By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Ryan Hatmaker desperately wanted to be picked for the Disneyland All-American College Band.
He had long dreamed of working at Disneyland, where his parents met while performing in a show and where his grandparents, aunts and uncles once held jobs.
“Everything they do adds a little magic to it,” he said.
But Disney officials at last spring’s audition threw a curve to Hatmaker, a Grand Canyon University junior snare drum player in the Thundering Heard Pep Band.
“Can you try the tenor drum?”
The tough competition, where only 21 musicians are picked from across the country, just got tougher. He had never – ever – played tenor.
“I have to cross hands to play on five different surfaces with five different melodies,” Hatmaker said, “things I never do on one snare drum.”
“OK, I’ll try it.”
Hatmaker came from a musical family in Anaheim, Calif. His mother, Angela, was a performer in a show, and his father, David, worked the sound.
“It sounds cheesy and corny, but it’s a place that is about making people smile,” David of working amid Disneyland’s magic.
While David was working in global research and development for Yamaha, a musical instrument and audio equipment company, Ryan often saw him play the drums. It looked like fun.
“I tried it and loved the excitement -- and how, when you put practice into it, it really shows,” Ryan said.
He discovered GCU after seeing “a commercial that showed both the drum line and engineering department.”
He wanted to be an engineer. He wanted to be a drummer. Perfect.
On his visit to GCU, his audition with the band went well.
“He is one of a kind,” said Dr. Paul Koch, GCU's Director of Bands. “He is a really good musician.”
He also proved he was good with more than the bones. Hatmaker became the section leader of the drum line.
“It’s like a family,” Hatmaker said. “We really work hard to push each other.
“There are also a ton of opportunities: playing in Vegas and Florida and at Talking Stick Arena – all these opportunities to play -- and I’m not even a music major.”
When his drum line joined the Dance and Cheer teams at a competition in Florida in January, he picked up something else that would help later.
“I learned how to be a cheerleader with my drum line, really learned to be enthusiastic,” he said.
Hatmaker had no time to prepare. The Disney audition started. He was facing 250 college musicians, some of the best in the country, to make 21 spots.
Koch thought it was crazy when he heard about his audition on tenor drums instead of snare – until he watched a video of him later.
“Those are two different techniques,” Koch said. “A lot of times you can see that it looks like a snare drummer playing tenor. He is able to pull it off like he is a tenor drummer.”
Hatmaker smiled for the judges. He remembered that cheerleading enthusiasm.
And nailed it.
"We look for performers who can demonstrate not only a diverse musical background, musicality and top-notch technical chops but also an expressive and outgoing personality," said a casting director with Disney Parks. "Ryan brought a joyful enthusiasm into the audition room and infused his performance with passion and infectious energy – the same joyful energy that he brings to guests day after day."
He is spending the summer playing five times a day in front of various Disneyland attractions.
“They liked that whatever I did, I was pretty excited and had a smile on my face,” he said. “That is what Disney was looking for.”
Good evening, welcome to the happiest place on Earth!
That’s the introduction to the All-American College Band in front of a Disneyland castle on a recent summer day.
Here are some of the finest musicians in the country …
Let’s meet our percussion section!
From Grand Canyon University …
Hatmaker steps up to flare a Lopes Up. And there he goes, drumming in overdrive, before the band takes off with medleys from favorite Disney movies.
He loves this place that is dear to his family.
“You see random characters walking by. You say, ‘Hi, Goofy,’ or walk past Captain Jack Sparrow,” Hatmaker said. “I really like performing for kids. It’s magical to light up their day with the music we are playing.”
One day, he hopes to be an engineer for Disneyland rides. But this summer, at least twice a week, he sees his mom and dad out on the grounds, watching.
“It almost hurts because we smile for so long,” Dave Hatmaker said.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.