DENTON (UNT), Texas – For University of North Texas College of Music graduate student Brendon Wilkins, the opportunity to perform in the Disneyland All-American College Band was much more than a summer job.
An alto saxophonist, Wilkins performed with some of the best collegiate musicians in the country while learning tips from the industry’s top jazz musicians.
“It was terrific. I have never had an experience quite like this,” said Wilkins, 24, a member of the 2016 band. “I learned a lot about what it takes to make it as a professional musician.”
UNT’s College of Music and the All-American College Band share a strong bond. No other university in the country has had more students chosen to participate in the Disneyland college band, which began in 1971. The 21-piece ensemble performs at the Disneyland Resort in California for 11 weeks each summer. As part of the program, students earn school credit by completing a major educational project and train with industry professionals such as Wayne Bergeron, Gregg Field and Rick Baptist.
With the announcement that three University of North Texas students and an alumnus have earned a coveted spot in the 2017 Disneyland All-American College Band, UNT now has 68 band alumni. University of Southern California came in second with 37, and Indiana University third with 30 members.
Why the distinction?
“First and foremost, UNT is a really great music school that produces really great musicians,” said Ben Goodner, who is Disneyland’s Guest Talent Manager. “Second, word of mouth is our greatest source of advertising and UNT students have spread the word among themselves, which has created a grassroots recruiting effort.”
Any full-time college student in the United States, graduate or undergraduate, is eligible to audition for a spot in the band. If selected, band members perform and attend daily clinics and rehearsals. Performances include a big band show with a jazz format and marching band-style shows.
Talent managers who select the participants say they look for excellent musicians, but also engaging personalities.
“We want people who will put themselves out there,” Goodner said. “We look for someone who is not afraid to smile, someone who is not afraid to look a guest in the eye and make a connection.”
For Brian Clancy, a jazz saxophonist and 2011 UNT graduate in jazz studies, performing with the band expanded his musical repertoire and helped launch his career on the West Coast. Clancy now works as a freelance musician in the Los Angeles area. He landed a part-time job as a stage manager at Disneyland and performs in multiple bands at the park year-round.
“I learned how to truly perform in a variety of styles,” said Clancy, who is from Southlake. “I also developed connections, learned a lot about myself and learned a lot about the music industry. I left with a much bigger network than I had when I arrived.”
Wilkins, who earned a bachelor’s degree from UNT in jazz studies and music education in 2016 and is now pursuing his graduate degree, said he has encouraged fellow UNT students to audition for the band.
“The high standards we are accustomed to at UNT and the College of Music set us up to succeed with the All-American College Band,” he said. “We learn everything we need at UNT and are able to put it into action at Disneyland.”