1935 - 2020
Jim Christensen of Villa Park, trombonist, music composer, conductor and arranger, was well known throughout the U.S. and Canada for “the Christensen sound” in over 250 published works. Jim was music director for Disneyland and Walt Disney World, writing soundtracks for the “Main Street Electrical Parade,” and many other Disney attractions.
Jim met his wife Karen at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Jim graduated in 1957, and taught music one year in Rio, Wisconsin. They married in 1959, after Karen graduated. They lived in West Point, New York where their first son Kent, was born, and where Jim was a trombonist and arranger for the West Point Band.
They returned to Madison in 1961 where Jim received his masters degree and became the director of the UW Marching Band. Both Karen, on flute and piccolo, and Jim on trombone, were members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Jim also directed the Madison Municipal Band with Karen as first flutist. Two sons, Timothy and Brad, were born in Madison.
Jim directed the UW Marching Band at the 1963 and 1968 Rose Bowls. He was called for an interview to become the music director at Disneyland, a position he accepted in anticipation of the opening of Disney World, Disneyland in Paris and China. He wrote music for the new theme parks and, through the years, had many of his arrangements and compositions published.
The family moved to California in 1968 and arrived at a hotel across from Disneyland on June 4. After considering and looking at other places, the family moved into a newly-built home in Villa Park in April 1969. Living close to three schools in Villa Park seemed to be a good choice, as a fourth son, Chris, was born in 1971.
The family traveled to Switzerland and Hawaii, when Jim conducted and taught musicians and directed band at summer music camps. Jim and Karen were also involved in the local schools and community, using their Disney contacts to help produce two big shows featuring local residents for the Villa Park Women’s League, “Showtime” in 1980, and “Celebrate” in 1982. A third show, celebrating Villa Park’s 50th year, was performed in 2012.
After working at Disneyland and guest conducting community bands in California and other states, Jim was assigned to audition and conduct an All-American College Orchestra at Disney World every summer for 10 years. In 2019, he was honored at their reunion in Orlando. Two of the Christensen sons auditioned and had participated in the summer orchestras in 1986 and 1992.
Jim is survived by his wife Karen, who has continued to do Philharmonic Society concerts in Orange County schools, with much of the music arranged and published by Jim. Son Timothy lives in Reseda with his wife Shari and daughter Taylor, and continues to perform at the La Mirada Theater and the Laguna Arts Festival. Son Chris was awarded “Principal of the Year” by the Fountain Valley School District, and continues to perform on his cello for concerts and events. He has three children, Brittany, Miranda and Conner. Son Brad loves food and people, and works locally. Son Kent, a drummer and gymnastics teacher, predeceased Jim.