Monday, July 4, 2016

Disney Song #1: Tapestry of Nations / Gavin Greenaway -- A Conversation

To Listen:  Click Here

The Facts:
  • Composer: Gavin Greenaway
  • Year: 1999
  • Key: several

Heard In: 
Tapestry of Nations Parade, Epcot's Millennium Celebration

So here we are!  I wrote my first Disney post on 7-5-15, and after one full year of exploring the 76 all-time greatest songs in the Disney Universe, we've finally reached the mountaintop.  It was great fun to take this journey and to share my love of Disney World and Disney music, and it was special to get a chance to talk to many of the people involved -- in particular, talking to Tony Baxter about Journey Into Imagination and doing a podcast with Marty Sklar and my Dad were two conversations that I won't soon forget.  And my 3 year-old son has developed a love for the music of Impressions de France, so when he gets older I will look forward to sharing with him my conversation with director Rick Harper. And as with MacGyver, just because the countdown is over doesn't mean that I won't ever post about Disney again.

Now that we've tied up some loose ends, let's talk about the greatest Disney song ever!  It comes from Epcot's Millennium Celebration, a festive time from Oct 1999 to Jan 2001 in World Showcase that featured special events including parades, fireworks, and a Millennium Village exhibit.  It was a time in my life when I was just starting college and wondering what my future would hold, and it was a big moment for the planet as a whole -- the dawn of a new millennium (which technically happened in 2001 but symbolically happened in 2000).

We've already covered several songs on the countdown from the Millennium Celebration including Promise, We Go On, and Reflections of Earth, and my #1 song is from the Tapestry of Nations, a 20 minute long twilight parade through World Showcase.  This score was the perfect way to commemorate the millennium with a truly global sound full of hope and optimism.  I remember watching the parade and feeling like everything was going to be all right, and I still feel that way when I listen to it.

Clearly our world today has no shortage of bad news (which we're frequently reminded of in the media), and sometimes it feels like our culture is spiraling out of control.  But then I listen to this song and it makes me think that while the world is not perfect, there is much good for us to be grateful for, and it gives me faith that humanity is slowly but surely moving in a positive direction.

I was excited to get in touch with composer Gavin Greenaway who generously answered a few questions about the Tapestry of Nations score.  He recently released a CD of piano works called Il Falco Bianco -- check it out!

NS: How did you first get involved or approached to write the music for Tapestry of Nations?

GG: Originally Hans Zimmer had been asked to write both Reflections and Tapestry. But it wasn’t something he really wanted or had time to do, so he persuaded the Disney music producers in Orlando that I’d be the right man for the job. I met Don Dorsey (Reflections) in Anaheim and Gary Paben (Tapestry) in Orlando to discuss both pieces and then returned to LA where I wrote most of Reflections first, over a period of about 6 weeks. After a few weeks of working on Reflections I started to sketch out ideas for Tapestry of Nations. 

Gary had told me that parades usually consisted of an intro, a looped phase (3 minutes, with various overlays) and an ending. In the past they had arranged to have the parade stop every few minutes, so the performers could be stationary in front of the crowd and do a specific routine, with music adapted for each different float or group. So a 3 minute music loop with different elements would suffice for the whole parade. I wasn’t happy about this as I thought it would be great to create a piece of music which built and mutated over the whole length of the parade, and everyone in the park would hear the same music at the same time. Although there is repetition in Tapestry, it’s never quite the same and it’s structured to build in a pleasing way - which I wouldn’t have been able to do with a 3 minute loop.

I think it took me about 3 weeks to write and structure it all out. We recorded the orchestra in London (Abbey Road) and a fabulous choir in Orlando.

NS: What were the guidelines given to you for the Tapestry of Nations score?

GG: The brief was not very specific musically - other than to feature drums and singing. 

NS: What inspired the score?  And are the vocals saying any particular words in any particular language?

GG: I was keen to make the opening very dramatic and orchestral to create a feeling that something big was about to happen - leading to something a little unexpected in the parade itself, which is not about bombast, but a feeling of belonging and togetherness. The words are made up to sound like a language, as I didn’t want to have some people understanding and others not. So, this way, nobody understands the words! But I chose the sounds and syllables to sound like some sort of proto-language. Very simple vowels and limited consonants. Each listener can attach their own meaning.

I had sketches of the puppets and designs which Michael Curry was making for the show. These were very inspiring - and also influenced the tempo, as the puppeteers would not be able to move their giant costumes very quickly. So in contrast to many Disney parades, the tempo is a slowish walking pace. I’ve been told it’s also very good to work out to!

NS: Did you work on the Tapestry of Dreams adaptation and why was it changed from the original?

GG: After a short time in the heat and humidity of Florida the costumes started to deteriorate and changes had to be made to the parade. I wasn’t involved in any subsequent work.

NS: Thinking back on it now, what does the song mean to you?  

GG: I’ll always remember seeing it for the first time in front of an audience. At first people didn’t know what to make of it, but the gently insistent rhythm soon had families following along, dancing and interacting with the puppets. I saw many happy smiles. And the next day there was a line at the Disney store as people bought the CD - for a time it was the best-selling CD in Orlando.

So thanks again for reading my Disney countdown, and have a magical day! 

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