Music in the Disney Zone

by Mike Scopa, contributing writer
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A while back I talked about the Disney zone and how it affects each of us. For those of you who may not be familiar with this term, “the Disney zone” is a state of mind in which visitors to Disneyland and Walt Disney World find themselves void of cares, stress, and problems of their everyday lives. In fact, when zoning they may not even know the day of the week or even the time.

The Disney zone releases guests from the stress of everyday life, replacing that stress with a form of euphoria. It's almost like being a kid again. Imagine that; a connection between Disney and carefree childhood.

Imagineers who put their creative juices to use truly understand what the Disney zone is all about, even if they may not use the exact phrase. They may even have their own pet name for that state of mind—you might say it's a “Disney high.”

Today, let's look at how the audio environment of Walt Disney World can bring us to our own Disney zone, and how they can trigger the transition from out of zone to in zone.

There is no way I can speak for everyone regarding what exactly triggers this reaction, so we'll focus on what works for me and others who have described this phenomenon to me.

Let's take this park by park and see if any of these thoughts remind you of a moment in either Magic Kingdom or Epcot that opens the door to your own Disney zone.

Magic Kingdom

Although there is music in the air just outside the turnstiles and well before you walk underneath the Magic Kingdom Main Street Train Station, it's not until you emerge from underneath the station and into Town Square that you are immersed in musical notes that draw you towards your eventual destination—the Disney zone.

Main Street USA is filled with music that we are all familiar with, but don't ask me to tell you the name of the songs being played. We associate those songs with our first sight of Cinderella Castle and thus begins our journey to the zone.

I received an e-mail from Rob that best describes what happens when he arrives at Main Street USA:

“Yes, it happens to me too. When I walk under the train station and come out on Main Street, I know I'm in my favorite place on earth. The music, the sounds, the smells that flow over Main Street, U.S.A. bring back the times when my parents brought me and my sisters to Disney World.”

So what else on Main Street are we apt to hear that may trigger a reaction? How about the morning trolley visit? How about those memorable lyrics “I'm walking right down the middle of Main Street USA.?” How about the Dapper Dans?

Let's move on to the castle.

Cinderellabration has been part of Magic Kingdom's family for almost a year, and those who have seen this show surely will recognize the music and find the melody whisking them right into the Disney zone.

Some of you have told me that you find yourself in the zone towards the end of the show when all the princesses are grouped together onstage waving at the guests. I know I do.

For most guests, Magic Kingdom means Fantasyland. Regarding music, no other land within this theme park opens that door to the Disney zone like Fantasyland.

Many of us joke about “it's a small world” and how it drives us crazy. But c'mon, tell the truth. Instead of reading my dribble right now, wouldn't you rather be in one of those boats and floating through that last majestic white room and listening to that song?

When it comes to attraction music and the Disney zone, Mickey's Philharmagic takes center stage. Those recognizable songs from movies like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, take everyone on a magical ride. For several moments at least, those songs bring everyone in that theater to a place where they forget what exactly bothered them the week before leaving for Orlando.

Of course songs from Pirates of the Caribbean (“Yo Ho Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)”) and Haunted Mansion (“Grim Grinning Ghosts”) are Magic Kingdom staples and make us smile every time we hear them because we know we are “home.”

Let's also not forget the Carrousel of Progress, which through the years has had two songs which we all know too well. For longtime guests, those songs are “It's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” and “The Best Time of Our Life.” Both songs have triggered my Disney zone.

We who can forget the parades?

The Share a Dream Come True Parade has been part of Magic Kingdom for several years. The theme song that accompanies the parade is magical for many guests. Music is a big part of any WDW parade, and this one is no exception.

The Share a Dream Come True parade music whisks guests to their own fantasylands. Many guests and cast members have told me that although they love the floats and the characters, it's the music that “does it” for them.

The same holds for SpectroMagic, Magic Kingdom's nighttime parade. Once the words “On this magic night—.” are heard everyone along that parade route gets caught up in the moment. Sure the lights and sights are a joy to behold but without the music it's just not complete

However, there is no way I can leave this theme park without discussing the music of Wishes!

We can thank the genius of Steve Skorita (music director) and especially Gregory Smith (musical score composer and arranger) for the musical portion of Wishes!

We are treated to a dozen songs from ten Disney animated films and each song firmly plants us in the zone. For me no song does it more than the final rendition of Wishes! along with post-show music.

Before we leave Magic Kingdom, I need to add a personal favorite and that is the combination of walking down Main Street USA very late at night and listening to the melancholy music that seems to say “thank you” and “come back soon.”

Try it sometime: Stay late, and slowly walk down from the castle. Uh-huh!

Finally, for those of you who have ever witnessed “Kiss Goodnight,” you will remember the thunderous rendition of Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops performing “When You Wish upon a Star” and you will stand there stunned as you stare at the virtual veil being draped over the castle.

Such is Disney zoning via music in the Magic Kingdom.

Epcot

Although you would think that Magic Kingdom has an advantage over Epcot regarding music and the Disney zone, quite the case can be made for the sounds of Epcot.

First there is the entrance music to this theme park. Magic Kingdom's entrance music is very joyful—Epcot's music is exciting and really can get the juices flowing as guests pass through the turnstiles. However, there is also subtle music for guests in this theme park.

This music is very special—particularly the background music to an attraction. The next time you happen to be in Spaceship Earth, try putting the golden tones of Jeremy Irons (I believe he is our present narrator) in the background and bring the music to the foreground. It's quite subtle, yet majestic.

I would have to say that nothing is quite as majestic and magical as the music of Soarin'. Many guests have found this music to be both exhilarating and soothing. So can we say then that the music of Soarin' is capable to taking guests soaring to their own Disney zone? I would.

Before we leave Future World, let's not forgot an overlooked attraction that is definitely a candidate for our discussion: The large water fountain at Innoventions Plaza.

This fountain puts on quite a show during the day but at night the combination of water cannon effects, music and lights can have a zoning effect on guests. On your next trip, make it a point at the end of a night at Epcot to visit this fountain.

The music of the World Showcase pavilions brings a unique personality to each pavilion. Many guests long to hear the Parisian music as they walk through the France pavilion. The same can be said for such pavilions as Italy, Morocco, Japan, China, and Mexico.

Do we ever get tired of hearing “Oh Canada!” at the Canadian Pavilion? It is a beautiful song that truly gets you into the zone.

However, when we talk of zoning in World Showcase, let's not forget the music of “Golden Dream” in American Adventure. This music, found at the end of the American Adventure attraction, has been known to create a different type of Disney zone, but a zone nonetheless. The images and music combine to really touch the audience and as the music ends rarely is there a dry eye in the house.

Kevin sent me an e-mail regarding “Golden Dream” and I'd like to share his thoughts with you. He writes:

“It's easy to fall prey to the notion that humans are inherently bad (especially us as Americans) with the constant media barrage these days. But every time I see the “American Adventure” I well up with a sense of pride and break down (in a good way) during “Golden Dreams.” It is a nice reminder that, yes, the world can be a crazy place—but there are people out there who care about their fellow man. Good will triumph evil and, yes, the U.S.A. is a caring country that does things for the goodwill of humanity (contrary to the popular belief that it is all politics).”

My guess is that some of you are nodding your heads in agreement with Kevin.

Of course, let's not forget the Voices of Liberty. It would not be a trip to Epcot without listening to these talented performers and their rendition of some great Americana songs. They can truly bring me into the Disney zone, especially when they perform “Let there be Peace on Earth” and “Shenandoah.”

Before we leave Epcot, let's turn our focus to what may be the number one Disney zone audio trigger in all of Epcot. You guessed it. I am referring to Illuminations: Reflections of Earth and the music that occurs before, during, and after this nighttime spectacular.

Yes. The next time you find yourself planning to witness Illuminations make it a point to set aside an hour or so to spend along World Showcase Lagoon. Listen to the pre-show music. It is very unique and special to Epcot. It will bring on anticipation of the impending show.

When that first shot is heard for Illuminations and the music begins in synch with the fireworks, we are immediately hooked. The music and fireworks combine to form one personality that keeps us in its grip and we forget everything except what is happening in the center of World Showcase Lagoon.

Is there anyone who can find fault with the two Illuminations signature songs “We Go On” and “Promise?” Those two songs, sung by country music star Kelley Coffey, are very much a big part of Illuminations' ability to bring its audience to the Disney zone.

I'll admit it. I sometimes “lose it” when listening to these songs. It comes with the package of allowing yourself to get into the Disney zone. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Oh—now I mentioned a full hour right? Yes, we've talked about the pre-show music, which usually begins around 20 minutes or so before the first shell is fired. Then of course is the main show and the Kelley Coffey songs. That covers a large amount of that hour, but there's one more piece.

That piece is the music from the Tapestry of Dreams parade from the 1990s. For me, looking at the torches lit across World Showcase Lagoon and listening to Tapestry of Dreams after a long day at WDW is the ultimate trigger to get me into the Disney zone.

It's hard to explain how the music does this. It just happens. I remember for the longest time wondering if I was the only person who saw Illuminations and its music as a Disney zone trigger. Then I received an e-mail from Dan, who said:

“Before we left (it was our second-to-last day), we watched Illuminations one more time, and again, my cheeks had large, fat tears crawling down them. But I looked down at my 7-year-old, just as she looked up at me. And she, too, had a trembling lip and damp eyes, moved by the emotion, yes, but saddened by the knowledge that our trip was coming to an end.”

Maybe that's what it's all about. Maybe it's the children who have the explanation as to what the Disney zone means to us.

Maybe it's the children who make us realize that out visits to the Disney zone are few and far between and that we need to treasure those moments, to welcome them as friends, to make sure we appreciate them. After all, it is those special moments that help us—

…Remember the Magic!

Next Time

We are not through with discussing the sounds that trigger the Disney zone. Next time we will look at Disney/MGM Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and go beyond the parks in search of those triggers. If you have one you'd like to share with everyone please drop me a line and I'll add it to my list.

Class dismissed.