Celebrate Disney’s Silly Symphonies in Concert

Celebrate Disney’s Silly Symphonies in Concert. Leonard Maltin, curator of the DVD release of the Silly Symphony series, said “Walt Disney was a visionary.  He used his Silly Symphonies to expand the medium of animation to the limits of his imagination.  They are among Walt’s greatest achievements and deserve to be seen and enjoyed by a new generation.” 

Disney in Concert, a Silly Symphony Celebration, a program in its area premiere, is a tuneful and colorful celebration from the 75 groundbreaking cartoons produced at the Walt Disney Studios that between 1929 and 1939 that eventually lead to the making of Fantasia (1940), including four Academy Award winning animated short subjects.

Six of these innovative, entertaining, and classic films will be screened with the CSUN Symphony orchestra playing live, conducted by John Roscigno at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya) on Sunday, March 10 at 3 pm.

The program includes Three Little Pigs, (with possibly the most popular song ever from a short “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”), Flowers and Trees (1932), which introduced three-strip Technicolor to a wide audience and won the first Academy Award for animated short, and The Old Mill (1937) which introduced the multiplane Camera, adding great visual depth to Disney features from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to The Little Mermaid (1989).

With the Silly Symphonies, Walt Disney laid all of the groundwork that culminated in his first full-length film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, using color, character, songs, and storytelling that became the basis of animated film up to today.  Even the sources of music – from classical to pop to folk songs – is reflected in current musical mash-ups. And it has been said that Fantasia is the ultimate Silly Symphony.

 

Though most Disney Fans may recognize the famed songs and images from these classic animations , not everyone is as familiar with their history.

Walt Disney asked Carl Stalling, a theatre organist that Disney knew in Kansas days, to come to Los Angeles when he decided that Steamboat Willie, the animated short that introduced Mickey Mouse, needed a soundtrack and a musical score.  It eventually included a fifteen-piece band.

After its premiere November 18, 1928, Stalling, who had used everything and anything as an organist – classical, popular, folk music — suggested to Disney that he create a second series based around music, to complement the Mickey Mouse series.  Each film would tell a different story – some with little dialogue — and each with different characters.    

The idea was innovative on many levels, including the use of all kinds of music from disperate sources as the basis not just for a film score, but for the idea of the film itself. (Stalling left the Disney studios the next year for Warner Bros.).

This program includes both the first and final Silly SymphoniesThe Skeleton Dance (1929) and the Academy Award winning The Ugly Duckling (1939); three other Oscar winners are included – Flowers and Trees (1932),The Old Mill (1937), and the most popular of the series Three Little Pigs (1933).

Film historian Richard Hildreth said, “The most important innovation in The Skeleton Dance is that the musical score and the animated action were planned, designed, and executed in unison.”  He continued about Flowers and Trees, “Technicolor’s new three-strip process provided much more accurate color representation but also demanded more exacting mechanics and processing … only the Disney studio was willing to experiment with the new process.”

“Disney, who was the first cartoon producer to compel his staff to take art lessons, added color theory to the curriculum. The Disney-developed color palette became the model that Technicolor used in designing films for the next four decades. Flowers and Trees was met with amazement at its July, 15, 1932, opening at Grauman’s Theater in Los Angeles.”

The next year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave a special Oscar to Technicolor for its “color cartoon process,” another to Disney himself for the creation of Mickey Mouse, and the first Oscar for a cartoon short to the studio for Flowers and Trees. A Disney film won that category for the next seven years. Three-strip Technicolor became one of the great industry standards, including in The Wizard of Oz (1939) andGone With the Wind (1939).

Three Little Pigs was so popular that it was often billed above the feature it accompanied on theatre marquees.  Disney himself said about the animated pigs, “At last we have achieved true personality in a whole picture.”  And its anthem theme song, a salve for depression weary audiences, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” by song writer Frank Churchill, is possibly the most popular song from any short subject in film history.

The Old Mill (1937) was the first use of the now-famed multiplane camera, an eight-foot high contraption of up to seven planes of animation that a camera could zoom in and out from, gave Disney animated films a remarkable sensation of depth.  This was used to great effect in the first feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1939) up through The Little Mermaid (1989).  The multiplane itself also received a special Scientific and Technical Oscar (1938).

In ohmydisney.com, film historian J.B. Kaufman, co-author of the current Taschen book Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse and books about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the Silly Symphonies themselves noted that the shorts’ mixture of music styles and orchestration was also profoundly cutting-edge. “People may not realize what an innovation it was to mix these compositions from different sources with abandon.”  And the series drew positive attention from the Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein and surrealist modern artist Salvador Dali – who collaborated with Disney on the short subject Destino, which was started in 1945 and completed in 2003.

“They started as an experiment,” Disney himself said. “We used them to test and perfect the color and animation techniques we employed later in full-length feature pictures like Cinderella, Snow White, and Fantasia.”  J. B. Kaufman said, “The combination of animation and music culminates in Fantasia (November 1940). You could say that’s the ultimate Silly Symphony.”

“During the decade of Silly Symphonies, Disney and his various collaborators had transformed animated films from novelties to true cinema,” Hildreth wrote. Indeed they did.

Single tickets start at $30. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit The Soraya or call 818-677-3000. Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts is located at 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330.  Ticket prices subject to change.

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The CSUN Symphony is regarded as one of the finest University Orchestras in the Western United States. Under the direction of Dr. John Roscigno, the CSUN Symphony offers a full range of orchestral experiences for the career oriented student, including four major concerts a year as well as choral, opera and musical theater performances.

Dr. John Roscigno is Professor of Music and Director of Orchestral Studies at California State University, Northridge.   He is also Music Director of the Thousand Oaks Philharmonic and the CSUN Youth Orchestras. His versatility as a musician has allowed him opportunities to conduct and perform throughout the world.

The event will be held at The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, also known as The Soraya. The 2018-19 Season marks the eighth year the award-winning Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts which has quickly become one of the cultural jewels of the greater Los Angeles region. Under the leadership of Executive Director Thor Steingraber, The Soraya continues to expand its programming and outstanding multidisciplinary performances.  The mission of The Soraya is to present a wide variety of performances that not only includes new and original work from the Los Angeles region but also work from around the world that appeal to all of LA’s rich and diverse communities.

Located on the campus of California State University, Northridge, The Soraya’s season offers a vibrant performance program of nearly 50 classical and popular music, dance, theater, family, and international events that will serve to establish The Soraya as the intellectual and cultural heart of the San Fernando Valley, and further establish itself as one of the top arts companies in Southern California. The award-winning, 1,700-seat theatre was designed by HGA Architects and Engineers and was recently cited by the Los Angeles Times as “a growing hub for live music, dance, drama and other cultural events.”

The event will be hosted on Sunday, March 10, 2019 starting at 3 pm at The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, aka The Soraya. The address for the event is:

  • 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330

Tickets Prices begin at $30 and prices are subject to change. You can order your tickets for Disney in Concert: A Silly Symphony Celebration at TheSoraya.org or by calling (818) 677-3000

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

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