Disneyland Musicians: Enter a Place Where Music-And Youth-Are Contagious

International Musician, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Disneyland Musicians: Enter a Place Where Music-And Youth-Are Contagious


Some people have stressful jobs. They worry about things like "I hope that million-dollar deal doesn't fall through" or "I hope there's no complication during surgery" or "I hope no one hijacks this thing." Imagine going to work, and having your only concern be, "I hope the children dance." If you're a Disneyland musician, you receive health benefits, a steady paycheck, and fresh air-all you have to do in return is make sure the children dance.

"We don't have to try too hard," says Rusty Stiers of Local 7 (Orange County, CA), the bandleader and trumpet player in the Jambalaya Jazz Band, one of eight bands that plays regularly at the Disneyland theme park in California. Stiers especially loves performing for toddlers experiencing live music-and dancing-for the first time. "At first they don't know how to respond. After a minute they begin to move." For Stiers, seeing a baby move to music for the first time is magical. "I'm lucky," he says. "I get to see this every day."

Stiers, has never lost touch with his inner child. Part of this has to do with performing for children. "There's something about that young energy. It's revitalizing," he says. Another part of it is that Stiers actually followed his childhood career goal; he never went through that jading ordeal of giving up on one dream job, and settling for another. At an early age, Stiers knew he wanted to play in a Disney dixieland band. He grew up listening to his father's recordings of the Firehouse Five Plus Two, a 1950s dixieland band consisting of Walt Disney animators who played music on the side. In his early teens, Stiers played trumpet in the band founded by his father, who was also secretary-treasurer of Local 689 (Eugene, OR). By 16, Stiers formed his own touring Dixieland band. From the principal's office at school, he used to call Sonny Anderson, the Disneyland director of entertainment at the time, and beg him to come hear his band. Soon after Stiers graduated, Anderson hired Stiers' band to play at the theme park-where, for Stiers at least, dreams really do come true.

Local 7 member Bob Burstein is another Disneyland musician who, thanks to his career choice, has entered a sort of Neverland. While some blame their gray hairs on their grueling work schedule, Burstein attributes his good health and energy partly to the exercise and fresh air he gets as a tuba player in the marching band. A gig that began in March 1972, Burstein has played at Disneyland longer than any other musician-and shows "no sign of slowing down," he says.

Beyond a love of music and entertainment, Burstein has a grandfatherly penchant for education. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Disneyland Band performing at a concert hall outside the theme park for elementary school students. Burstein says, "This is one of the most important things we do." The concert is part entertainment-replete with Mickey, Goofy, and the rest of the gang dancing on stage-and part education. The students receive study materials before the concert to familiarize themselves with the different instruments, which are then featured individually and explained to the audience during the show. …

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Disneyland Musicians: Enter a Place Where Music-And Youth-Are Contagious
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