I have always been, primarily, a film and television music scholar. I maintain a heavy interest in the Romantic period, and of course take a broad interest in all walks of musical life and study, but it is with film that my passion very firmly lies. While I have expanded my research outside the usual comfort zone of Hollywood blockbusters, studied as an undergraduate, into darker narratives of the Holocaust and trauma, it never occurred to me to look outside the confines of a screen when discussing “film” music. Why would I? Films are generally found on a screen, after all, whether it be a monumental IMAX cinema screen the size of several double-decker buses, or an iPhone screen streaming the latest release to a bored commuter.
This all changed when walking around Flamingoland, a theme park and zoo near my hometown of Malton in North Yorkshire, during the winter of 2017/18. I had long been a fan of theme parks, and have spent five (or six, I can never remember) very happy trips at Disneyland Paris, ranging from 1997 to an upcoming trip in 2019. This was my first visit to a park in around six years, however, and the spark of imagination was relit walking through the turnstiles. It was winter opening hours, so the majority of the rides were closed, but with my son and three young nephews in tow, this wasn’t a problem.
Two of the areas open were the dinosaur-themed Dino Stone Park, and Muddy Duck Farm, which as the name suggests, had a farm theme appropriate to the local rural area in which the park is located. This latter area had a Peter Rabbit themed section, which was quite lovely. However, rather than go into a ride by ride review on this first post, I should explain where the idea came from of studying theme park music in more detail. It came from standing around. Quite literally standing around doing nothing, waiting for a warm cup of tea to be brought across to me, or waiting for my newphews to get off one of the tame flat rides nearby. I suddenly realised that music had been playing the entire time I had been stood there, but only now was I consciously aware of it, and listening to it.
Thus, my never-resting academic brain whirred into action, and I started thinking about it in terms of film music theory. How is the music affecting the audience? Does it manipulate our emotions? What happens when we leave this “scene” (or, in a theme park’s case, area) and the music is no longer audible? What happens if we then reenter that area? Would it have the same impact the second time round? Does the music encourage a sense of familiarity of nostalgia? For example, Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland Paris has such memorable music that the first time you hear it after some time away, it completely envelops you with a wave of nostalgia and homeliness.
So – after the short introductory rambling – this is where this research project is at. This is Day 1: June 22nd, 2018. Where we go from here, we will all soon find out, but I hope to secure some interviews with composers and theme park aficionados for the YouTube channel which accompanies this project (but will also contain other videos unrelated to Theme Park Music). I will also be working on producing a journal article or two from my findings, but this is much further down the line. For now, I will be visiting, listening, analysing, and generally musing about theme park music.
It’ll be good to have you along for the ride!