Magic Music Daze
by Debra Martin Koma, ALL EARS® Senior Editor
This article appeared in the April 24, 2007 Issue #396 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
If you're a parent of a student in the school orchestra, choir or band, or maybe even one who is on a dance team, AND you're a Disney fan, you probably have heard of Disney's program, Magic Music Days. After submitting an audition tape and being accepted, your child's school group can visit Walt Disney World and have a chance to perform while there — perhaps as the marching band before one of the theme park parades, or in a mini-concert on one of the various stages around the World.
I came from a very small high school (many moons ago) and never had the opportunity to attend Walt Disney World with a school group, but my 15-year-old son had just this chance recently. His high school orchestra and chorus both were accepted to perform as part of Magic Music Days, and I, being the devoted and dedicated Disney Mom that I am, volunteered to be a chaperone. Oh, the hardship!
Well, the experience turned out to be unlike any other Disney trip I've ever had. I'm not sure if what we did was typical, because we had a fairly well-behaved group of students, and were on a fairly short trip. In any case, I thought I'd share with you my version of chaperoning on this rather whirlwind four-night trip, which left me in a "Magic Music Daze."
It began with a 15-hour bus ride, leaving from our school, George C. Marshall High in Falls Church, Virginia, around 8:30 on a Wednesday evening. It's a drive I've never made before — through Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and finally Florida… to say that it's a loooong drive is an understatement. The kids on the bus (there were only about 50) were actually quite quiet and well-mannered — after the movie (Happy Feet!) finished up around midnight, they settled down very quickly. We hit thunderstorms with plenty of lightning along the way, so sleep didn't come easy for me. I was, in fact, up once an hour every hour after about 2 a.m. You know how it is — doze, up at 2:36, doze, up at 3:45, doze, up at 4:47… In fact, at 4:47 the bus was so quiet I could hear the chik chik chik of the watch on the girl across the aisle from me.
We stopped for breakfast around 7 a.m., just before crossing the Florida state line, and were excited at the warmer weather we encountered — the D.C. area had just been experiencing a cold spell, after a few nice early spring days. After starting up again around 8, we eventually arrived in Florida. We passed under the welcoming "Walt Disney World" archway around 11 a.m. amidst great applause from the teenage passengers, and were meeting up with our tour guide, Sherma, around 11:30 in the Animal Kingdom parking lot.
You read that right. We were to go straight to the theme park, without stopping at our accommodations at the All-Star Sports to change clothes or freshen up. Go to Expedition Everest, go directly to Everest, do not pass GO, do not collect $200 (or even shower). Oh boy.
Our Magic Music Days trip had been organized through a tour operator, Super Holiday Tours, and Sherma was there to facilitate. She gave a brief introduction, handed out our tickets (special 3-day park hoppers), and then said she'd be at the park's entrance to Rainforest Cafe at 5:45 to take us to dinner (one of the two dinners included in our tour package). After additional instructions from both the chorus and orchestra teachers, we were off.
Neither group had any obligations to perform that day, a Thursday, so the kids were free to enjoy Animal Kingdom without interruption. After a full day of touring a very crowded, post-Easter park, our kids dutifully gathered at the rendezvous point and we were shepherded into the dark and noisy Rainforest Cafe for our 6 p.m. reservations. I'd eaten at other Rainforest restaurants before so I thought I knew what to expect, but dinner was far from what I anticipated.
Have you ever been to a Rainforest Cafe? In case you haven't, let me explain — it's very Disney in concept, with large animatronic gorillas, elephants, and other jungle-type animals populating the dimly lit rooms. Every so often, there's a rumble of thunder and flashing lights to symbolize a dramatic tropical rainstorm. It's a lot of fun, with your average fare — burgers, sandwiches, salads, nothing too fancy. I assumed they'd let us order from a limited menu and that dinner would take an hour and a half or so.
Wrong. As soon as we were seated (remember, there were more than 50 of us, counting chaperones), platters of food appeared. Chicken sandwiches, pizza, bowls of salad, fries, and sandwich garnishes just kept coming. The kids (and adults) were hungry so food disappeared quickly. After about 30 minutes, trays of ice cream sundaes topped with big chocolate chip cookies appeared. Many of the kids decided to skip dessert and headed back into the park to finish out the night (park closing at 8 p.m.). Everyone was done and we were OUT OF THERE by 6:45! Forty-five minutes for dinner for 50 people? I guess they've done this once or twice before.
After the park closed (another chaperone and I saw the last showing of Festival of the Lion King), we finally, finally went to the hotel and checked in. Believe it or not, this was the first time I was staying at an All-Star Resort. I was rooming with another chaperone, and we found the room perfectly adequate, especially considering the amount of time we'd be spending there. No hair dryers, no fridge, and a very small wall safe, but there was high-speed Internet access, so I was a happy camper.
The next day, the chorus was scheduled to perform at Cosmic Ray's in Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland at 3:45 p.m. Sherma, our tour guide, met us in the morning and guided our bus driver over to the Ticket and Transportation Center. We led the kids up the ramp to the monorail with instructions to the chorus to meet at the Pirates of the Caribbean at 2 p.m. The parks were crowded, but surprisingly, the chorus members all showed up on time, and were ushered backstage by Sherma to our bus waiting behind the gate. There they were met by a Disney cast member who showed them to a changing area and then led them through the Utilidors to the subterranean depths under Cosmic Ray's. (I didn't get to go on this part of the trip; I'm just reporting what I was told.)
Meanwhile, I eventually made my way over to Cosmic Ray's with the orchestra teacher, so that we could show our support for the chorus. We needn't have worried, though. Even that late in the afternoon, Cosmic Ray's had a sizeable crowd still eating, a built-in audience for the performers who would be taking Sonny Eclipse's stage.
But speaking of that, I wondered, how were the kids going to perform there? Sonny was still on, singing and making corny jokes. How would they get him off the stage in time for our group? I needn't have worried — again, they've done this once or twice before. A few minutes before 3:45, Sonny signed off, and the George C. Marshall High School Chorus was announced — as Sonny rose into the ceiling, a stage bearing our black-suited and -gowned singers ascended from the depths! I had no idea. I must admit it was very cool to see the chorus and their conductor/accompanist take the stage this way.
They performed — and very well, I might add — for about 20 minutes, and aside from the custodial worker who obliviously wheeled a big garbage barrel in front of them twice during their show, they were met with a very enthusiastic response from the audience. I couldn't have been prouder if they had been my own children.
The performance complete, the stage sank back into the underground, and Sonny resumed his spot, seamlessly, as if the chorus had never been there. Disney Magic.
Later that evening, our itinerary stated that we'd have dinner at 6:30 at Planet Hollywood at Downtown Disney, followed by a trip to Epcot to see IllumiNations. Unfortunately, there was an error in the itinerary — dinner was actually slated for 7:30. As a veteran of nearly 50 trips to WDW I knew that we would never make it in time, even if Planet Hollywood "slopped the hogs" as quickly as Rainforest Cafe had done the night previous night.
Which, as it turned out, they didn't. Planet Hollywood shares a similar menu as Rainforest Cafe — pretty classically American, with burgers, sandwiches, a few other hot entrees. After showing us to the uppermost floor of the restaurant, with a panoramic view of the brightly colored, memorabilia-laden place, overlooking the DJ table and big screen, we were allowed to choose from a limited menu of items: cheeseburger, chicken sandwich, spaghetti, chicken Caesar salad. As a result, dinner took a little longer to be served and consumed. By 8:15, as all tables were clearly still munching fries and other goodies, a quick vote was taken, and it was decided that we'd stay in Downtown Disney for some shopping after dinner, followed by an extended time at the resort pool.
Saturday it was the orchestra's turn to perform, but it was also checkout day (yes, we only spent two nights in our hotel room). Orchestra students had to dress in their concert clothes and pack up a casual change separate from their suitcases, since their performance was scheduled for 11:15 at Epcot. After dropping off the chorus at the front of the park, our tour guide directed us to the behind-the-scenes area at Epcot. Before we could even enter, a security guard came on the bus and did a cursory search of our bags and belongings — that was a surprise. After that we drove to somewhere behind the China pavilion to meet up with our Disney representative, Pierre. He gave us some very basic rules: no cell phones, no cameras, and no bare feet! The last was a bit unusual, I thought, but it turned out that this was due to the rough flooring in the changing room areas. Since we were a little early, the orchestra had some time to tune up, warm up, and even rehearse a bit — a good thing since this group was actually an amalgam of the high school's intermediate and advanced orchestras, which don't normally perform together.
A little before 11 a.m., Pierre appeared again and had us board our bus, instruments in hand, and we drove behind the World Showcase, ending up at the Imagination gate, behind Soarin' and the Imagination pavilion. Pierre encouraged the kids to smile, reminding them that once they walked through the gate they were honorary Cast Members for the day. The young men and women, some noticeably nervous, formed a double-file line and walked through the park over to the Future World West stage, tucked behind Innoventions, sort of facing the Land pavilion. They went backstage, while I found a spot in the front of the audience to take photos and video. Luckily, at least the front row of the seating was in the shade… the sun was high enough in the sky at that point to spotlight the remaining seating area, discouraging too many spectators to stop and have a listen.
But no matter. Our group came out shortly before 11:15 and performed their four selections beautifully to an audience of about two dozen seated guests and several more standing in shady spots in the rear.
After the show, we reversed our entrance — the kids came from backstage, walked over to the Imagination gate, boarded the bus and returned to the other side of the theme park to the changing areas.
We returned to the Epcot parking lot, where we were reunited with the chorus, and from there the groups went to the Disney-MGM Studios where they spent the remainder of the day. And when I say remainder, I mean until 8:30 p.m., when we met up and got back on the bus for the return trip — all 16-plus hours of it, due to traffic and weather delays. Yes, before I knew it, I was on my way back home to Northern Virginia. More thunderstorms and lightning, more sleepless hours, but we were finally back at the school, in the middle of a downpour, by 1 p.m. My chaperoning days were concluded in a blur!
I'm not sure, and I know they won't admit it if I asked them, but I think the kids really were excited at performing in Epcot. I know that I was thrilled, and it was, in my opinion, a worthwhile experience. Our tour guide said that she's spoken to other people in the past who have recalled their Magic Music Days trip as a special memory, adding how very cool it is to be able to say to others, family, friends, or even their own children years later, "I performed in Disney World."
Even if such a trip leaves you in a Magic Music Daze, as it did me.
For more information on the Magic Music Days program:
For a photo of the author's son "on stage" at Epcot: http://allears.net/tp/ep/magmusday1.jpg
For other ALL EARS® articles by Debra Martin Koma: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.