On two crisp December evenings in Disneyland park, hundreds of choir members walk in formation down Main Street, U.S.A., adorned in robes and carrying lit white candles. The lights in Town Square slowly go dim and guests stop in silence to watch the iconic street illuminated by candlelight.
The processional is one of the many moving moments of the Disneyland Resort Candlelight Ceremony, an annual tradition that dates back to 1958 and has grown in popularity over the years. A celebrity guest narrator — this year, the acclaimed actress Viola Davis — reads portions of the story of Christmas between classical hymns performed by singers and instrumentalists who line the steps of the train station.
While a sea of gold choir robes blankets the stage, a select handful of singers are dressed in a deep green and perched on staggered risers to form the “Living Christmas Tree.” These talented performers are none other than the Cast Choir, comprised of Disneyland Resort cast members, Walt Disney Studios employees and Walt Disney Imagineers who spend months preparing for the event.
“This allows me to be even more part of the magic,” said Disneyland Operations Retail Manager and Cast Choir member Jeff Fong. “I get to perform at Disneyland and it gives me a creative outlet. I know that’s a reason a lot of people go out there and perform.”
Deployment Scheduler and Entertainment Host Victor Davila also finds fulfillment in performing during the holiday season.
“We were just in rehearsal and we took turns to stop singing and just listen,” said Victor. “It was the moment I stepped away from focusing on blending, pitch, and tone that I was enveloped by everything that the cast does. It was a beautiful art form that was happening.”
Many cast members spend years performing prior to joining the Cast Choir. Jeff played in the band at UC Berkeley during his college years and Victor has an extensive musical theater background. The choir allows both cast members to express their love of performance, while also providing a place of community.
Jeff joined the choir in 2005 when a fellow cast member encouraged him to audition. After making the final cut, the two of them performed together in that year’s ceremony. Unfortunately, the cast member who inspired Jeff to join the choir lost her battle with cancer the following spring.
“Before her passing, she made me promise that I would continue to do Candlelight,” said Jeff. “I said, ‘I will do it as long as I’m physically able to,’ and I’ve performed in every show since 2005.”
Despite this experience of loss, Jeff also credits the Cast Choir with connecting him with one of the most important people in his life. “I met my wife here [in the Cast Choir] in 2010,” said Jeff. “We had our combined rehearsal with the Studios and that night, we just started talking. From that day on, we were pretty much inseparable.”
This deep emotional connection to the Cast Choir is not uncommon. Victor shared his experience of losing family members in September 2017, just shortly after he had re-auditioned.
“It was a hard grieving process,” shared Victor. “And when I came back, everyone in the choir was so kind. There was such a warmth in the familiarity and it’s what I needed. I didn’t know I could feel so loved and so welcomed.”
For Jeff and Victor, the Cast Choir has been far more than an opportunity to share their incredible talents with the world. It’s been a place of community, compassion and a musical home during the holiday season at Disneyland Resort.