DMB: Imagine my shock when I looked at the pictures from the “Silly Symphonies Celebration” concert from the 2015 D23 Expo and realized that the conductor used to sit next to me in orchestration class in college! Steven Fox and I both attended Illinois State University for our undergraduate music degrees in music theory and composition. I reached out to him to share a bit about his work with Disney.
Steven, It’s great to reconnect after almost 20 years since college graduation. Thanks so much for agreeing to talk about your experience with Disney! First off, tell us a little bit about you.
Steven: I grew up in Wheaton, Illinois (a Western suburb of Chicago) surrounded by music from an early age. My mother enjoyed playing the piano periodically and my brother was a pianist and trumpet player starting when I was 7 or 8 years old. Beginning when I was 10 years old, I was a part of every music experience I could have access to as a trombone player and pianist. Fast forward to 1998: I graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in Music Composition and Theory. While there I was a part of every instrumental musical ensemble at one time or another, drum major of the Big Red Marching Machine, and helped start a student orchestra that focused on film and Broadway music. In 2000 I received a Graduate certificate in film and television scoring from the University of Southern California. That was an experience that has had a huge impact of everything I have done since that time. Over the last 17 years I have been the Music Director of a community theatre company in Orange County for two years, the Music Director of the El Segundo Concert Band for the past 13 years, founded and have been Artistic Director and Conductor of the Golden State Pops Orchestra for the past 15 years, served as a band director for 11 years and a proof reader and copyist at Joann Kane Music Services for the last 2 years. In addition, I have scored a handful of student films, corporate videos, independent films, arranged and conducted music for the album “50 Most Loved Christmas Carols,” and have guest conducted many times throughout Southern California and around the world.
DMB: How did you become involved with Disney, and more specifically, the “Silly Symphonies Celebration” concerts?
Steven: The Golden State Pops has brought many great experiences my way, including industry icons I’ve had the opportunity to work with like Hans Zimmer, Robert Townson and Christopher Young. One of these opportunities that has grown into a long term friendship and working relationship is with the Director of Music Publishing at the The Walt Disney Company, Jonathan Heely. We first met when GSPO rented a piece of music from the Disney Concert Library many years ago. From there I have conducted the premiere of a Mary Poppins Fantasy for Jonathan, the West Coast Premiere of “Disney in Concert: A Tale As Old As Time,” and premiered “A Spoonful of Sherman: A Symphonic Concert.” I’m sure there is even more we’ve done but I can’t recall right now. As the person who heads up all of these wonderful concerts Disney is putting out, the “Silly Symphony Celebration” was another of Jonathan’s babies. Lucky for me Jonathan wanted me to conduct the premiere. And the rest is history.
DMB: Did you have involvement with the pre-production and creation of the Silly Symphonies event? I’m thinking of things like score transcription and engraving, editing, re-scoring any missing parts, etc.
Steven: I really was not involved that much in the creation or production of the show. Alex Rannie was the person that handled all of that, in a masterful way I might add. There may have been a couple of things I gave a little advice on from the conducting perspective, especially after we had done the performances. But beyond that my job was leading the orchestra and conducting the shows.
DMB: What was your preparation and rehearsal time like for the Silly Symphonies concert?
Steven: As with most things in this industry, time is a luxury. With this concert, from what I remember, I received the scores over a period of time during the month or three weeks prior to the shows. They came in one by one as Alex was finishing them. Actually I think the practice videos and audio arrived earlier than the scores. As for rehearsals, the schedule was something I have gotten use to, because it was the same as every GSPO concert. We had two, 2 1/2 hour rehearsals plus a dress rehearsal the morning of the concert. It’s amazing how talented the musicians and crew were to pull something like that together in that little amount of time.
DMB: How cool was it to hear this music played live for the first time in 60 or 70 years?
Steven: Bringing music to life after such a long time, especially media music where a live performance is really a “second” life, is always a thrill. It creates moments of deja vu, excitement and joy. It is especially enjoyable when you witness how much joy it brings to the audiences.
DMB: Do you have any other future Disney projects on the horizon?
Steven: Whether a project is connected directly to Disney or not, it seems I am always working on something Disney related, or in talks about something in the future. A bit off the beaten path, but currently I am working on getting the rights to “Illumination: Reflections of Earth,” to create an arrangement for the fall marching band show for the band that I lead in previous years. Beyond that, I am not at liberty to say what might be around the bend…but I can promise whatever it is, it will be “magical.”
DMB: Steven, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for your time and insight into your work with the “Silly Symphonies” events!