I Was a Marching Christmas Tree
They called it the Magic Kingdom, but I just wanted to get out alive.
A college student at the time, I was hoping to pick up a few extra bucks over the holidays. In checking around, I learned that Disneyland in Anaheim hired musicians for their Main Street Christmas Parade, a procession that featured Mickey, Minnie, and the gang, plus several hundred marching musicians playing Christmas carols and trying to stay in step.
I was hired and assigned to the Christmas tree unit. An eight-foot, cone-shaped contraption made of metal and green tinsel was lowered onto my shoulders and strapped on tight. There was a hole roughly a foot in diameter next to my face, big enough to stick my trumpet through and play “O Tannenbaum” but not big enough to see out of.
For the next two weeks I marched through the park twice a day, sure that I was about to trip. My greatest fear was that a sadistic child would push me and send me sprawling upside down, legs flailing, like a turtle that’s been flipped onto its back.
The musicians weren’t allowed into the park except during the parades at 2:00 and 9:00, which meant killing time in between. Often I would read, and I finished several books.
Other times a group of us would huddle in friend and trombonist Jock Ellis’s car, a gleaming 1952 Buick that he called Black Beauty, purchased from his uncle for a dollar, and listen to music on his excellent sound system. One time in particular, I remember hearing all 30 songs of the Beatles’ newly released White Album, which will give you an idea of how long ago this was.
After each parade, the musicians would be transported back and forth from Disneyland to the parking lot by tram, and one ride was memorable. I was seated next to Stu Blumberg, who went on to a long, successful career playing trumpet in the movie and TV studios.
I noticed that Stu was holding a Bach trumpet, which I coveted for its big, dark sound. I had a silver French Besson, with a brighter tone that, amazingly, was just what Stu had been looking for. I tried his trumpet, he tried mine, and we switched right then and there, an impulsive decision I never regretted.
Years later, I produced children’s albums at Walt Disney Records, and one of the projects featured music of the Christmas parades. I had to smile at the memory of that college kid stumbling down Main Street, laboring under an eight-foot Christmas tree and playing “O Tannenbaum.”