I was raised by a stay-at-home dad in rural Pennsylvania in the 1980s, the younger of two kids, the only girl in the house most hours of the day. I remember spending my first few years convinced that I, too, was meant to be a boy and that my parents had somehow convinced the doctors to make me a girl since they already had one boy at home. How else could I explain the fact that I could do more pull-ups than my brother on the trapeze bar hanging from the maple tree in the backyard, or that hot weather meant running around with my shirt off just like my brother and dad?
It wasn’t long before I realized I wasn’t really one of them and that any opportunity for solitude was golden. I began taking piano lessons when I was 3 years old, and much of the time I spent alone in those early years of childhood was passed in front of the 88 keys of the piano. That padded piano bench wasn’t just a place to practice my lessons. I taught myself how to bend into a back bridge and flip upside-down off the bench without it tipping over. I also spent hours reading and re-reading the stories scattered throughout the pages of my music books.
The composers featured within those pages became my friends, their pictures burned in my memory as clearly as members of my family. Two of my favorite piano friends were brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, the composers behind some of the most recognizable tunes in the Disney music lexicon. The Disney Songbook that lived permanently on the piano in the family room contained just as many pages of stories as music, and I could spend hours within them, staring at the black and white photos, imagining what it must have been like to sit in a room with Walt Disney and create the music that delivered magic to millions.
An old soul trapped in the body of a child stuck in a small town, I’d play “Feed the Birds” over and over, marveling that the same minds that imagined “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” could also create such a simple and haunting piece. The Sherman brothers became the gatekeepers to my imagination, the artists that helped me escape the boredom of a summer day, the restlessness of rural life, the fists of my brother and the frustration of my father.
In 2012, when Robert Sherman left this earth, I was filled with sadness at his passing, remembering him as a dear old friend. I continued to play his songs for my own children, remembering the joy they brought me. My daughter had a chance to get to know these amazing men a bit more thanks to their portrayal inSaving Mr. Banks, but never could I have imagined what my family had the opportunity to experience last month. Thanks to Disneyland Resort, I had the opportunity to attend the 50th anniversary of the it’s a small world attraction. Perhaps the most well-known Disney song, the “It’s a Small World” theme – the final song in that music book I played through countless times – was written by the Sherman brothers for the debut of the ride in 1964. While my family stood on Main Street across from Walt Disney’s private apartment, we participated in a sing-along led by Richard Sherman. That little girl from rural Pennsylvania somehow ended up in Anaheim, California, at the exact moment that one of her childhood heroes rode by singing one of the favorite songs from her childhood. This, this is the magic of Disney.
Thank you to Disneyland Resort for providing accommodations for my family for this event.