Walt Disney Imagineer John Hench once said, “Our guests don’t go out of the park whistling the lights or the architecture!” A good theme park is a feast for all the senses, but the sounds and music we experience on our vacations tend to stick with us long after we leave (Yes, It’s a Small World, I’m looking at you). From earworms such as “One Little Spark” to more subtle scores used for ambiance, theme parks are brimming with music that assist in total immersion and the suspense of disbelief for guests.
By Olivia Marchinke
One talented musician has been enchanting social media with her dreamy covers of Disney Parks music, both beloved and obscure. Enter Sarah Hubbard, whose fingers float effortlessly over her violin strings, drawing out her favorite melodies from the parks over the years. Posting videos on TikTok and Twitter, Hubbard has captured the attention of theme park fans from all over the internet.
When asked how theme park music inspires her, Hubbard shares her love for its immersive effects. Specifically citing the sweeping score of “Soarin’ Over California” by Jerry Goldsmith, she notes how memories of one sensory aspect can call back others — can’t you smell the oranges when listening to the Soarin’ score?
Hubbard’s love of the parks began as a child. She shared some special memories with us — from downing way too many bowls of chocolate pudding at Epcot’s Biergarten to reveling in the joyousness of since-extinct nighttime parades. These childhood visits continue to inspire Hubbard into adulthood; she has recently covered the parade soundtracks for “SpectroMagic” and “Tapestry of Nations” (which Hubbard says she would revive, were she given the chance to bring back any extinct attraction based on music alone).
Another memory connected to Disney Parks music comes from a first viewing of “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth” in January 2000. Anyone who’s heard that powerful, kinetic score can sense that it heralds something huge — like the turning of a new millennium. Hubbard recalls feeling this profound importance at her first time seeing the show: “Even at a young age, I knew there was something electric happening in that passage of time, and Epcot’s Millennium Celebration felt like the epicenter for that excitement and optimism.”
When it comes to absolute favorites, it’s hard to beat the classics. The Haunted Mansion’s “Grim Grinning Ghosts” is a standout for Hubbard. “[The song] transfigures itself to perfectly accompany every scene we hear it in, from the ominous stretching room to the rambunctious graveyard, all while staying unmistakably macabre and eerie,” she says. She also proclaims herself as a diehard fan of Sonny Eclipse; Hubbard’s taste in Disney Parks music is not limited to earthly tunes, we see.
Speaking of otherworldly music, Hubbard adores the sounds of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. When asked what she would do if she could re-score any theme park attraction, she played with the idea of adding live musicians to an evening set in Oga’s Cantina. Do you think DJ-R3X would give up the turntables for a night to let a live alien band play?
Hubbard makes playing her violin look so effortless, it can be easy to forget that fretless string instruments are some of the hardest instruments to learn. In addition to the violin, Sarah also plays the otamatone and the theremin. All three instruments produce pitch in a similar manner; that is, the player controls pitch on a continuous linear axis, rather than with frets like on a guitar. As such, strings players tend to pick up on the theremin and otamatone quicker than non-strings players. Hubbard began learning violin when she was just 9 years old. She encourages beginners to find time to consistently practice to build muscle memory — after all, there are no frets to fall back on.
Hubbard now performs in Froly, a folk band, and string duo Rose & Thistle. In addition to this, she performs a spectacular act as Sprightly, weaving together the sounds of her own voice, her violin, and electronic sounds.