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2 furloughed Disney World musicians keep playing and playing

A look at Walt Disney World Resort as it marks its 45th anniversary.
A look at Walt Disney World Resort as it marks its 45th anniversary. (2016 Getty file photo/Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

DAVENPORT, Fla. – Disney World was supposed to shut down for only two two weeks.

It was mid-March. Kathy and Jeff Thomas, a married pair of professional musicians with long ties to Orlando and Disney, decided to start playing from their Davenport home.

The world was “wigging out,” Kathy said. So they put on wigs and costumes to join in.

They spontaneously played a quick song together and streamed it on Facebook Live for their friends, family and colleagues to watch.

Kathy plays french horn while Jeff owns the trombone, an unusual combination for a duet, but again these were unusual times.

And then they kept playing, and playing, and playing. They have played a song every night through the pandemic, still going three months later.

“Tonight will be our 92nd show tonight. We’re into our 14th week,” Jeff said recently.

Kathy bought discounted wigs online. It was clear they needed reinforcements in their Halloween costume collection as the economic shutdown continued.

Every day, Kathy plans the theme and the outfits to match. She pulls a convincing Cruella de Vil when they play the villain’s anthem from “101 Dalmatians.”

Jeff takes the songs, in one case an ABBA disco tune, and arranges it specially for their instruments. For the record, Jeff said they played ABBA against his objections.

Every night, around 6 or 7 p.m., they play around 10 minutes on Facebook Live. No advertisement. No official start time. No long rehearsals.

“It gives us a purpose every day,” Kathy said.

Their skills stay sharp for whenever their gigs at the Orlando Philharmonic return or they can perform at Disney World again, where they played in the Epcot’s Candlelight Processional and other events for years.

Jeff was at Disney since the beginning. In high school, he played The Music Man’s “76 Trombones” and “When You Wish Upon A Star” with the Magic Kingdom’s opening day band in 1971.

They feel at a disadvantage compared to the harpists and violinists. How do you wear a mask while playing a brass instrument? They both have filed for unemployment while they wait for the concerts to come back.

Both of their careers include teaching college musicians and performing in classical musical festivals.

Yes, they are serious musicians, but now they can be playful and have some fun.

Kathy wore a tuxedo and Jeff put a wedding dress while they played on their wedding 14th anniversary that fell on April 28.

Sometimes, their cheerful songs didn’t match their moods. Kathy’s cousin who lived in Arizona got sick from a COVID-related illness and died recently. They played heavy metal from Pantera to honor him.

“I have to go out there and do it,” Kathy said. “We’re creative people. To not do it, it would ruin the day, especially when we’ve done it this long.”

They get instant feedback.

“I’m at a loss for words,” one person wrote as Kathy, her face painted green, played the “Star Trek” theme with her husband.

Another day, with beards and pointy hats, they performed as Snow White’s dwarfs.

“Thank you for this. I think we all needed this smile,” someone else wrote.