Christmas with a sprinkle
of Disney magic
24 November 2011
What a great weekend we all had, celebrating Christmas with the sprinkling of Disney Magic, at the first ever Disneyland Paris Christmas Choral Celebration, where we had the honour of being the first ever choir to be invited to launch what they hope will become an annual event. The weather all weekend was glorious, warm and sunny, though even liquid sunshine (or ‘rain’ as non-Disney curmudgeons call it) wouldn't have quelled our happy spirits.
An early start on Saturday morning got us into the rehearsal venue in Walt Disney Studios Cinemagique at 8.00am where we were greeted by a very special surprise guest; none other than Mickey Mouse himself. Now I don't care how old you are, the sight of Mickey Mouse always makes you smile, especially when you are on his home territory. We had been joined for the weekend by a group of choirs called Funky Voices from Essex, who seemed just as excited as we were. I led us through some very gentle (well to start with, anyway) warmups before Robert, the head musician/composer/arranger at Disneyland took us through the two Disney numbers for the Festival Performance – ‘As Long as There's Christmas’ and the ‘Festival Christmas Medley’. He seemed very impressed with ‘Jingle Bells’ in French. We then rehearsed the other four numbers, with The Funkies' director, Sandra, and me sharing the honours, before the return of our host – yes Mickey came back to listen to the work we had done. What a trouper.
Then came the first real challenge of the day. We had to get 300 people from Cinemagique to the Castle Stage for our first performance. Now you might think this sounds like a simple operation but it meant travelling through the park itself at 11.00am in the morning and it was packed. I mean HEAVING. The whole Saturday was a special Christmas day for the park and the crowds had poured in. The wheelchairs arrived for those singers who needed them, and we set off through the throngs. We came to a standstill at the main gates of the Studios; the turnstiles were too busy to use so we had to get permission from Disney in America (yes America) to open the main gates. These had never before been opened to the public. We passed through like the opening into Jurassic Park. I'm sure fanfares were playing as the crowds parted to let us through the other side. Anyway, we made it to the Castle Stage in time for our performances at 12.00.
These were the first of our individual performances on the main Castle Stage and we split into two groups, Leeds and Newcastle. Newcastle was on stage first, with Leeds ready to slide on as Newcastle left. The singing was fabulous, and everyone got to hear the other choir sing too, which is a bonus. There was a good crowd watching, the sun was shining and I'm not ashamed to admit I had a few moments. The Castle Stage is a wonderful venue, with the Castle in the background, looking spectacular in the glorious sunshine. ‘Come celebrate Christmas’ we sang in true Disney style and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and ‘Let There Be Peace On Earth’ were magnificent too.
After these two performances we were free to enjoy the parks until the main Festival Performance that afternoon at 4.00 where both choirs and Funky Voices assembled on the Castle Stage, where new choral risers had appeared out of nowhere, once the Disney Dance Express (which I can only desciribe as terminally perky) had passed by. There really was a good crowd of people waiting to watch by this stage, and Sandra led us off with ‘One Voice’ and ‘Keeping the Dream Alive’, then I led us through ‘Don't Stop Believing’ and ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’, before Robert took to the podium for the main Disney numbers. I was watching the crowd when I wasn't conducting and I could see the looks of delight on their faces, especially the children, beaming even wider when the singers burst into french. Vive le vent, vive le vent, vive le vent d’hiver…
This performance was the central reason for our visit and it was a huge success. The Disney organisers were very impressed with our perfect balance of professionalism and exuberance. There was a proper festival atmosphere and it had all the hallmarks of a full-blown Disney event, which it was.
And then? Well, the evening was spent with Buffalo Bill and the Little Lady (Little? Hmmmmm) Annie Oakley at the Wild West Show. This was great fun, with some stunning stunt horse riding as well as some clowning around with rodeo games. The Bison stampede was surreal. And we all got a cowboy hat to keep. Yeeeeeeeee ha.
Although we were allowed into the park before the general public because we were staying in a disney hotel, I'm sure a lot of the singers had a lie in on the Sunday morning, with maybe a gentle Small World (specially decorated for Christmas, as if it wasn't sweet enough already; I went round twice) before we met at lunchtime for our second performance on the Castle stage, with the same set list as Saturday but with Leeds on first this time. Again a fabulous performance - I could see singers still shaking coming off the stage after Drummer Boy, which seemed to come from somewhere very deep inside.
Then it was all over. Some singers travelled back on the Sunday afternoon, while some stayed until Monday, enjoying the smaller crowds and shorter queues than at the weekend. I managed front and back on quite a few; in fact over the weekend I managed to get on to everything, including a mass fastpass on Thunder Mountain with about 30 other singers. Rides and coasters are a passion of mine, and to combine them with fabulous concerts as well is close to perfect.
The whole weekend was joyous and happy, as it can only be at Disney. Many thanks have been said to everyone who made it happen - and I am very proud of all who went. You were great ambassadors for Inspiration and for singing, and no doubt we will be going back some time in the future.