Interview: The Magic of Christmas Music at Disneyland Paris With Musical Producer Jonathan Barr

It is the merriest time of year at Disneyland Paris. There are plenty of musical and magical moments for guests to experience. This includes Mickey and His Dazzling Christmas Parade, which Musical Producer Jonathan Barr took some time to talk about in an interview released by Disneyland Paris. Barr also shared about some of the music from Disneyland Paris’ 30th Anniversary that is also heard during Disney Enchanted Christmas. Check out the interview with Jonathan Barr here:

Jonathan, can you tell us about your work for Disneyland Paris?

My collaboration with Disneyland Paris actually dates back to the launch of the Disney Cinema Parade at the Walt Disney Studios Park (2002-2008). At the time, I was both composer and arranger. Throughout my entire Disney career, I’ve written over 80 songs for the Disney Parks across the world. Which helped me gain an in-depth knowledge of the workings behind the creation of the music of the Disney Park shows, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to leap the fence and become an independent Musical Producer. For each project, there can be several composers and several arrangers involved, all working to serve the vision of the Director. Our work as a team is to provide the perfect music for their show, and as Producer, my role is to manage the whole music creation and production process.

MUSIC BRIMMING WITH JOY

What is the musical concept behind Mickey and his Dazzling Christmas Parade?

All the parade music revolves around “Shine a light”, the wonderful song written by Senior Music Producer and Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering, Yaron Spiwak. The song was difficult to find. We had various proposals, but we weren’t satisfied with them. They were all really lovely, all in the spirit of Christmas. Some even had a nostalgic element that evoked past Christmas parades that we adored. But for this 30th anniversary, Disneyland Paris wanted to look forward, and to offer something that celebrated not only the love of the season, but also excitement for the future. Yaron, being from Walt Disney Imagineering Music, was my supervisor and assisted me in this search. He started to get an idea of what the song needed to be, and proposed a song that he felt would work. So as to be impartial, I presented all the songs to the parade creators anonymously, and they voted unanimously for Yaron’s, “Shine a light”!

Once we had the song, it had to be applied to each float, while developing its own style. It’s a technique Disney has developed since Main Street Electrical Parade. It involves a main theme that is played throughout, and then a variation on that theme for each float. As the float moves down the street, it’s variation combines with the main theme and creates a new sound. For the guest, it all seems very seamless, but it’s a complicated and elaborate process, that….when it works….is truly magical. I remember feeling that magic in my childhood, and today, I continue to strive to recreate this emotion for our guests.

What are the different musical moods for this parade?

The first float, “Mickey’s Holiday Express” (En route pour les Fêtes avec Mickey) focuses on “Shine a light” in its original version. This was recorded with a pop-rock group of 8 musicians for the rhythm, to which we then added the strings and brass. The second float, “Minnie’s Christmas Delights” (Les délices de Minnie) has a bit more of a dance feel, with electronic drums. The third, “Donald’s Winter Wonderland” (Donald et la Magie de l’Hiver) has a cuckoo clock vibe, with clock and accordion sounds. For this, we’ve taken out the whole rhythm section to focus on a purely orchestral approach, completely different. Next comes the “A Fairytale Waltz” (La Valse des contes de fées) float, very symphonic, elegant and romantic, just like the Disney Princesses, before finishing on a high note with

“Santa’s Magic” (La Magie du Père Noël), which gives pride of place to the song “Santa Claus is coming to town”.

The result is a wonderfully successful mix of pop and orchestral music.

The original demo of the song was a little more rock. But as the parade originally only took place at night, we opted for an arrangement that emphasizes the magical side of Christmas. Then, it was decided that the parade could take place during the day and at night, and this was why we’ve created this hybrid version that can work for both occasions.

As a counterpoint to the song, we have lots of song excerpts, both traditional and Disney.

It’s a really complicated exercise, almost mathematical, to choose and then incorporate all these songs into the loop of 2 and a half minutes allocated to each float. To do this, we start with Yaron’s song and then we try to envision the variations. Depending on the theme of the float, we draw up a list of possible songs, like “Vive le vent” for Donald, or the romantic tunes for the Princesses. Then we test what might work, and at what moment to incorporate them, a little like for a duet or a mash-up. I was fortunate enough to work with arrangers from The Imagination House in Orlando, who did a phenomenal job creating these floats. They also produced the Halloween and Christmas Parade for Walt Disney World, in Orlando.

Timeless songs sit alongside more unusual ones like “Tant qu’il y aura Noël”, from Beauty and the Beast 2: The Enchanted Christmas.

Emanuel Lenormand, the parade Director, wanted to have this song for Beauty as part of the “A Fairytale Waltz” float. He adores this song, which is really superb, and it was absolutely the perfect place to use it.

He also wanted this parade to have a very European feel.

Absolutely, and this applies to the music too. As an American, I have a different culture when it comes to Christmas traditions, and I really feel this in Prague, where I currently live. There’s the tradition of the Christmas tree erected each year at the heart of the old town, with the lights and music. When I discovered it, I heard songs that I’d never heard before and I really felt the distinctiveness of Christmas music in Europe. Emanuel was very specific about the traditional songs he wanted to feature in the parade. We discussed this aspect extensively and I focused on ensuring that a European audience would recognize itself in the music of Mickey and his Dazzling Christmas Parade.

From the arrangement to the recording, how did it all happen?

The Imagination House, with Tyler Koontz and Mike Avila were responsible for the floats, and then we had Oren Sela and Amos Ben David create the production show stops. We gave them the creative treatment for the parade, then they sent us their demos. We made a few adaptations and then we turned to an orchestrator based in London to finalize the score and prepare for recording at the legendary Abbey Road studios. This final stage was particularly complicated because of the recent pandemic. We had to organize sessions section by section (so strings alone, then brass, etc.), making sure the musicians were as socially distanced as possible. But this process actually gave us greater freedom when it came to the mixing. By working like this, we were able to regulate the level of each group very precisely, which is more difficult when you record the whole orchestra at the same time.

The parade’s staging has changed compared with last year to provide an even more magical experience. And what about the music?

Last year, because of Covid and other constraints linked to the reopening, we weren’t able to make the music precisely how we envisioned it. And so we’ve taken advantage of the return of the parade this year to remix it completely. Dan Scott, an independent, global sound designer for the Disney Company, played an integral role in helping us find that sound. We’ve worked really hard to make it sound better than ever. If you were here in 2021, you will definitely notice the difference.

CHRISTMAS WITH A CHORUS

And to end a wonderful day of celebrations at Disneyland Paris, what could be better than the Follow the Light show, with its particularly lyrical arrangement of “Un monde qui s’illumine” bringing together a chorus and soloist.

This music was originally created for the 30th anniversary launch day. But we weren’t able to use it the way we wanted. It was finally possible a few days later, on 28 April, when Mickey lit up the Eiffel Tower. Thierry Magne, the creator of the event, wanted to use “Un monde qui s’illumine” and I told him about this version, which he thought was perfect. We ended up doing something very special and very beautiful, and from there came the idea to reuse this music each evening just after Disney Dreams! Celebrate Christmas. It’s a bit of a bonus for our guests, a way of combining the magic of our 30th anniversary with the magic of Christmas!

LAUGHTER, LOVE AND DREAMS…

For this 30th anniversary, one of the big new features is the Dream… and Shine Brighter show, still in its parade style. Musically, it creates a very different energy.

An incredible energy, no? Honestly, in 25 years, I’ve never seen an audience react with such enthusiasm. It’s something about how they created an immersive experience for the guests using the music. Initially, for the part where the floats are paraded in, we were undecided between “Un monde qui s’illumine” and “Ready for the ride”. While “Un monde qui s’illumine” was the perfect anthem for the 30th anniversary, “Ready for the ride” brought something so exciting and perfect for our show. It even influenced the way we recorded this soundtrack, using production methods taken straight from pop.

For the mash-up that unfolds in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, we have used a pretty incredible number of excerpts from Disney songs.

This part breaks down into three sections, “Laugh”, “Love” and “Dream”, and Director Matthieu Robin and NataliaBeliaeva wanted to incorporate the maximum number of songs into each section. It was a real challenge. We had a lot of discussions to decide on the songs from the Disney and Pixar Classics that chimed with this story, and we didn’t stop adding them, right up to the day of the recording. We also worked really hard to ensure that this part delivered the same energy as “Ready for the ride”. And when you see our guests spontaneously breaking into dance, that’s our biggest reward!

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