The Disneyfication of Music Education.

Christina Bishop
22 min readFeb 11, 2023
You probably think this world is a dream come true…- The Cat from Coraline

Fairy Tales at their core are there to warn children of a dangerous world waiting for them. They warn of witches who eat children, men with scissors who will lop off your thumbs, and predatory people and things we encounter every day in our lives. Yet despite all these dangers, they give children tools for how to survive in these dangerous worlds. In Hansel and Gretal the witch is thrown into the oven, in Red Riding Hood the wolf is thrown down a well, and Snow White finds a house with seven dwarfs who love her very much. However, some fairy tales are deeply rooted in histories of conflicts and dangers that have no happy endings. One that has endured and is told by generations of Midwest German Americans is The Pied Piper of Hamlen.

Imagine one morning in Hamlen, Germany in the 1300s and you wake up to find every child and young adult gone. No playing in the streets, no laughter, and no joy. A Locator came to your town and took the children away to work in the Polish woods to cut down trees and lumber and he is not giving them back. This is what happened in Hamlen and it’s been written in historical records in the town and on its buildings. This story is not a cautionary tale like in Der Struwwelpeter or the countless other Grimm Tales but real history.

Another is the story of Snow White or Schneewitchen which is about a real princess Margaretha von Waldeck who hid out in a copper mining town of Bergfreiheit with child laborers who inspired the dwarfs with their bright colored caps and small stature. Sadly she could not marry her prince because of the conflict between Lutheran and Catholic royal families at the time. Also being Lutheran and beautiful made her a target for poisoning which eventually happened. In the original Schneewitchen, she is poisoned three times and even cuts the dreaded poisoned apple before eating it and almost dying. Even the prince just stumbles on the coffin made of glass and the finest jewels only to find he’s crashing a funeral and just takes the coffin with seven servants with one bumping the coffin until she’s awake. She wakes up dazed and confused in the prince's castle only for him to treasure her and even dole out a red hot wedding gift for the Stepmother, a pair of red hot iron shoes.

Yet what happens when the historical and written lines become edited and tainted with sugar until they are no longer recognized from the original history and culture behind it all? Sadly this happens in both Hollywood and the Music Education Industry as well as textbooks that gloss over the natural cruelties of the world like xenophobia, ableism, homophobia, and racism. In regards to fairy tales and folklore of cultures, J.R.R Tolkien called it the “Deligation to the nursery” or as Americans call it Disneyfication.

Sousa the Strongman and Strawman.

A straw man is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument. In contrast, the real subject of the discussion was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one.

No figurehead in American Music Education is the most Dinseyficated, Figureheaded, and put on a pedestal than John Phillip Sousa. When I did the research for the first time on the origins of band competitions in America and why they fail to educate and culminate creativity, an article popped up on Google on a technophobic essay written by John Phillip Sousa called The Menace of Mechanical Music despite he being the most recorded and played composer of all time in America. It was part of the history of the American Wind Band Movement which was flourishing despite Sousa’s fears of mechanized music. Immigrants used recording devices to preserve musical traditions that they lost and missed out on in their homeland.

However, when band competitions were introduced as a cure-all it assimilated and hurt the musical cultures of many diverse bands and their genres. The first one was poorly run and members slept in uncomfortable barracks until the season was done. In a way, Sousa was betraying the fact that his parents were German Americans who introduced Blastermusik and Tanzlmusik. As he became more famous he became more pompous, homophobic, and xenophobic. Yet Hollywood and even The Music Man portray him as a strongman in American Music Education when it was his musicians like William Bell a tubist who taught Harvey Phillips to play the tuba and became a tuba advocate who was the real great educator.

Every December tubas and euphoniums gather to play melodies on Tubamus, not because of John Phillip Sousa but because of the tragic story of William Bell’s death for the tuba community as well as the arranger Alec Wilder who died on Christmas Eve. Along with the carols is Bell’s favorite piece, Komm Susser Tod to honor tuba players who are no longer with us like Arnold Jacobs and Harvey Phillips.

Even Meredith Willson who wrote The Music Man was a piccolo player in his band before writing the best band director in music theater history Harold Hill. Harold Hill is a professor of Music Education yet he is not a Phi Mu Alpha male or someone like Sousa himself. He advocates for progress and fights against people's misjudgment, greed, and elitism like the major of River City who wants to sabotage him. His Think Method is similar to Arnold Jacobs's philosophy of Song and Wind with Song being the mental and psychological and Wind being the biological and physiological part of playing any instrument.

If Harold Hill played Dungeons and Dragons he would be a Chaotic Good for River City and John Phillip Sousa would be a Lawful Evil because he plays by rules that are outdated and not for the progress of everyday people. Yet in America, people have awards and scholarships in his name that belong in a museum more than on a band director's wall. Do I like Sousa’s music and marches as a tuba player? Yes, but to meet the real man in person would be horrible because people in his time also believed in Eugenics which killed, sterilized, and euthanized people like me with special needs. Playing The Stars and Stripes Forever for the first time in my Waterford Band was a great achievement of mine as a tuba player and one I’m proud of.

I can still like Harry Potter despite J.K Rowling's homophobia because as an adult I can separate the author from the art. Yet imagine hearing a Disneyficated or watching a Disneyfied history of John Phillip Sousa like Clifton Webb’s Stars and Stripes Forever at school and then discovering his technophobic essays and even xenophobia towards genres like Klezmer, Dutchman, and Early Jazz and even towards European people on tour. There is defiantly a conflict for people who can’t separate fact from fictitious history. Especially for band directors and music educators who don’t know about American History or even World History which is troubling. It’s even more troubling when some education groups and directors seek out the Disneyfied story or events on sites like Save The Music and others without doing the homework of fact-checking.

All The Lonely People

Marching Bands exist in every culture and even adapt and change to fight powers like Colonialism and Racism. When British Brass Bands came during the Imperilization of India the Indian people took their culture and mixed it with British Marching to create their own marching culture. That culture is what inspired the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Harts Club Band focuses on the Indian Buddhist concept of reincarnated paradise and peace on earth.

The Beatle's trip to India was seen as an act of peace and forgiveness for many atrocities and even pillaging committed by the British. Gorge Harison even learned how to play the sitar from the master of the instrument Ravi Shankar whose ensemble played at a tribute concert to honor his life.

The Indian note system and music theory are called Raga which is way older than Solfege and Circle of Fifths. The Raga is sometimes considered a holy language in Hinduism with the great note being a bass clef Bb 1 or OM which is the beginning sound of the creation of the world and universe. For tubas, it’s our bottom register note which has an earthy mystic quality and its drone can be built off of many religious traditions such as the music of Buddhist and Franciscan monks. If Bb 1 is not familiar to you as a non-music theorist you probably heard it built off of the Mystics Call of the Crystal in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal.

However, Bb does not always have to sound somber or earthy. Many brass and woodwinds in Volksmusik and Blastermusik of all genres in Europe are tuned to Bb. The Circle of Fifths, which is used and taught in Jazz and was invented by a German Music Theorist to get rid of the confusion Sofigie created with his system of Do-Re-Mi. After all, how do you start a scale with sharps and flats if you only have Do-Re-Mi’s to work with? So he made it easier using an alphabet like how children are taught to read using A-G. In Germany, children are still taught to use the Circle and build off of chords. It’s the same reason why you learn the Alphabet before you read The Cat in the Hat.

However, different countries admire different cord structures that deviate from Classical Concert Cannon. Zelda, Pokemon, Shohen Anime, and J-Pop use a cord progression called the Royal Road because it’s easy and sounds good for all ears.

Some Volksmusik genres like Karterner Leid, Schlager, and Zaruli Jodeln are not in major keys, but in minor to reflect longing and homesickness with resolve in minor or major. Some songs may mix major and minor sounds like in the Karterner Leid Diandl geh her zum, Zaun.

Even some songs in major keys can have lyrics that clash with feelings of joy and happiness. Schubert’s Leider Der Frolle is about men who cheat on young women with the titular trout being left to die. Es War Einmal ein Holtzhacker so Stolz is about two men fighting over a dairymaid and getting shot because of it.

Even Frozen’s Let it Go is more of an Angry Revenge Ballad than an uplifting Disney Song like Part of Your World. This is because all her life Elsa the Snow Queen was told her powers were destructive and harmful rather than the joyful side she brought to Anna. Now that she has fled from the people who scrutinize and judge her she can feel free to be herself (I’m never going back again…). Even Part of Your World has a rebellious spirit in it as well.

What would I give if I could live out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand?
Betcha on land, they understand
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters
Bright young women, sick of swimmin’
Ready to stand

Much of the so-called Disney-I-Want-Song-Formula was created by a queer man Howard Ashman who also wrote Beauty and the Beast and Aladin. Ironically his first success was a horror musical Little Shop of Horrors which is about a plant that eats meat and then people which was un-Disney. However, a lot of songs in the Great American Song Book have I-Wants too like White Christmas (I want it to snow) and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The music in the film The Wizard of Oz became popularised by LGBTQA people so much that Naveymen who were queer or gay called themselves Friends of Dorthy. Julie Garland became an advocate for queer and gay men and women so fiercely that she fought back against an owner who would not allow a gay couple to come to her show.

It saddens me as an Asperger’s and Asexual person that people don’t talk about Classical and Popular composers' struggles with their gender and neurodiversity in Music Classrooms. It anger’s me when we don’t teach children that composers and musicians are people too and not pedestals. Howard Ashman suffered from AIDs while writing Beauty and the Beast and Aladin. His legacy leads to Mulan’s Reflections and Moana’s How Far I’ll Go. Mozart after becoming an independent composer was disinherited for leaving the court of his father yet wrote the greatest operas near the end of his life and in poverty. He was also Kraners Savant Autistic which meant he masked a lot of his emotional issues in front of friends like Salari.

Many Volkmusikant and musical families were discredited in the tourist trade or got renamed and Disneyficaed like the Von Trapps. Jodeling became popular again when American Soldiers from the Second World and Cold War brought home tourist records meant to fool Russian Hackers into thinking an American airwave was a Tirolian or German Radio Station. The man behind all the records became famous after his death in 2015, and his records and videos from German Shows like Musikanten Stadl became viral. His name is Franzl Lang he fought to have his face on records because many records in the tourist trade showcased names of groups and pictures of families who played for tourists but never gave them credit for the vocals or playing of each instrument. Franzl not only fought the Cold War with his jodeln but also gave them and other artist credit that they never received before.

The Hills are Alive with Type Casting and White Washing

Maria Von Trapp died at 99 years of age.

The reason why Germans and German-Americans display photos at funerals no matter how embarrassing has an accurate German word, Erinnerungskultur. Photos and Pictures help us remember that life that has passed on before us and also that our lives must be lived to the fullest because your family, your friends, or even you will come to meet death. In Hans Christan Anderson’s The Little Match Girl death is depicted as a kind old woman rather than the Grimm Reaper because dying is hard for children to understand. In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the character of Gollem who is afraid to die and is greedy ends up saving both Frodo and Sam. In Return of the King, Pippin asks Gandalf what dying is like which is an important question for kids to ask.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take.

In German and German-Speaking Cultures how we want to be remembered afterlife is important. Yet how can we remember Maria Von Tapp and her family's struggles with being refugees and assimilation when she is whitewashed in The Sound of Music by Julie Andrews who is English? Von Trapp’s journey did not end with climbing a mountain but with dealing with the xenophobia and sanitization of her real story by Roger and Hammerstein who made the Jewish Mailman a Nazi despite themselves being Jewish and Queer. It still goes on in Hollywood today with Weird Al Yankovic who is Slovinian-American being played by Danel Radcliff who is English in the film Weird.

The Slovenian-German genre of Oberkrainer has a wide influence in American and German Volksmusik and any young Slovenian American who can play accordion and sing would love to represent a high-profile figure in a community that like German Americans is very marginalized in media. When an English person plays a person of Immigrant or Any Ethic group no matter the Nationality, it angers me the same way Big Bang Theory, Music, and Glee do when it comes to Neurodiverse and Disabled communities being played by non-disabled or neurotypical actors and actresses.

Imagine the reaction if Danel Radcliff played Bruce Lee instead of Weird Al which is why so many people have boycotted the Oscars or used the hashtag #Oscarssowhite or #nothingaboutuswithoutus. After winning West Side Story another musical that suffers from the same typecasting problems, Steven Speilberg made a snide and xenophobic remark about the creators of Squid Game. What would Weird say to a generation of Slovenian Children whose musical figures like Slavko Avsenik and Weird Al if Hollywood continues a crusade of Immigrant people being played by English Saviors?

When we as children see our nationality or minorities portrayed by an English person it’s whitewashing the fact that we are human beings with humanity and human stories. The same too goes for cultures that have been there even before the European Settlement and Colonialism of the Americas. Preserving Spoken Language and Poetry by Native Americans is no different than recording their songs, dances, and folktales. In the Silent Flim, The Silent Enemy, the Cheiff played by Chief Chauncey Yellow Robe a Lakotota Indian gives a vocal monolog way before Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. He tells the audience that all the actors in the film are Native Americans, not White Actors pretending to be Natives.

He says that his hope for this film is to stress that regardless of tribe, race, creed, and color we all struggle with the same silent enemy. On the screen appears the name of that silent enemy, HUNGER. The film tells the story of a hunter named Baluk and his struggle with a jealous, greedy, and manipulative shaman, it’s also a tale of the change of seasons and the survival of the seasons despite death and jealousy. In the 1930s Baluk’s fight with the bear to save the chief's daughter was the equivalent of Conan the Barbarian in the 1980s fighting Snakes and punching a camel.

However, the actor who played him like most minorities and foreign actors in the silent era was not Blackfoot or Cherokee but African American with light skin to pass as Native American. Today more Native American actors and comedians are writing shows with both Native peoples and audiences in mind, yet Disney has still not addressed how seriously problematic the song, “What Makes the Red Man Red?” is when sung at football games, park rides, and in music classes because it too is the problem with Hollywood and Music Education.

That some traditions, tropes, and behaviors are allowed to exist no matter how unethical and damaging they become later on. I’m sorry to say that Drumline and American Pie are not documentaries, but fantastic comedies where no one dies of hazing or bullying which is sadly the reality in many marching bands regardless of race.

The Best Damm Bullys in the Land

Hazing does not care what race, gender, disability, or ethnicity you are because hazing is a culture of dangerous people put into positions of power that can’t and are never questioned. This is why so many high-profile band directors like John Watters, Morgan Larson, Gorge Hopkins, and others hide behind the fraternal culture of Phi Mu Alpha including HBCUs.

John Watters of Ohio State’s Marching Band allowed a culture of hazing to happen because such actions of abuse were deemed normal. Yet the NCAA allowed the marketing of the marching band's famous routines with iPad tech to sweep under a culture that was later a fifteen-year investigation into a toxic environment. He made a list of students with inappropriate nicknames like Squirts and other obscenities, mocked other teams' fight songs with racial and homophobic slurs, had members march in bras and underwear, and had nude calendars of band members. All this was later put into a report that led Ohio to make hazing a felony. Yet Phi Mu Alpha had a trick up their sleeves, their attorneys and lawyers moved him to work at the Heidelberg Institute instead of facing charges like the criminal he is. Still, after the investigations, fans of the Best Damm Band defended him without wondering, “What if that was my son or daughter in that band with a man like him”.

“IT WASN’T ME!”

Serial Bullys like him always will cry out, “It was not me” even though the blood is right on their hands and The Today Shows hands too.

There is a reason why victims of Allentown Cadets director Gorge Hopkins described him like people did Walt Disney many years back, “Hopkins was God”. Not only did people in the Drum Corps respect him they worshiped him and his foundation of Warner Erhard's philosophy in music education. Warner Erhard Training gives abusers the power to make victims forgive them and make them regret the trauma and fears they had before in a new life. If it sounds too good to be true it’s because DCI and BOA are the largest governing cult in music education behind charities like United Sound and Music for All. No music teacher should have to give up their well-thought curriculum to get money and resources from a cult but so many do so without knowing where the money goes. Is it no wonder why both students, parents, and music teachers fear the presence of a band director?

https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/politics/george-hopkins-cadets-sexual-assault-drum-corps-allentown-20181113.html

Unions like NAfME, NAMM, Arts Councils, and Americans for the Arts should be helping and protecting students and teachers from predatory band directors regardless of background or school. However many have drunk the Koolaide of Toxic Competition and Toxic Positivity rather than address real problems of abuse, assault, hazing, discrimination, and lack of accommodations in the performing arts. If anything both DCI and BOA are the Jim Jones and Ron Hubbards of Music Education. Jim Jones is the reason why people have coined the phrase, “They drank the Koolaide” after creating an imaginary utopian paradise called Jonestown and later killing the residents of that utopia with poison Koolaide.

Drum Corps and Band Programs under DCI and BOA’s banner of charities promise a utopia where arts funding is never cut and all students get to go to a college of choice. Yet what they are given in the end is years of debt in tour fees and a lifetime of abuse, and trauma. Even HBCU bands face the same problems when movies like Drumline promise a utopia that only exists in a movie and not the reality when drum majors do die of initiation rituals on a bus like Robert Champion. The reality is no person chooses to be hazed, discriminated against, bullied, assaulted, or abused yet in the performing arts there are Music Educators who continue to harass and victim-shame people like me and others. It makes me angry when so many of us are told our aggressors and abusers might have a change of heart or we should forgive them because some things can never be forgiven.

Mary Procopio-My Discriminator and Band Director at Mott Community College.

I wanted very badly to be a music teacher and a professional tubist like Charles Dallenbach because so much of Music Education is dominated by Neuro Typicals and Cis-Males like the director at my High School Mr. Schuster. I never wanted to be an elitist and vile like him, so I joined a music program to be a better person and teacher who cared about Volksmusik and Autistic students. I never chose to be harassed, bullied, discriminated against, or fear a person so much that they made me cry in a bathroom for hours or doubt that I was a good tuba player no matter how hard I worked. It was not me who shut a door in my face or threatened me during a jury, it was Mary Procopio.

The people who did know and respect me as a victim were people like my brass instructor Mr. Russel, Leo and Nacy of the Flint New Horizons Band, and the dean Mrs. Miller who helped me change my major which was not an easy decision. Yet Mott Community College despite holding diversity and inclusion to a high standard never fired or punished her for making my peers and staff’s lives hell. If you knew a witch was in the woods gobbling up children and did nothing about it wouldn’t they also eat you too?

“First we are going to bake,” said the old woman. “I have already made a fire in the oven and kneaded the dough.”-Hansel and Gretal

There is a reason why cannibalistic giants, witches, and creatures regardless of gender are common in fairy tales, eating is a form of consumption that gives another person power. Imagine if Hansel and Gretal were punished for putting the witch in the oven, that is what victim blaming and shaming do to people who do point out the danger of giving an abuser too much power until it’s too late. We hear stories about victims and their names but it’s also important to know abusers' names too to hold their actions accountable.

In the movie Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters even though they are grown up they still experience people who say things like, “Your so brave” when they had no choice but to put the witch in the oven to survive much as people of any disability or impairments get bombarded with inspiration porn and when they hold it to account they are thought of as not being positive or hopeful when they are just making things better for others by showing the cruelty that harms people every day. They also see that not all witches are bad and can be helpful when they escape and know the dangers of the cult.

Many of the people who joined r/FlyingCircusOrchestra were not only students and vets of DCI and BOA programs but also Music Teachers, Directors, and Educators who did not drink the Koolaide. The first thing I tell victims and bystanders is to know their abuser’s name and keep writing their names against the trolls, doxers, and deniers of their experience. If sites like r/drumcorps did get a COPPA or Online Investigation into policies that sweep abuse under the rug like Rule 6, it would also help agencies like the FCC and FED investigate them for false marketing and exploitation of public school money to DCI and BOA governing bodies that continue a cycle of abuse on minors.

Many music students in poor communities feel like Coraline, they are given some things but not what they need, and no matter how much they beg they are given little distractions to do rather than a solution. When they see a DCI or BOA program give things they always wanted whether it’s a video on YouTube or a corps coming to their town they don’t know it’s a cult. Their community band is poor but the other band promises gifts and opportunities that are too good to be true until…

If public schools needed help they should get help from local and state programs not under DCI or BOA’s banner. Instead of getting help from her parents who don’t believe her Coraline got help from locals who knew the danger of the little door including victims like the three ghost children. The two old women also give her a stone to see over the illusion the Belldame made over the reality that she abused and neglected children and those who did obey got buttons sewn in their eyes to not see the other victims. When Coraline's parents are freed they realized that her needs and feelings were more important than their own goals allowing something new and better to blossom and grow. The three ghosts now are guardian angels that have eyes to see heaven. She and her new friend put an end to other people suffering by ditching the key to a door that should disappear.

Alt-Disneyfication

Instead of seeing children as tools and trophies to be won, parents and teachers should declare war on all Disnefication of knowledge and history by people in power whether it is a large corporation or people like Ron DeSantis or Denis Pragger. History is not a cartoon and nor is the literature and music that shapes and changes history and culture. Children are little people with amazing talent and large imaginations but they also have feelings and desires that need to be heard than hidden. Walt Disney knew this and exploited it with greed.

However, there are also counternarratives for such people as Walt. People who are good storytellers like Hayo Miyazaki, Dr. Seuss, Jim Henson, J.R.R Tolkien, Charles Shultz, Tezuka Osamu, and Bill Waterson of Calvin and Hobbs last longer for a reason. Because they tap into something that can free us much as Volksmusik did for me. It’s not nostalgia or bliss but hopes, fears, dreams, and problems that exist in fantasy, fiction, and reality. Even dark fantasies need a glimmer of hope including dystopias which is why I struggled with 1984. A video game like Bioshock could help a lot of English Teachers talk about why literature like Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and Altas Shrugged is problematic but also solve the problems in 1984 along with Tezuka Osamu’s Astro Boy where humans and robots share different opinions and personalities because they're made by people.

The manga also addresses issues children of all demographics regardless can relate to but also feel empathy for. Astro is created by a grieving father who lost his son Toby, however, no matter how much knowledge and humanity Astro has he will never grow up like a human child. His father in disappointment sells him to a Robot Circus with a cruel ringmaster Hamegg who turns robots into fighting and performing machines. Until a scientist who is into robot ethics comes to the circus and discovers that Astro knows a lot and is always learning about robots and people. Every special ed person knows a Hamegg or knows someone like Astro's Dad, or knows someone who complains about, “Them kids and their phones!” when technology can be good for social communication and combat isolation for a lot of Autistic people. I even wrote an essay from Astro's point of view on technophobic parenting and groups like Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood who tech-shame kids and parents without addressing parents and people like Simon Cowell, and Abby Lee Miller who do exploit children with technology.

People want to make better stories even if they're an existing property not out exploiting nostalgia or going woke, but because those stories tap into something deeper than a CEO’s pocketbook, a Band Directors trophy, an Oscar Judge, or any Studio. Are their people that do exploit nostalgia and childhood yes and their victims are people who become Disney Adults who are blind consumers and see the history of Walt Disney and America with buttons for eyes. Then there are people like Lisa Henson, Abagail Disney, and Rebecca Sugar whom are what Fred Rogers calls Helpers.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Fred Rogers

People that can make media better and people who work everyday lives better. People who want to pop our imaginations, hopes, dreams, and goals are Lucy Van Pelts who use depressive realism and toxic positivity to make themselves powerful when they have none. If I’m any character in Peanuts I’m Snoopy because every day I fight both Lucys and the Red Barrons of Music Education because I have hopes, dreams, goals, and an imagination.

I want a future where no child should choose or be made to choose to be a Disney Adult, Classical Jhadi, a Trophy, or a Lucy Van Pelt, but has a right to an imaginative and playful childhood without judgment, fear, auditions, or feeling forced to grow up which is why so many people leave Classical Music Educations, Marching Bands, and Drum Corps. Every child has the right to a music education without fear, discrimination, hazing, and judgment. That’s what the Voll in Volksmusik is about in German Speaking cultures all over it means all of us to have a right to defend and protect music education from Disneyfication, Elitisum, Gatekeeping, Discrimination, Homophobia, Xenophobia, and Corruption by DCI and BOA.

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Christina Bishop

Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra