Q&A: Pianist and Disney fan celebrates Epcot by creating epic medleys
When it comes to Epcot, something that is so memorable about its history from past to present is the park’s iconic music. Pianist and composer Gijs Van Winkelhof took it upon himself to create not only one, but two piano medley videos—and we had the chance to chat with him about them!
Van Winkelhof is a pianist at the Disneyland Hotel in Disneyland Paris, which he says has been “an amazing experience and has served to further inspire my love for the Disney Parks.” As you can see by his videos, that love flows through his work and into his musical creations, which have received tens of thousands of views on YouTube to date.
What inspired you to create these unique compositions?
Growing up as a regular visitor to Disneyland Paris since its opening year, I always dreamed of visiting Walt Disney World. That dream came true in 2008 during a road trip across Florida.
I was immediately impressed by Epcot, as it stood in sharp contrast to the fairytale atmosphere of Disneyland Paris. As a composer, what captivated me were the many inspiring themes and songs featured across the park, which were all written especially for Epcot. I don’t believe any other Disney Park in the world features such a vast library of original music.
In 2015, I began a weekly live piano request show on Periscope where I would play a variety of musical genres from movie scores and Broadway musicals, pop songs, jazz, classical, etc. My most popular requests were songs from Disney films and parks, and most definitely music from Epcot.
As the 35th anniversary of he park approached, I decided to make a medley as a tribute to honor the park. I selected the songs that were the most popular on Periscope. It wasn’t difficult for me to record the medley because I already knew the songs I wanted to play. That became one of my most popular videos on YouTube.
After the video was released, comments came flooding in from people letting me know their favorite Epcot song that I didn’t include in the first medley. After two-and-a-half years of fielding comments from fellow Epcot fans, I decided to take a look at the prospect of a second medley.
How long did it take you to arrange both compositions?
It’s hard to say how long it took to make the second medley, because it was a constantly evolving process. Several months of researching and arranging songs led into a few weeks of editing the final production.
How much research on the park and its music go into your cover videos?
The second medley took much longer because I dove deeper into the history of the park. Many visitors to the Epcot of the recent past may know “We Go On” from IllumiNations or “Golden Dream” from the American Adventure.
In the second medley, I played songs a lot of people are familiar with as well, but I also strove to educate people with this video, introducing wonderful, more obscure songs to a new audience. “We’re Getting Ready for You” from “The Dream Called Epcot” (1980) and “The Age of Information” are examples of these forgotten classics.
Part of the research was how to translate the original soundtracks to piano arrangements, breathing new life into many Epcot melodies you already know. For example, during a song such as “In the Big Blue World” from The Seas with Nemo & Friends, the melody was interwoven with the original score of The Living Seas. Things like that.
How do you choose which songs to include versus which ones to leave out?
My first Epcot medley was originally envisioned as ‘Epcot’s greatest hits.’ However, after that overwhelming commentary, I realized that there are so many more songs that deserved to be included.
The goal of the second medley was to be as comprehensive as possible. Because of this, I selected way too many songs and since I want to do each song justice instead of rushing from one song to the other, I decided to make it a trilogy with the third medley forthcoming. I created a list where I separated the better known songs from the more obscure songs and split them evenly between both medleys, with the second medley more focused on Future World West, and the third one on Future World East.
Are any of the Epcot tunes particularly difficult to play?
The most challenging part was deciding the order of the songs and [what] to transition from while keeping the momentum of the medley exciting from one song to the next. I play the piano by ear, so I’m not dependent on sheet music. That gave me a lot of creative freedom to play with different arrangements, keys, and temps to present songs in new ways.
While translating the original soundtracks to piano arrangements, I found the music from “Impressions de France” the most challenging. Through I included some of the classical French compositions, much of what I covered was original score by Disney composer Buddy Baker. The film is very special to me because my family would vacation in France every summer growing up. I believe they did an amazing job capturing the beauty and musical aura of the country.
Do you have plans for any other Disney Park-focused medley videos?
Absolutely! I have many exciting projects in the works. Building on my piano covers of “Wishes” and “Happily Ever After,” I am currently working on a new YouTube video titled the “Walt Disney World Nighttime Concert.” It will contain music from every nighttime spectacular in Walt Disney World’s history, such as “SpectroMagic,” “Fantasmic,” and “Rivers of Light.” When completed, it will be so much more than a piano medley with an orchestral arrangement and vocals from myself and my good friend Priscilla Pfalz – you may know her from our cover of Epcot’s “New Horizons,” which we released last year. And as I said earlier, there will be a third Epcot Medley to expect within the next year!
I love to bring people on a musical journey when I play medleys. I hope that, even though the parks are closed right now, that my music on YouTube will bring some of the happiness and magic of the parks to people’s homes.
You can follow Van Winkelhof on YouTube here, tune in to his live piano request shows every Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern, and check out both of his Epcot Piano Medley videos below:
I was at the opening of Epcot center as director of operations ,what a beautiful rendition of all of Epcot Centers music Walt would of loved it.