Saturday, May 17, 2014

Make 'em Smile!

I've mentioned before that I teach music to people with disabilities at church; long time readers may even remember that three years ago I got the amazing opportunity to go with our group to France, where my students sang and played instruments in various churches, group homes, and a disability festival.
We are now going on another trip, this time to Orlando, Florida for the Nathaniel's Hope Make 'em Smile Festival on June 7, as well as some other local performances. And of course, being in Orlando, we'll be spending a day in Disney World.

I thought I'd mention it a few weeks early, just in case any of you have friends or family members with disabilities and might be interested. Nathaniel's Hope is a nationally known organization and hundreds of people attend the festival every year. I haven't been yet but I'm really excited!

Also, with a day in Disney on the horizon, I've been thinking a lot about the whole psychological phenomenon of Disney, the movies and merchandising, and especially the effect the theme parks have on people's attitudes to those versions of fairy tales. Around the fairy tale blogosphere there seems to be more negative attitudes towards Disney than positive, but I agree very much with Kate W. of Enchanted Conversations when she said she has "REALLY complicated feelings about Disney." For all the issues I might have with certain aspects of the choices made in their fairy tale movies, many of the topics we talk about concerning Disney are really quite complex. It would require multiple posts to talk about their portrayals of gender roles over the years, the evolution of fairy tales, even the character of Walt Disney himself. But even being aware of many of the negative aspects of Disney, that doesn't change the fond memories I have of watching Disney movies with my family as a kid or going to the parks.

I fully admit I am SUPER into Disney theme parks. There's something about stepping into the world of the stories you grew up with that seems utterly magical when you're a kid, and to those of us who experienced Disneyland in childhood, we tend to have a soft spot for it far into adulthood. There's a whole culture of adults, with or without kids, to whom visiting/researching/collecting memorabilia of Disneyland is a hobby. Part of Disney's formula for success is this unique experience that involves literally all five of your senses. It's really quite uncanny how a visit to the parks seems to inspire a love of  and loyalty to Disney to even casual fans. (Seriously, I don't think ANYONE can see Fantasmic! without getting a little bit emotional...)
Me, as a kid, in a Beauty and the Beast t-shirt, pictured with my heroes

And as I've mentioned recently, Disney is huge among my students, so it's also a way of connecting with them, and it's been fun to see their enthusiasm. I've been nerdily picking out Disney music for us to perform and having way too much fun Disneybounding on days we have rehearsals.

To bring it all full circle, here's a quote from the post I wrote when I was about to leave on our France trip:
"I love the people I work with. Isn't it interesting that often the heroes of fairy tales are the lowest in society? The youngest child, the servant girl, the one who is thought to be the Fool? And yet they are the ones who overcome all judgement and prove themselves to be the most worthy at the end of the tales. And while my students don't have the highest IQs, they surpass most people I know in the qualities that really count, like love and compassion, and they certainly excel in humor! I hope that through our trip we are able to help overcome prejudice and fear of people with disabilities. For, as we learn in many fairy tales (especially Beauty and the Beast), appearances can be deceiving..."