Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Disney Classics with an Ivory Touch

Over the past year Tom Ameen has become a name in the Disney communuty due to his talent in taking the classic Disney Park songs and putting his own classical touch on them. We had the opportunity to correspond with him a few weeks ago. 

DisEnvy: How long have you been playing piano, and what keeps you playing?
Tom Ameen: I started piano at the age of 12. I fell in love with it instantly. I had started taking guitar lessons a couple years before. One day my parents took me to see the movie Superman II. I fell in love with the theme, and came home and started sounding it out on the piano! That started my love affair with that instrument.  What keeps me playing is my love of music, and when I sit and play music on the piano, I get lost in it, and I feel like I’m taken to a different world.

Who was you inspiration to get into composing, and how have they inspired you?
Hands down my absolute music idol is John Williams, the film composer. I have loved his music, like millions of other people, for years now. His melodies inspired me to start composing my own music. I feel like when you listen to a score by Williams, he truly takes you on a musical journey unlike any other film composer in our lifetime.

As I look at your discography, you have multiple albums on iTunes, and your site states your first CD was in 1998, but your most popular tracks are Disney. I remember first hearing of you on WDW Today's live show, and since then you've been everywhere. How was it become a pretty much an over night sensation in the Disney Community?
It’s a dream come true for me. Since I started playing music, I’ve always loved Disney and Disney music, and I’m what you would call a fanatic. I would listen to Epcot and Disneyland album soundtracks all the time. I would learn and memorize all the tracks from my favorite rides, etc. So to be recognized by other people like me is a huge honor, and it’s very humbling as well!

What attracted you to the challenge of reimagining the Disney songs?
I’ve always loved going to Walt Disney World when I was growing up, and I loved the music to the park attractions. The songs always stayed with me. I always wanted to ‘re-imagine’ them on piano, and give them a current sound, but yet stillkeep the original feel and vibe of the original songs. I hope I succeeded in that.

You stated that you like to keep the original feel of the song, but have you ever though about changing the key all together for a song (example: a much happier version if Grim Grinning Ghost or a darker version of Fantasmic)?
I've thought about that a lot actually, for example, how would Fantasmic sound if it was really dark and gloomy? I'd love to experiment with those ideas.. maybe on a future release!

How do you decide what music from the parks you will use?
I usually record what I love, and what songs hold the most memories for me. Secondly, I like to challenge myself and think, hmmm how can “THIS” song be re-imagined? And would anyone guess it could be done? I like to tackle those kinds of songs, and see what the results will be.

Walking through the parks you hear a great deal of different attraction themes in the background, would you ever consider tackling the task of reimagining the background music for a land, and how would you change it?
This is a project I'd LOVE to do! I'm a huge fan of the parks, particularly Epcot. I'd love to reimagine the music for Universe of Energy, and also The Land. I feel updating some of the music and sounds there could really benefit those areas. The Land has great stuff now with Soarin, but I'd love to do a theme for the pavilion where everyone eats, and bring back "Listen To The Land" in a new and unique way. 

Can you tell us a little bit about the writing process for you and how you determine the twist you may put on the song?
I usually start by just playing through the main melody and the chords, to get a sense of what I feel can change. Then I kind of just run with it, I keep playing it over and over, and see what sections I can make changes to. Sometimes, I also start by creating an introduction to the song, and the feel of that dictate how the ‘vibe’ of the rest of the arrangement could go.  

How many versions of a song get created before you settle on the album version?
I mostly only do one arrangement, but sometimes I will do two, and see which one I feel is better. I also like to play the songs for a few family members and friends and get their opinion.

Is it difficult working with Disney to get rights for the songs, and how much input do they have on your work?
It’s actually not bad. Because my albums aren’t commissioned by them, they have to approve all the graphics. And of course, you can’t use any of their imaging, IE Disney Fonts, pictures of the parks, characters etc. But other than that they are pretty easy to work with.

Has the Disney community reached out for certain songs, and if so, will we be seeing any on this album?
Yes! I’ve had a few suggestions, and a couple of them made it onto the album. I’m proud that Grim Grinning Ghosts, Now Is The Best Time Of Your Life, and the theme from Zorro are going to be on there, to name a few!

Does Disney ask for a certain song to be reimagined? And has there been a time where they just wouldn't allow you to use a song?
Disney hasn't approached me with songs to be reimagined. These are just my personal favorites that I want to share with the world. Disney hasn't said no yet to anything I've asked. 

Do you have a favorite that you like to perform?
I love to play Golden Dreams and Horizons. I think those are two classics that immediately bring me right back to my teen years at Disney!

Is there a song that you would like to adapt that you haven't had the chance to?
I’d love to adapt SpectroMagic, maybe on the next album!

You've done a lot of park songs, are you considering trying to adapt the iconic movie songs?
Yes, I’d love to do an album of more of the iconic movie songs, especially the material from the early 90’s animation renaissance like The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, etc. But I do have a few themes from Disney movies that made it onto this coming album, including Freaking Friday, The Lion King, and Zorro!

Have you ever though about an instrumental duet album with other Disney tribute artist to bring a second voice to the album?
I would love to do that. I'm always excited about collaborating with other people. I know this wouldn't be instrumental, but I love Lea Salonga.. I'd love to collaborate with her one day on some Disney Music. I loved her vocals on Mulan as well as Aladdin.

Are there any plans being made to perform in any of the Disney Parks?
Not at the moment, but that’s something I’d LOVE to do. I’d also love to perform at one of the D23 events!

If contacted by any blogs that have regular meets (we currently do not), would you be up for meeting the fans and talking them through your arrangements?
Yes, I'd love that. I love talking with people, and interacting with fans, especially on Twitter. Without fans, none of this is possible. I owe them everything. I'm just so thankful there are people that love this music as much as I do! 

For the youth that might be reading this, what are your words if wisdom?
I love Walt’s quote where he says “All Our Dreams Can Come True If We Have The Courage To Pursue Them.” I’d say, follow your dream, whatever that may be, and believe enough in yourself to take those first steps. Never give up on your passion or what you want to do in life. It’s yours for the taking!

Thank You Tom for giving us the time to pick your brain and talk music with you!

Tom's newest album "Magical Moments" is Available on iTunesGoogle Play, and Amazon

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