Sunday, November 19, 2006

Here Lies our Good friend Gordon...

Greetings Ghost Fans!

This week we have an extra special treat for you, an interview with the composer of the Haunted Mansion Holiday 2001 score, Gordon Goodwin!

It was a great privilege to interview such a musical genius, and I hope you enjoy.

GRD: You have done many scores for movies such as "National Treasure," and "Remember the Titans." How did you get the opportunity to do the score for the original Haunted Mansion Holiday? When were you first approached about doing the score for Haunted Mansion Holiday?

GG: I've worked for the Walt Disney Company for many years. Right out of college I got a job playing in a band on the Coke Terrace in Tomorrowland, then in a variety of other groups, like The Kids of the Kingdom, Dixieland bands, rock 'n roll bands, saxophone quintets, and even The Disneyland Band. My first writing gig for the company was a Mouseketeer Reunion Show, (with Cubby, Tommy, Sharon, et al) and it grew from there. I've worked on live shows and parades for pretty much every Disney park, from Florida to Tokyo to China. So, I was kind of in the system, and knew everybody in the entertainment division when the Haunted Mansion Holiday opportunity came up. I was asked to do the gig by Bruce Healey, the director of music for Disneyland, and I was truly excited to be able to work on such a classic attraction.

GRD: When creating the music for Haunted Mansion Holiday, where did you draw your inspiration for the individual tracks? Was there ever consideration to reference Danny Elfman's score for "The Nightmare Before Christmas?"

GG: That was the very first question I asked at the very first meeting I attended on the project. Do we use songs or themes from the movie? The concept at that time was to reference Danny's score in the mood and compositional language, but we would not be using any actual themes from the film. Of course, they would end up reversing their position on that matter a year later!

GRD: Did you write the lyrics to the Graveyard Christmas Party and did you oversee the recording sessions of the individual singers?

GG: All of the lyrics were written by the project director Steve Davidson, who was the guiding light throughout the entire project. Steve had a clear, organized vision of what he wanted, which is a great help for a composer. Part of my job was to write the vocal arrangements and I did help in the recording of the vocals, working with Bruce and Steve. The singers we had were picked from the best session people in Los Angeles, and we greatly relied on their talents to flesh out the individual characters.

GRD: How long did it take to create the full score for Haunted Mansion Holiday?

GG: It's been a few years since we did the project, but I think I composed and did demos for a few weeks, then played them for Steve. He approved much of it right away, but a few pieces took some tweaking. I remember working to make the Graveyard segment a little wackier, and taking another look at the Attic segment before we got something Steve would buy off on. The orchestration phase, where you flesh the music out for the full orchestra, took a couple of weeks. Then a few days to transfer the synth parts from the demos that we wanted to use in the final mix stuff like the pipe organ and the quirky sounds from the Attic segment. Then, it took a day to record the orchestra, which was done on Stage M on the Paramount Studio Lot, a couple days to record the vocals, then a couple days to mix it.

GRD: Did you create the "Scarols" for the exterior queue area?

GG: The "Scarols" were not created until a year later when they did the infamous revision of the soundtrack, so I was not involved in that.

GRD: In the Disneyland Haunted Mansion's history, X. Atencio used many instruments actually found within the scenes to play the attractions score. Were there ever plans to create music for any internal attraction instruments, such as the Seance instruments or the Attic Piano?

GG: Not really, except for in the Grand Ballroom where that guy plays the pipe organ. I used about 4 different pipe organ samples to get the organ sound on that track. The music I did in the Attic was almost techno in nature and I didn't think a rickety old piano would sit very well in that track. In the Senace room we used a string group with a cool violin solo (played by the great Endre Granat, one of LA's legendary studio musicians) and I didn't want to diffuse the sound with a trumpet or whatever else is hanging from the ceiling in that room. Although I think I stuck in some chimes ("ringing the bell") and maybe a tambourine.

GRD: Why did they change the soundtrack after the first year?

GG: I have learned a great deal from working for Disney over the years. One of my lessons has been the influence of business and politics on art. You learn that sometimes decisions are made that are beyond your sphere of influence, and they may not make sense to you, but there is usually a reason for them. In this case, the story I heard was that some principals from the film decided that, after initially declining to be involved in the project, they did indeed want to participate. These people created these characters and felt they were entitled to have the soundtrack reflect their own values. I can't really blame them. So, just like that, my score was out and a new one was in. They did subsequently restore some of my music after some guest comments (thanks to whoever those folks were!). I had a great experience working on the Haunted Mansion Holiday. Like many of your readers, I have been geeked out about this company since I was a kid, and to get a chance to contribute to the legacy of that classic attraction was an unforgettable experience. I know some guys who are pretty cavalier about working in the theme parks. Not me. I am well aware of the impact the Walt Disney Company has had on our culture, and am only to happy make my small contribution.

Again, I would like to thank Mr. Goodwin for his interview and we wish him the best of luck in his future musical endeavors. You can learn more about Mr. Goodwin by visiting his website at


Blogger Chef Mayhem said...

What a great interview. GG's more candid than I'd have expected about the change to his (superior, IMO) soundtrack. Kudos on a great post!

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had no idea that Gordon Goodwin wrote music for HMH. I've always been a fan of his big band. He's a very talented jazz writer.

8:01 PM  

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