The Hills Are Alive
Real life Sound of Music: Third-generation von Trapp singers call Austin home
"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens… bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens." Chances are, most of you are familiar with those words. They are "My Favorite Things," as sung by Maria (Julie Andrews) in the classic musical The Sound of Music.
The classic 1965 film tells the story of Maria, a former nun who becomes the governess to widowed Captain von Trapp's seven unruly children. She eventually marries the captain, and the family's musical skills are used to escape Nazi Austria. The musical is based on the memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, written by the real Maria von Trapp.
An all-time favorite for many, The Sound of Music's legacy lives on with the great-grandchildren of Captain and Maria von Trapp, a quartet currently singing, touring and recording. And here in Central Texas we have the honor of being a place that the von Trapps have made home.
August, Amanda, Melanie and Sofi von Trapp are the grandchildren of Werner von Trapp, who was portrayed in the film as Kurt (the one who introduces himself to Maria by saying, "I'm Kurt, and I'm incorrigible!"). It was their grandfather who inspired the young von Trapps' singing career. They began singing 12 years ago in a home school choir in Montana. The kids recorded the music for their grandfather, who had suffered from a stroke and couldn't venture out to hear them sing.
"We were happy when we sang," says Sofi, 24, "and we found out that it made other people happy, too." "We always grew up with our family history, but it wasn't until we started singing that we really knew about it," adds August, 18. "Everyone else knew our family history — everyone knew the movie."
The four von Trapp great-grandchildren continue the family tradition by performing a variety of Sound of Music numbers, but they also sing a variety of folk and classical songs from various traditions, as well as play instruments. Their four voices come together in a harmonic blend that is almost achingly beautiful; the a cappella rendition of Edelweiss will bring tears to your eyes.
Melanie, 23, says that her group of singing siblings definitely resonates with people who loved the movie, as well as complete newcomers to their style of singing, which includes classic jazz and pop, a dash of choral singing, and yodeling. "We have a broad audience that ranges from eight to 80," Melanie says. "It's a story that they know — the music is so timeless, everyone can appreciate it." She adds that Chinese audiences especially love the yodeling. "They come up to us after every show and want yodeling lessons."
The von Trapps are increasingly in demand as symphony and pops orchestra guest artists, and have enjoyed sell-out crowds on world tours. They are currently on a tour of Japan, and will return to the U.S. to record a collaborative album with Pink Martini in Portland, where the band is based. They also just released a single called "Kitty Come Home" with Pink Martini and Rufus Wainwright.
"Pink Martini has really expanded our music," says Amanda, 21. "This is a big opportunity, and so exciting. They are great fun. Our hope is that we can reach a crowd our age as well, that they find it intriguing. We try to incorporate different cultures into our singing; that's a door that's been opened to us in so many ways. We're all writing our own songs, and growing up musically as well."
Of their increasing success, Sofi says that she's always flabbergasted by how kind people have been to the young singers. "Especially Thomas [Lauderdale, the bandleader] with Pink Martini. He has really mentored us. It's been an amazing 12 years of family adventures."
Melanie agrees. "It was a really fun way to grow up. Our first overseas tour was Australia — that was really exciting. It's been like an education as well as a job." Their parents travel with the group, making it a true family undertaking. Interestingly enough, the siblings say that their parents can't sing at all. "It must have skipped a generation."
"You could never engineer this," Amanda says of both the singing career and unusual family path. "It's been a really unique way to grow up and see the world."
It was the music that brought the family to Austin, where they have taped at ACL Live with Pink Martini. The combination of our city's culture and opportunities led the von Trapps to make their home here. "We fell in love with it right away," says Melanie. "Austin was really cool, and we were looking for a place to make a home base. We're so happy that our parents go back and forth from Montana to Austin."
Some of their favorite non-musical things about the city? The von Trapp siblings cite the weather and amazing food, naming The Salt Lick and Hey Cupcake as top favorites.