BWW Interview: Disney On Classic Retrospective - Through The Years With Brad Kelley
After 16 seasons with Disney On Classic (DOC), Brad Kelley is turning over his baton to its next music director while he begins a new music venture. I was fortunate to work with Brad last year in DOC, and learned so much from this maestro!
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. My dad was a factory worker and my mother was a housewife. I lived on a dirt road until I was a teenager, went to a public school, then college, and moved to California where I received a masters degree in music composition from UCLA.
How did the opportunity to work for DOC come about?
I had worked to develop and build Tokyo Disney Sea from 1998-2001, and had done a fair amount of work in Japan during that time. I was home in Los Angeles and knew nothing of the development of the tour, but was invited by the producers in early 2002. They had become aware of my previous work in Japan. My first DOC tour was in October of 2002.
So before DOC you were involved with Disney and also worked in Japan. You've probably conducted every Disney song! Any standout moments?
Yes, I have conducted virtually all the standard Disney repertoire and many of the lesser-known pieces as well. For one of the fan favorites, though, I remember the audience in Taiwan doing the "tick-tock-tick-tock" sounds with us on "Do You Want To Build A Snowman?" Also, the Tokyo Forum concerts, which seat over 5,000, are always fun.
Are you involved in the material selection year after year?
The producers make a joint decision on show repertoire along with representatives of the Disney Company. I do the arranging, editing or orchestrating and oversee those elements.
What kind of challenges do you face as an English-speaking conductor at the helm of the Orchestra Japan? What percentage of the musicians are bi-lingual?
The language is definitely something that has to be dealt with. Many of the orchestra members speak some English. Much musical language is Italian, French, and German and the musicians know those terms. But generally, the less I talk and the more I show the musicians what I want, the better the outcome. I can always tell who are the fluent English speakers because they are the ones that laugh at my jokes.
You started out as a trombone player in jazz bands. Did you ever play on stage with the Orchestra Japan?
Yes! Several years ago we did some Dixieland jazz and I had some fun playing, including an exciting trombone-kazoo duet with show director Tony Clements.
You split your time between Los Angeles and Michigan when you're not touring in Asia. How much of the year do you devote to DOC? Do you have time for other projects?
I have spent about 150 days a year in Japan and another 60+ days writing and doing other prep for the tour. In addition, I was the music director for Harry Potter World Opening Festivities in Orlando, wrote the score for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction in Shanghai, and worked a couple of special projects for Universal Studios in Orlando. I also sub in several jazz rehearsal bands in Los Angeles and write for them as well.
How do DOC audiences react to the concert?
We are well on our way to our 700th Disney On Classic concert so I think it is safe to say that the program has been well-received! DOC is a high-end concert in classical venues that attracts a certain kind of patron. Our Japanese audiences are warm and enthusiastic. The concerts I have done in the U.S. have been for a general audience and, thus, more casual. The Taiwan and Korea concerts are almost like a rock concert in their excitement. But again, they tend to be in different venues, which draw a different kind of audience.
DOC has quite the following. What is your relationship to the fans?
DOC has developed a very loyal fan base. After these 16 years we have performed for almost 2 million people! We have fans who have come to our show all 16 years and some who come 6-10 times in one year. I adore our audience and they have returned that esteem many times over!
Favorite sights/experiences in Japan?
Japan is endlessly fascinating. Tokyo is one of the greatest, most interesting cities in the world. I love to take all-day walks through the city and its neighborhoods and just see what I encounter. The sight of Fuji-san is always inspiring. The hillsides in autumn with their dark green pines, brilliant golden ginkgo, and flame red maples are a visual feast. No one does public parks as well as the Japanese do. There is good, reasonably-priced food everywhere.
Favorite Disney movie? Score? Character?
Mary Poppins, Tangled, Tigger
What are you looking forward to in your next chapter post-DOC?
I am leading a new project called "Disney World Beat," which is built around the idea of jazz in the world of Disney. Think about it: Most of the Disney soundtracks from the 40's, 50's, and early 60's were jazz scores. Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, and many other jazz greats played, and continue to play, Disney music. Jazz and Disney were born around the same time in the U.S. and I am excited to bring some of that great music to our audience. This project will feature a killer big band and four great singers with yours truly conducting.
How exciting! Where can readers find out more about you?
You can check my Facebook page or visit my website.