Von Trapps grew into family tradition

Edelweiss, The Lonely Goatherd, Do Re Mi and other favourite tunes from The Sound of Music will be reprised by the Von Trapp Children singers when they perform at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre with Rita MacNeil on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Edelweiss, The Lonely Goatherd, Do Re Mi and other favourite tunes from The Sound of Music will be reprised by the Von Trapp Children singers when they perform at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre with Rita MacNeil on Sunday, Nov. 20.

The four young singers are the great-grandchildren of Georg von Trapp and his first wife, Agathe Whitehead. They are the step-great-grandchildren of Maria von Trapp, who was famously depicted by Julie Andrews in the 1965 movie.

While Hollywood took major liberties with the family’s story, including dramatizing the escape from Austria to Italy — which actually happened in broad daylight by train and not by an overnight hike through the mountains — the singing part was true enough.

The vocal talent shown in the film carried over even after the von Trapps emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1940s. The Trapp Family made albums for RCA Victor in the 1950s and performed on an Elvis Presley Christmas record before disbanding in 1957.

Then the singing skill appears to have largely skipped a generation.

Although one of the von Trapp grandchildren, Elizabeth von Trapp, still sings and tours, it wasn’t until the great-grandchildren came along that the family again produced a professional singing group.

The members of the Von Trapp Children are Melanie von Trapp, 21, and her siblings, Sofia, 23, Amanda, 20, and Justin, 17. They learned family songs from their grandfather, Werner (known in the movie as Kurt) since they were very small.

About 10 years ago, Melanie said their grandfather had a stroke and couldn’t come to their school or church concerts anymore, so she and her siblings focused on recording the songs he taught them. Other people heard the recordings and encouraged the Von Trapp Children to begin their professional careers — which they did by opening for pianist George Winston in 2001.

“There was no pressure from older generations or anyone in the family. And we were so young, we didn’t realize that there was this legacy and that we were carrying on a tradition. It just kind of happened,” said Melanie.

The members of the quartet, who excel at four-part harmonies, have since performed around the world, including Korea, Japan, Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, and all over Europe, North America and Africa.

“We love Canada,” said Melanie, who added the group is especially excited to be touring with Rita MacNeil.

The Von Trapp Children plan to sing Climb Every Mountain, My Favorite Things, and Christmas tunes including O Holy Night and the “kitchen party song” Christmas in Killarney with the Cape Breton singer.

Other songs in their repertoire are The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the Irish folk tune All the Blooming Heather, the Austrian yodelling song Blue Cheese, and the Rwandan national anthem, which will be sung in the Kin-Rwandan language.

“It’s so emotional and so much fun. It’s one of our favourites,” said Melanie, who will wear one of Maria’s original Austrian dirndl skirts when she performs.

While there’s no likelihood of, say, an Eminem song, sneaking into the lineup. “It wouldn’t go with the lederhosen,” quipped Melanie — she admitted her siblings’ personal music tastes go beyond the traditional folk songs and The Sound of Music tunes they sing.

Sofia is into jazz and classical music, Amanda is into country songs, Justin likes listening to new-age folk bands such as Fleet Foxes and Mumford and Son, and Melanie has recently been listening to a lot of blues, Celtic music and bluegrass.

“We listen to almost anything and everything. We explore all different types of music, bits of this and that,” said Melanie, who believes some of these broader influences are felt in the way the songs are delivered on stage.

The Von Trapp Children plan to tell some family stories when they perform in Red Deer. Audience members will learn how the movie version of their history diverged in many ways from real life. For instance, Melanie said the real Capt. von Trapp, who died in 1947, was a push-over. It was his second wife, novice-nun-turned-stepmother Maria, who kept the kids in line. “She was more the disciplinarian,” said Melanie, who never actually knew her step great-grandmother, who died in 1987, before she was born.

There were things the movie got right, however, such as how close-knit the von Trapps were — and still are.

While most of the clan lives in the Vermont area now, and the Von Trapp Children live in Montana, Melanie said the family reunites often — “especially when we’re touring. We get together quite a lot.”

Tickets to the 7 p.m. Rita MacNeil concert with the Von Trapp Children are $45.50 from Ticket Central.