is lucky, too, that at least four of its current members are also talented musical arrangers. Often, the songs heard being performed around Disneyland are arrangements unique to the band. There are close to 200 concert pieces, 40 marches, and an extensive Big Band collection in the Disneyland music library. For the different performing groups derived from the band, there are variations on many of these songs. The band has about 40 songs memorized.

Personally, Art is partial to the British composers. “Bach, Holst, Benjamin Britten, I really like that tradition of music,” he said. “I like jazz a lot, and standards.” Although he does not shape the band too much, Art would love to see it modeled after a British band. “It really fits our band well.”

Art had to think when he was asked which musicians, past or present, he would like to meet. “I'd like to meet Esa-Pekka Salonen, the conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I'd like to meet Arthur Pryor, a turn-of-the-century trombone virtuoso. He was a superstar in his day. I'd like to meet all the contemporary jazz trombone players. Carl Fontana passed away, Frank Rosolino also passed away. J.D. Johnson—I never got to meet him, either.

“I'd like to meet the band leaders, because you get into a funny position: you're not really part of the social structure of the band because you're in such a different position. As a conductor, you have to be. So, I'd like to talk to the old directors of this band. There are three of them still alive.” Vesey Walker, the man contracted by Walt to lead a Disneyland band for two weeks upon the Park's opening, has since passed away.

Art didn't always have his sights set on the role of conductor, but when the opportunity arose, he did accept the job. He has always been interested in the organizational aspect of things, and acquired a vision of the band's potential. “I've always had an interest that way, and I want to be able to keep the tradition going. I want to make sure that when I leave, it's a stronger band musically, and stronger in the company, so no one will even think of letting it go.”

Jewel with Art Dragon. Photo by Jewel.

Jewel's FastFact

Disneyland Hong Kong, scheduled to open in 2005-2006, will claim 35 miles of pipeline, and 1,000 manholes! Fantasyland in China will also be home to a unique attraction: Fantasy Gardens. To support the fantastic landscaping of Disneyland Hong Kong, Imagineers had to create 2.5 million cubic yards of topsoil!

Thoughts, questions, or comments?
Contact the Cool Kids via our Magic Years editor here.


Contact the Cool Kids here.


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