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Legendary Disney songwriter Richard Sherman visits O.C. School of the Arts, sharing stories and advice

He has written some of the most beloved music in the world, including “It’s a Small World” and the songs for “Mary Poppins,” “The Jungle Book” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Walt Disney, who hired him and his brother Robert as staff songwriters at Disney Studios, considered “Feed the Birds” one of his favorite tunes of all time.

Richard Sherman is a living musical legend, and he made a special appearance at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana Wednesday afternoon.

He was joined onstage at OCSA’s Symphony Hall by Bruce Kimmel, an award-winning songwriter and producer of theater music, as well as Broadway stars Susan Egan (an OCSA graduate) and Bret Shuford.

“Luck plays a great big part in everybody’s life,” said the 89-year-old songwriter, who has won two Academy Awards, two Grammy Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a National Medal of Arts. “When you recognize your opportunity, you gotta give it everything you got. You just go.”

Sherman reminisced about his songwriter father, composing his first hit tunes for Annette Funicello, and writing music for Disney movies and for Disneyland. His songs played for decades in the theme park’s Carousel of Progress, Journey Into Imagination, Rocket Rods and Enchanted Tiki Room.

And, of course, Sherman’s “It’s a Small World” is a staple ride and melody at Disneyland resorts across the globe.

“I think people want to kiss me or kill me for writing that song!” Sherman said, eliciting laughter from the students. “It’s not a political song. It’s a prayer for peace.”

Egan, a Huntington Beach resident, sang mellifluous versions of “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Tell Him Anything,” while Shuford, fresh from New York in a dapper blue suit, sang “I Want to Be Like You” and “Hushabye Mountain.”

“Everybody here has a dream,” Sherman told the audience of 200-300 enthusiastic OCSA students. “Hold onto that dream, and dream big. It can come true.”

Sherman encouraged the students never to give up and keep on trying, even when disappointments or rejections come their way.

“Take that and keep going,” said the composer, who once had four different productions canceled in a row. “That’s part of life. Disappointments happen. It’s part of the game.”

The OCSA students expressed appreciation for Sherman and the other entertainers’ visit, applauding and laughing frequently, giving them standing ovations and even singing along with Sherman and Co. to “Feed the Birds” and “It’s a Small World.”

“It was incredible,” said Emily Baggarly, 17, a junior at OCSA. “I grew up going to Disneyland, because my mom used to work there. She was a 1988 ambassador of Disneyland. It was so great to finally see the person behind all of those songs.”

Anna Bassman, 16, also a junior at OCSA, said, “It was really cool to see somebody behind all of my inspiration — I grew up listening to the songs. It was just really amazing to be able to sing with him at the end.”

The Sherman appearance kicked off OCSA’s 2017-18 Master Artist Series, which debuted last year to celebrate the public charter school’s 30th anniversary.

During this year’s Master Artist Series, Grammy-winning string group Kronos Quartet, Food Network star Alex Guarnascehelli, violinist Midori and jazz saxophonist Dave Koz are all scheduled to talk and perform for the students.

In the case of Kronos Quartet, individual group members will meet with students on Oct. 27 to discuss their own compositions and performances.

“It’s an incredible experience that we’re able to provide kids — to bring real-world working professionals who are at the top of their field, and can assimilate that real-world experience into the classroom,” said Teren Shaffer, executive vice president at OCSA. “There’s really nothing that can replace that. There is nothing like this. What we do is fundamentally different.”

“Anybody who’s ever achieved a dream, there’s always been a person to open the door for them,” said Egan, a frequent visitor to OCSA (and onetime interim artistic director) who helped bring Sherman to the school.

“I was excited about the opportunity to get him in a room with the kids,” Egan said. “Sometimes you have to be careful when you meet your heroes, but Richard surpassed every expectation.”

RICHARD CHANG is a contributor to Times Community News.

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