The Next 'Sound' Wave

Another genration of Von Trapp siblings is keeping the legacy in harmony

October 26, 2006|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,Sun reporter

It's apparent that the four von Trapp children, ages 12 to 18, are good sports when they cheerfully show up for a chat in dirndl skirts and lederhosen. Not on stage, mind you - in public. In an Inner Harbor hotel, to be exact.

They also are more than willing to brave blustery winds and temperatures in the mid-40s to go outside and stand on Federal Hill and have their photograph taken. Until, that is, a publicist firmly puts the kibosh on the notion.

One or more of the teens might catch cold, and starting tonight, the von Trapps have four concerts to perform with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Today section Thursday stated incorrectly that the von Trapp family escaped from Nazi Germany. The family escaped from Austria in 1938.
The Sun regrets the error.

"We might be so retro that we're cool," Sophia von Trapp, the oldest of the four siblings, says cheerfully. "But we're definitely not cutting edge."

No matter. The astounding appetite for all things having to do with The Sound of Music continues unabated, and Sophia, 18; Melanie, 16; Amanda, 15; and Justin, 12, are filling the niche originally created nearly seven decades ago by their singing grandparents and great-grandparents. (The four siblings are the grandchildren of Werner von Trapp, who in the film was named Kurt.)

After escaping from Nazi Germany in 1938, the seven original von Trapp children, their father, Capt. Georg von Trapp, and their guitar-strumming stepmother, Maria, performed on stages worldwide. The 1965 musical, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, won five Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. The stage adaptation is performed regularly to this day (and possibly into perpetuity) by community and high school theater troupes.

There have been the Sound of Music singalongs, which in the late 1990s became a cult phenomenon throughout Great Britain and the United States. Audience members warble the lyrics along with the performers, and dress up in such theme-appropriate costumes as warm woolen mittens, and brown paper packages tied up with string. As recently as 2004, 18,000 fans attended a Sound of Music sing-along in the Hollywood Bowl. The four von Trapp children were among them.

"Imagine 18,000 people waving their cell phones in the dark in time to `Edelweiss,'" Sophia says.

The mind boggles.

In their concerts, the siblings perform a smattering of standards from the musical (including "Edelweiss" and "The Lonely Goatherd"), but also sing gospel hymns and traditional European and American folk songs. They are putting the finishing touches on their fourth CD, which contains, among other things, an a cappella version of "Amazing Grace."

This week's performances also will include a special treat: an old German hymn taught to the siblings by their great-aunt Agathe, who lives in Brooklandville in Baltimore County, and on whom the character of Liesl loosely was based.

Agathe von Trapp, 93, will be on hand Friday to sign copies of her memoir, Agathe von Trapp: Memories Before and After "The Sound of Music." Her book, which was decades in the making, details discrepancies between the film and the family's real life. Among other things, Agathe never had a romance with a Nazi messenger boy; the family escaped by train, and not by crossing the Alps on foot; and the family patriarch was a warm and affectionate father, not the martinet portrayed in the film.

"I've reconciled myself to the movie," Agathe von Trapp, says in a telephone interview. "But I like the real story better. It was just as exciting."

The von Trapps are a close family, and the four siblings visit their great-aunt often. Agathe von Trapp recalls the meat loaf and mashed potato dinner that Sophia and Melanie, then aged 10 and 8, once cooked for them.

"It was delicious," she says. "And they cleaned up the kitchen themselves."

She was pleased and surprised when her great-nieces and nephew began singing professionally about five years ago.

Originally, they had recorded a CD to cheer up their grandfather, Werner, who was recuperating from a stroke.

They enjoyed the experience so much, they decided to pursue a professional singing career. Their first gig, in 2001, was in Bethlehem, Pa. - the same city where their grandparents had their first U.S. concert in 1938.

"I'm amazed at what they are able to do," Agathe von Trapp says. "They have the gift."

The siblings live in Montana near Glacier National Park, but they are on the road most of the time. They recently spent four days in the Philippines and a week in Korea.

Their parents, Stefan and Annie von Trapp, travel with them, and the youngsters are tutored on the road. Though they miss their friends, they say the benefits of their career have more than outweighed the sacrifices.

"We realized we could either stay home and go to school or travel the world and sing with orchestras," Sophia says. "What would you choose?"

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