Michael Eisner, the then-CEO of the Walt Disney Company formed a task force called the Millennium Committee in the mid 1990s to come up with a plan for Disney to celebrate the Millennium. Their task was to create a celebration that answered the question, “How do you celebrate the World?” It needed to create an emotional connection with people who don’t all speak the same language.
As such, Epcot was selected as the park that would play host to the Millennium Celebration because it presents a unique opportunity to celebrate and speak to cultures outside of the traditional Disney characters and fairytales. It is a place that allows for the celebration of the human experience.
Don Dorsey (of the main street electrical parade and previous versions of illumiNations) served creative director and wrote up an idea for the centerpiece of the celebration which was the new nighttime spectacular coming to Epcot called “IllumiNations 2000: Reflections of earth” on an airplane. There are many other parts of the celebration, but IllumiNations was the centerpiece and the first concept they envisioned.
Originally, Hans Zimmer the film composer for the soundtracks to The Lion King and Pirates of the Caribbean had promised Michael Eisner he would score the show. Upon meeting with the Disney creative team, Zimmer basically said he normally worked at the last minute and he would do it the night before it was due. This wasn’t going to work for Disney. Unlike movies where the soundtrack is one of the last elements of production, the soundtrack to a Disney spectacular is one of the first elements that needed to be finalized. Still, given his legendary stature the team decided to press on. However, after Zimmer canceled two further meetings at Epcot at the last minute, the Disney team decided to ask Zimmer if he could recommend a colleague who might have more time in his or her schedule to accommodate their needs.
Zimmer recommended composer Gavin Greenaway to take up the project in his place. Greenaway attended his initial meeting with Don Dorsey and the Disney creative team and sat through the entire thing without taking any notes. After the meeting he thanked them and went back to his studio in Santa Monica to begin work. A month later Greenaway sent his first demo CD of the soundtrack to Refections of Earth to Don Dorsey and it brought Dorsey to tears.
Since working on this project he’s also notable for composing the soundtrack to “BraviSeamo,” a nighttime spectacular at Tokyo DisneySea, and also for two of the tracks from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony called “Peaks of Endeavor” and “The Olympic Flame.”
Tapestry of Nations
The second piece he wrote for the celebration would be used as the musical backdrop to the Tapestry of Nations parade. Tapestry of Nations was a parade each evening at Epcot at sunset that took place on the World Showcase Promenade and was themed to World Peace and Unity.
It featured oversized puppets operated by performers as reverse marionettes. They were large towering figures and were designed by Michael Curry who famously designed the puppets for the Lion King on Broadway. The puppets were abstract characters that evoked non-specific cultures and incorporated various materials such as sheet metal and large, colorful flowing fabrics.
One distinct character of the parade was the Sage of Time who led the parade and featured a rich costume that incorporated stilts, large robes with gold trim featuring symbols of alchemy, and a headpiece representing the sun with a face. The sun was an important icon as it is a symbol that is universally familiar to all cultures.
Another visual feature of the parade apart from the puppets were 15 giant rolling percussion units known as the Millennium Clocks. These massive rolling units were meant to evoke both a vision of the
past and the future as well as the passage of time. Giant Roman numerals along the outside suggested astronomical clocks dating from the mid-16th century. Between the spokes of the wheels were clusters of drums. The clocks stood at 19 feet tall and had on each side a platform with a performer who played on the drums as the wheel turned – pounding out the heartbeat of the celebration.
The music of Tapestry of Nations wove together several themes including Millennium Heartbeat, The Great Millennium Walk, Reach for the Stars, and The Human Spirit. Disney’s normal parade formula is to create a 4 or 5 minute piece of music and use that as a loop that repeats. Greenaway opted instead to simply write one long 26 minute piece of music. He also used the audio element of the sound of ticking clocks in places throughout the piece as musical instruments themselves as the drums and the tempo take their cue from the ticking passage of time.
Recorded with a 71-piece philharmonic orchestra and 30-person choir, Greenaway’s Tapestry of Nations acted as a musical introduction to the millennium celebration that needed to be bold. He recounted “I would think it’s ok but it’s not grand and so I built on that, writing something stronger each time. I ended up writing something huge – but i would never have gotten to this magnitude immediately.” Greenaway wrote with cultural origins and influences that were deliberately indeterminate so that wherever you come from, it means what you want it to mean.
The PreShow Music
After the parade had ended each day, world music started to slowly gain in volume around the lagoon 30 minutes prior to the big show. This music set a festive scene around the “fire” and it featured various tracks of world music. There have been two different 30 minute music sets over the years. The first ran from 1999 to 2004 and was then replaced by a second set that runs currently.
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth
After the pre-show music finishes up it fades away giving way to a more eerie sound and the voice of the Sage of Time. The Sage of Time explains that we all have personal stories to tell, but that the real adventure emerges when we bring our stories all together as one.
With that pyrotechnics explode over the World Showcase Lagoon and the show is off and running.
The show is divided into several different movements: Prologue, chaos, space, life, adventure, home, celebration, and meaning.
Chaos is written in many different time signatures other than 4/4 to deliberately make the listener uncomfortable by being unpredictable.
Greenaway worked hard to write music that would blend seamlessly with the show’s visual effects. He noted that most fireworks displays splice together familiar classical tunes in 30 to 40 second segments. This can make an immediate impression but at the end there is no common thread or overall message. The challenge in Reflections of Earth was to create an original sound with smooth transitions so that when the audience comes to the end they feel they’ve experienced an incredible symphony choreographed to a light show.
After a brief pause at the end of Reflections of Earth, the show’s final song, “We Go On,” is played. The creators used two different pieces because they wanted to convey the feeling that humanity is standing at a boundary – the new millennium. The second piece was also written as a vocal in contrast to the instrumental piece that played before it. “We Go On” was also composed by Gavin Greenaway with lyrics by Don Dorsey. It was sung by Kellie Coffey.
Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand.
This was the anthem for the entire celebration and wasn’t just used in Epcot, but was played in commercials and was used in all the parks. Elements of it were woven into some of the epcot shows. This piece was also written by Gavin Greenaway.
Super Bowl 34
Back around the year 2000 ABC (a division of The Walt Disney Company) had rights to the Super Bowl which presented Disney with a unique opportunity to put on a halftime show that promoted the parks and The Millennium Celebration.
This football field performance of the celebration featured Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Phill Collins, and Toni Braxton all on vocals while Edward James Almos served as the show’s narrator.
Tapestry of Dreams
After the millennium celebration wrapped on January 1st 2001, Tapestry of Nations was reconfigured into a new parade called Tapestry of Dreams. It kept the puppets and the millennium clocks, but in this version the Sage of Time was replaced by three elf-like creatures called the Dreamseekers. Leonardo Columbus represented discovery, invention and genius. Elfin represented nature, magic and emotions. Cosmo represented space and the unknown.
Tapestry of Dreams was meant to pay homage to our dreams of the future and had a tribute in the middle to the greatest dreamer of all, Walt Disney. The new audio featured the voices of children from around the world expressing their wishes, hopes, and dreams for the future in their native languages.
Tapestry of Dreams ran until 2003 but the music of Tapestry of Nations can still be heard following Promise each night as the exit music at Epcot.
Awards and Honors
Refections of earth has garnered 12 straight Best Outdoor Night Production Show Golden Ticket Awards.
Gavin Greenaway won an Emmy for the music he wrote as it was used by ABC in various tv spots throughout the last decade including as the theme song to ABC’s coverage of the 2000 U.S. presidential election.
To learn more about the Millennium Celebration, check out my spot on this episode of the EarzUp Podcast!