Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 1938 - Songs From Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Written by Frank Churchill and Leigh Harline

Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of those cultural juggernauts that seems to completely transcend generation. Snow White is of course a timeless fairy tale, but everyone I know with is more immediately familiar with the Disney version.
Everyone rolls their eyes at Disney now, because it's such a gargantuan corporation that's almost completely covered popular media in only the most hostile of takeovers. That, layered on top of modern day accusations of shady business practices gives people a bad taste in their mouths when they think about Disney. Despite all of this, all you have to say is "Heigh-Ho!" to trigger that special, sympathetic, nostalgic nerve in someone, and suddenly, all is forgiven!

Snow White was a huge to-do back in the day. No one believed in the film while it was being made, it was costing so much to produce that even Disney's wife thought it was going to end up ruining them. We with the benefit of hindsight know what a cultural force it became, and this is due in no small part to the iconic musical score. The fact that Snow White's soundtrack was the first ever commercial issued soundtrack is a testament to that. Think about this for a second. Until this moment in time, film soundtracks were unavailable to the general public, or at least unavailable in any form other than simply watching the movie, but not in a media that one could purchase and take home.

This is a real shame to me, because there are many, many films from the 20's and 30's with amazing original scores, but they mostly just exist as sheet music now, and the closest we can get to having soundtracks are often weak facsimiles. For example, 1922's Nosferatu is one of my favourite lost scores of all time. I got the opportunity to hear a live rendition of it from the organist who plays at a local old timey theater in my area. Sadly, this version has NEVER been committed to CD, and likely never will be :( Even the DVD release has some second rate orchestra fiddling together some random chords and strings that seem like they'd sound more at home in a Looney Toons short which parody's Dracula.

Needless to say, soundtracks used to be a hard thing to get ahold of, but this all changed with Snow White. The music was so fun, and catchy, and memorable, so moved the audiences that heard it, that they demanded to be able to take it home. Thus began the age of the film soundtrack!

My first exposure to this film and its music started when I was merely a boy of 3.

In the late 80's, Disney was doing a theatrical re-release of the film, and my folks decided to take me, thus changing my life forever. Seeing Snow White on the big screen remains one of the oldest memories, for the longest time, I had no idea why I knew these songs, or why I associated these images with them. That's how deep it bored into my skull.

When I was in second grade, I was even in a school production of Snow White, I played Grumpy! :D. At this time, the Disney VHS collection was still three years away. No one had the movie on tape unless it was recorded from TV, and to my knowledge, the only soundtrack that was available was the three LP set released in 1938, so an entire 2nd and 4th grade class rehearsed those songs form memory!
Granted, I only had to know certain parts from only three songs, but I still HEARD the rest of the cast doing their part. And so, even beyond having those very early memories of having seen it in the theater, these songs further dug it's way into my memory from all those rehearsals. This was of course before Disney started litigating against schools for things like this.

It was not until 1994 that Snow White came out on VHS, and the soundtrack was released on cassette, I had to wait three years to see how close we got on stage, and to the best of my recollection, we were pretty fantastic :D

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