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By Chad Emerson
Theme parks can provide creative projects to connect young people with music and the arts, boost arts education and foster all kinds of rewarding community and business partnerships. Tim Hill, director of special programs for Disney Destinations, LLC, talks with Blooloop’s Chad Emerson about the ways and means, and the rewards.
Chad Emerson: How did you get started in youth programs in the amusement industry?
Tim Hill: Prior to Disney, I was working at a [Busch-operated] regional theme park in Florida. If you’re into the theme park industry, you would have remembered Boardwalk and Baseball... it was the old Circus World site. I started running all the youth programs for that park.
When that park’s closing was announced, I got a call from Disney and ultimately I was offered an opportunity too good to pass up. So I moved over from the Busch organization over to Disney. I was hired as a senior marketing rep handling all the marketing for Magic Music Days at the time.
Emerson: School groups can represent a fertile source of revenue for amusement facilities. What is an example of one of Disney’s more innovative youth programs?
Hill: One of our workshops that I am always blown away by is called “Your Instrumental.” It takes a high school band or orchestra into an environment where they are working with a Disney conductor at Walt Disney World who is walking them through some Disney music. This culminates with the kids playing a classic Disney music piece such as the opening of Tarzan. They are then recorded and invited into an empty auditorium where a screen comes down and - literally - the opening of Tarzan the movie comes on. But instead of the actual orchestra playing it, it’s that group. They are really enthused to hear themselves playing in this context.
Emerson: Within the performing arts category, what is a program that has resonated well with education groups?
Hill: Festival Disney stands out. This is a program we launched about four years ago and is now said to be the largest single site music festival in the country. It’s a large program taking place over an eight week period. A lot of performing high school bands, choirs, jazz ensembles and others come through that program. We bring in collegiate evaluators such as professors of music from the top music schools in the country, who rotate in and out every week.
These groups get an evaluation and a ranking against their peers from other parts of the country. You can have a group from Texas competing with a group from Connecticut and so forth. The program starts on a Thursday night, goes all day Friday and Saturday, and culminates in a big, uniquely Disney awards ceremony on Saturday evening, in which Mickey even appears and helps hand out the awards.
Festival Disney is self-contained because of the vast array of venues we have at Walt Disney World. In fact, recently we opened and dedicated a purpose-built theater for Festival Disney, called the Premiere Theater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Emerson: In addition to your successful music workshops, what other youth programs are popular these days?
Hill: I’d have to mention Grad Nite, the longest running youth program at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. We recently celebrated our 35th Anniversary after the first Grad Nite occurred in the Spring of 1972 at Walt Disney World. It’s been a tradition ever since.
Grad Nite currently runs over two weekends and four nights with high school seniors celebrating the wrap-up of their year. It’s an alcohol-free party and a good time is had by all.
Emerson: It’s also the 25th Anniversary of Magic Music Days. That sounds like a pretty exciting anniversary.
Hill: It really is. Since the 25th is a pretty big milestone, we decided to give back to music education this year. So we partnered with Conn-Selmer, the largest manufacturer of musical instruments in the country, and they donated five upright basses.
We then went to our friends at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank and asked, “Could we find interest in artists donating their time to come up with a design and then paint these string basses?” The answer was a resounding “yes” and we had five teams work on them. They came up with these five basses which are phenomenonal: a genie-themed bass, one themed to Princess and the Frog, one Rapunzel, one Dumbo, and one Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. They are incredibly over the top cool.
We also partnered with the Grammy Foundation who will take possession of these basses and for a period of time they’ll be on display at various places around the country. Ultimately, in June, they will be auctioned off at Planet Hollywood. We are excited about this because when they are auctioned all the proceeds with go back to the Grammy in Schools program. This is designed to raise awareness of how important music education is in school and to hopefully raise a substantial amount of money to give back to schools.