While much has been written about the dismantling of Opryland USA’s rides, little has been said about the closing of the theme park’s shows. Granted, most locals may not have cared much for these musical extravaganzas, but the shows actually played an important role in the development of young Nashville talent. For more than two decades, Opryland served as a training ground for singers, musicians, and dancers. The promise of a weekly paycheck, coupled with the theme park’s relative proximity to Music Row, lured singers from across the nation. In addition, Opryland, which had a peak cast and crew employment of 350, provided entry-level jobs for show directors, producers, and others who have since gone on to important positions in the entertainment industry.
Consider the following list: Singer Chely Wright joined cast members Ken Mellons, Rhett Akins, James Bonamy, Lonestar’s Dean Sams, and former Lonestar member John Rich in Country Music USA. At least three members of Diamond Rio performed at Opryland before they signed a record deal. Cynthia Rhodes sang at the stage just across from the Timber Topper before she moved to Los Angeles and landed a role in Flashdance.
“The greatest thing about Opryland for me was, number one, I had a gig in town,” says Chely Wright, who now has a deal with MCA Nashville. “Even if it was seasonal, I could count on money coming in. When we went to weekends, which was a big part of the year, my check was $128 a week, and I lived on it happily.
“I was surrounded by people with similar interests. We were backstage writing songs and cheering each other on. If you work at a store in a mall, it would be easy to let your focus drift and get away from improving your music and writing songs.”
Wright performed four shows daily in the theme park for three years and later landed her own showseven nights a week, four sets a nighton the Hurricane Deck of the General Jackson. “It reinforced the need for discipline and being consistent onstage,” Wright says of her old job. “If you have cast members, you can’t just sing several different notes. You have to be disciplined and do what you’re supposed to do.”
Jeff Gwaltney, who was recently named Walt Disney World’s senior manager of resort and convention entertainment/events, credits Opryland with launching his music-industry career. He performed there while attending Belmont College, and after graduation he accepted an entry-level job in show management. “Through that, I had the opportunity to get involved in writing and directing shows and got involved in the creative management of shows.” This experience in turn allowed Gwaltney to take a job as vice president of a production company. After that, he worked on the Mama’s Hungry Eyes project for Arista Records.
“When I came back to Nashville and started working with Tim DuBois and Arista, part of that goes back to Opryland too because of [Diamond Rio’s] Marty Roe, Dan Truman, and Jimmy Olander,” Gwaltney says. “Opryland gave Marty his first job, singing ‘I’ve Done Enough Dying Today.’ ”
While the park’s closing may not have struck a direct blow on Music Row, Gwaltney says it has removed those entry-level jobs that allowed singers to perform regularly. “I know that the music industry has mixed feelings about Opryland, but there’s no denying that some of these people learned and honed some of their live performance skills there.
“Where in Nashville do you go to have the opportunity as a performer to be in front of people 450 times a year? Where do you go to learn stage production? You can go to Disney World in Orlando or Dollywood or the Six Flags organization, but where in Nashville do you go?”
In response, Opryland spokesman Tom Adkinson stresses that the company isn’t leaving the entertainment industryit’s merely changing gears. Opryland Productions will continue to produce shows for the General Jackson, for cruise lines, and for tourism opportunities in Nashville and Myrtle Beach. “Indeed, one big piecethe theme parkis gone, but we’re not out of the singing and dancing business by a long shot.”
Mind over music
Like many others, Corrine Champigny moved here from Canada in hopes of landing a record deal. But while chasing her dream, she found her true calling as a meditation and massage therapist. With clients such as Sony’s Paul Worley, Lyric Street’s Randy Goodman, and songwriter Kent Blazy, she is emerging as the music industry’s stress-removal guru.
Champigny, certified by Deepak Chopra to teach Primordial Sound Meditation, frequently travels to churches and coffee shops, where she discusses meditation and performs some of her spiritual music. Her book/CD package, Manifestation Handbook With Songs From the Heart, offers inspirational lessons reinforced by such original tunes as “God Has No Religion” and “Let Your Spirit Fly.” Champigny says she felt compelled to produce the CD to provide an alternative to the “I can’t live without you” messages in many of today’s country songs.
“Meditation helps you remember who you really are and why you are here,” she says. “It helps you cut down the chatter of your busy mind and bring some silence and quietness into your life so that you can listen to your intuition and live life from a more relaxed place.
“Music-business people are essentially very spiritual, artistic people just because they are doing what they love. Then they get into the business world and they have the stress of trying to make a hit record and they’ve got bosses they suddenly have to answer to. There’s a real struggle about how to combine their spiritual and business lives.”
After music executives began coming to Champigny for massages to help them eliminate stress, the songwriter decided she wanted to teach them meditation so they could help themselves. She offers four-part weekend courses that teach the difference between visualization and meditation. Participants are given their own personal mantra, to be used 30 minutes twice daily.
“Finding time is the number-one problem people say they have,” she says. “You can do it whenever you like. The recommended time is in the morning and afternoon, but if people are too rushed at home, some of them close their office doors, or they’ll go to the car when they’re in the studio.”
Blazy, who has written such hits as “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and “She’s Gonna Make It,” says he’s willing to try anything that expands his spiritual consciousness. “The cosmic consciousness would be that everybody and everything is related,” he explains. “By meditation, you feel a oneness with everything on the planet. It doesn’t happen every time, and it doesn’t happen immediately; but when it, does it has a profound effect on your life.”
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