A Look Back at The Main Street Electrical Parade

After an almost 21 year absence, The Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP), one of the most beloved and iconic parades in Disney history, has returned to Disneyland for a limited engagement. This version will also see the reappearance of the original Main Street Electrical Parade opening float, a whimsical train pulling a giant drum unit that proclaims “Disneyland Presents … Main Street Electrical Parade” in bright lights.

In a recent story in the Orange County Register, John Addis, show director at Disneyland said, “It’s coming back for a limited time [through June 18, 2017] because our guests and fans of the electrical parade have been clamoring for it. We want to reintroduce it to a whole new generation of guests who have never seen it.” The Main Street Electrical Parade has been performed more than 3,600 times for more than 75 million guests during its original run in Disneyland Park. In 2001, the parade was also seen for a nine year run at Disney California Adventure Park.

Disney had toyed with the idea of modifying the floats by replacing the pin point lights with LED lights, but according to the OC Register, “if we change the lights it’ll feel different,” Addis said. “It has a whole different quality to it.”

The Main Street Electrical Parade features almost two dozen floats, 80 costumed performers and 600,000 lights.

ronRon Miziker
Image: Miziker Entertainment Group / YouTube

Ron Miziker, who is the founder and of Miziker Entertainment Group, was the co-creator and producer of the Main Street Electrical Parade. Ron worked under Bob Jani, Director of Entertainment and eventually VP of Entertainment for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Jani was having production issues with Disney on Parade and asked Ron to take over the planning of entertainment and shows at Walt Disney World – thereby making him the first Director of Entertainment for Walt Disney World.

Here is a bit of history behind this fan-favorite spectacular:

The Birth of the Parade

Shortly after Walt Disney World opened, Card Walker, President of The Walt Disney Company, told Jani and Miziker since the opening of the Florida property very little attention has been paid to Disneyland. He told them to create an event to keep people in Disneyland past the early evening hours. Dick Nunis, Executive VP of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, was against the idea, but Walker overruled him.

The Main Street Electrical Parade was inspired by big cities at the turn-of-the-century. While Ron was at the library doing research on show ideas, he discovered that big cities, who were the first to get electricity, would hold parades down their main streets with strings of lighted bulbs. That idea coupled with the popularity of the Electrical Water Pageant at Walt Disney World inspired Ron to take the pageant from the water to the street.

Parade Logistics

jerryJerry Hefferly
Image: YouTube

Powering the MSEP wasn’t easy. Various types of generators were suggested as well as electrifying the tracks in the street, but nothing proved to be adequate. According to Ron, “the power source had to accomplish three different tasks at the same time: light the bulbs, power the units and power the sound system.” One of the park maintenance electrical engineers, Jerry Hefferly, was tasked with coming up with a workable power source. Jerry believed that if he could use NiCad batteries, a new kind of battery that was recently purchased by the Walt Disney Studio for lighting and film production, it would solve their problem. He calculated that they could run the parade in one direction – recharge the batteries – and then do a second show in the opposite direction.

What do Christmas tree lights and the Main Street Electrical Parade have in common? A lot more than you think! Ron and his team decided that small lights would be ideal for each of the parade floats and after an extensive search they found one company who could provide the size they needed, the Silvestri Lights Company in Chicago.

Back in the 1959, Joe Kries, the visual display director for Saks Fifth Avenue on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and George Silvestri, a Chicago decorative animation and lighting expert, stood in front of Saks Fifth Avenue to see if an idea they had for one of the store’s holiday decorations would work. Silvestri strung these tiny white lights – smaller than anyone had ever seen before – on all the branches of six barren elm trees in front of the store. They flipped the switch and they were an immediate success. Within a year, almost every merchant along Michigan Avenue had those tiny white lights on the trees in front of their shops as well. Silvestri had first seen these lights, which were first made by inmates in a Milan prison, during his many trips to Italy.

Ron bought lights from the Silvestri Lights Company, but the only problem with them was that the lights only came in clear. He resolved that issue by having the lights hand-dipped into the required colors.

Planning for the parade took place in January and February 1972 with construction of the floats starting almost immediately if they wanted to debut the parade mid-June of that year.  Relying on their working knowledge of their lights, Ron contracted the Silvestri Company in the beginning of March to handle the construction of the floats.  Regular construction updates revealed that construction was a disaster, so Ron headed to Chicago to bring the floats back to California and be finished there.

Once back in California, crews worked around-the-clock on the floats.  Most of the scheduled rehearsals were cancelled while the floats were being finished. However, the two rehearsals that did take place, the first was a disaster.  Some of the units fell apart – including Cinderella’s canopy of lights, one unit crashed into a building on Main Street, and two horses (yes, there were several horses with riders in the first version of the parade), fell under the weight of the lighted banners they were carrying.  They continued to work on the floats right up until the moment it premiered on June 17, 1972.

Nothing like the last minute. As the floats were moving from backstage to Main Street, the lights on the units were lighted for the first time. Electricians were still working on the lights and hopping off just before each unit went through the gates into public view.  Ron said, “The sight of that happening was like people jumping ship just prior to it sinking.  Fortunately the parade was an instant hit!”

Click here for Backstage Disney – a documentary on the making of the Main Street Electrical Parade.

Although common place today, the Main Street Electrical Parade was the first parade to use a show-control program that contained multiple radio-activated “trigger zones.” As each float entered a zone, between 70-100 feet long, the audience would hear float-specific music thereby enabling every person watching the parade to experience the same show, no matter where they stood along the parade route.

Parade Music

Although Bob Jani wanted to use calliope music for the MSEP; Ron’s team wanted something else.  Jack Wagner, who was known as “The Voice of Disneyland” and unofficially at Walt Disney World (he was responsible for finding all the background music for Walt Disney World), was given the job of looking for alternate music samples for the parade.


Don Dorsey
Photo: Courtesy of Don Dorsey

In addition to sourcing the parade music, Jack provided the very famous opening announcement for both the original Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade and Walt Disney World Main Street Electrical Parade.  Don Dorsey took over after Wagner passed away in 1995.

According to Joseph Pimentel’s January 16, 2017 story in the Orange County Register, “Jack wanted something up-tempo, quirky and fun, something that would fit the twinkling lights,” said Don Dorsey.

bobjBob Jani
Image: YouTube

Ron, Jack Wagner, Music Director Jim Christensen and others met in Bob Jani’s office to listen to each sample. They agreed that one piece of music was better than the rest – Baroque Hoedown.  The music had been created electronically – something totally new at the time.  Pimentel writes, “We had considered all types of music,” Miziker said. “At that time, electronic music was brand new. Not much was available. Once Jack played it, I said, ‘That’s it. That’s absolutely perfect.’… It was the first big exposure for electronic music.”

The original version of Baroque Hoedown, created in 1967 by early synthesizer pioneers Jean-Jacques Perrey from France and Gershon Kingsley from Germany, was on the B-side of Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Spotlight on the Moog.

The parade’s soundtrack had the same themes as the current recording, but was a different arrangement by Jim Christensen and Paul Beaver. In 1977, it was updated and arranged by electronic music artist Don Dorsey and Jack Wagner and was used until January 2009

When the parade returned to Disney’s California Adventure in June 2009, it used an updated, orchestrated DreamLights soundtrack from Tokyo, but with some changes.

According to Don Dorsey’s website, “A quick search of Los Angeles-based musicians turned up synthesizer programmer Paul Beaver. Paul had a small studio and was considered ‘the only guy’ for synth work in Hollywood.”

Ron Miziker said that Bob Jani decided to build the entire parade on top of Baroque Hoedown, a technique similar to “it’s a Small World” where one melody is overlaid with multiple synchronized arrangements, however instead of moving the audience through the arrangements, the arrangements would move past the audience. Armed with sketches of the parade floats, Jim began the puzzle-like process of fitting Disney melodies into the harmonic structure and format of Baroque Hoedown.”

After the summer of 1974, the original Electrical Parade was retired to make way for a two-year Bicentennial celebration America On Parade. Bob Jani finally got his calliope music. While working on the music for America On Parade, Paul Beaver died suddenly. Jack Wagner contacted the Moog Company, the manufacturer of the synthesizer that Paul had used, to see if they knew any local programmers.  They suggested Don Dorsey – a student at Cal State Fullerton. Don went on to create other beloved Disney spectaculars including Sorcery In The Sky, Laserphonic Fantasy, Fantasmic and IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.

donjackDon Dorsey and Jack Wagner / Circa 1977
Photo: Reddit.com / brb1006

Following his work on America on Parade, Jack hired Don as his full-time audio production assistant.  When the MSEP returned to Disneyland in the summer of 1977, a number of changes were made to the parade. Don proposed something very different.  Don invented a way to perform automatic synchronized introductions “on demand,” thereby allowing the musical opening to incorporate a fanfare segueing directly into the parade tempo, as well synchronizing light cue to the music. This process, called the “opening window” has been used to start Disney parades ever since. Other changes saw a thorough revision of the parade’s flat screens to three dimension units. It was also the debut of a duplicate version at Walt Disney World. Other changes Don made included composing a new piece of music, the “Electric Fanfare,” and reworking and rearranging many other sections of the parade’s music. Bob Jani called the new music “electro-synthe-magnetic.”

In January 1978, Disney had Ron Miziker produce a half-time show for the Orange Bowl using several Electrical Parade floats. Don composed the “Fanfare of Lights” for that parade’s finale and in the summer of that year it was incorporated into the park’s versions. Over the years, Don arranged and performed most of the new musical pieces. Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland have their own versions of the parade.

The instant the music starts up every Disney fan knows exactly what parade this music is from. As Don Dorsey told the Orange County Register, “what makes the music so memorable is its ‘perky, peppy tempo. People can’t help but hum the tune.”

Interview: Ron Miziker
Don Dorsey Consulting website
Pimentel, J. (2017, January 16). Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade returns with iconic tune. Orange County Register. Retrieved from http://www.ocregister.com .
Hirsley, M. (1985, November 17). Let There Be Lights: How A Brilliant Holiday Tradition Was Born On The Magnificent Mile. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http//www.articles.chicagotribune.com
Schultz, M.J. (1966, December). Where Even Santa Gets His Ideas. Popular Mechanics. Retrieved from http://books.google.com
Farras, E.S. (2008). The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. Mount Pleasant, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing
Moore, D. (2014, April 14). The Making of Disneylands [sic] Main Street Electrical Parade. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/oasi6t6H-GU. Walt Disney Productions (1986)

Originally from Philadelphia and now living in New York City, Chuck has worn many hats including pastry chef, hotel manager and his current position as a publicist. Ever since he was a kid, Chuck had a passion about everything Walt Disney including going on a local Philly quiz show when he was twelve where his area of expertise was Walt Disney. He loves going to see great performers, amazing museums, seeing Broadway shows, eating in all kinds of restaurants and traveling. Chuck's favorite cities to visit are Paris, London, Las Vegas and Turin. He, of course, loves Walt Disney World and Disneyland.


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