The Sound of Music, born in Vermont
I’m certain that everyone reading this has seen the film The Sound of Music, probably more times than they would like to admit. Who could forget that daring escape from the Nazis in the middle of a show! It was the perfect ending to a sweet, romantic story. The true story is quite different.
In 1926, in Salzburg, Austria, Maria Kutschera was hired to tutor one of the von Trapp children who was recovering from scarlet fever. She immediately fell in love with all seven children. Georg von Trapp was, in reality, a warm and loving father who enjoyed his family. When he asked Maria to marry him in 1927, she was not in love with him. Maria had been training to become a nun, but the nuns convinced her that it was God’s will that she marry. Maria and Georg von Trapp married that same year. At the time, Maria felt that she was marrying the children, but came to love her husband during the years that followed.
In 1938, the Nazis occupied Austria. The von Trapp family knew they had to get out. They boarded a train for Italy and planned a singing tour of the United States In that same year, they performed in New York City as the Trapp Family Choir, dressed in black and white Austrian folk costumes and singing in German.
The von Trapps finally settled in the U.S. in 1942, purchasing a farm in Stowe, Vermont, where they started a music camp. Maria was the driving force of the family, determined to create a top vocal group. She was known for her quick temper and iron will. She hired an agent who changed their name to the Trapp Family Singers, a name that was less “churchy.” The group toured for eight months each year and worked on the farm in the summer. The rigorous schedule and isolation of being on the road proved to be too much for some of the children, now ten in number and wanting to pursue other paths. By the late 1940s, Maria was forced to hire non-family members to join the group.
After Georg’s death, at age 67, in 1947, the future was in Maria’s hands. In an effort to promote the family, Maria wrote a book about their story which was published in 1949. The book was a success and revived the popularity of the Trapp Family Singers. During the 1950s, they were recording for RCA and even made it onto Elvis Presley’s 1957 Christmas album. Also at that time, Mary Martin read Maria’s book and as a result, The Sound of Music was born as a Broadway musical in 1959. The film we know and love was released in 1965.
Consisting of mostly outsiders, the Trapp Family Singers stopped touring in 1955. In 1956, Maria and three daughters went to New Guinea as missionaries. One of the daughters remained a missionary for thirty years, while Maria returned to run the family lodge. The other children chose a variety of careers–doctor, teacher, farmer, and music teacher. One daughter returned to Austria and one married and died in childbirth. Two settled in Vermont. The oldest son of Georg and Maria, Johannes, took over management of the lodge from his mother. Over the years, he improved and grew the family business, even adding a brewery. Maria was still going strong when she appeared on one of Dinah Shore’s daytime variety talk shows in the 1970s. She passed away in 1987, at the age of 82.
Family members have continued to perform throughout the years. The latest generation is a quartet of siblings, great-grandchildren of Georg and Maria. They sing contemporary music, breathing new life into the von Trapp name. In addition, the family has cemented their musical legacy by providing a beautiful outdoor venue for Stowe’s Performing Arts summer Music In the Meadow concert series at the Trapp Family Lodge. In Stowe, Vermont, the hills are still alive…
(by Carol Starkey)