AlliedNews.com - Grove City, Pennsylvania

October 17, 2012

Local hills come alive with young von Trapp singers

GCC hosts 'Sound of Music' connection

By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
Allied News

GROVE CITY — Great-grandkids to the couple who inspired "The Sound of Music" have been in Grove City since Thursday hanging out, taking in local events -- and helping fans reminisce with their famous singing gene.

The von Trapps, siblings that include Sofia, 24, Melanie, 22, Amanda, 21, and Justin, 18, performed last night to a delighted crowd at Ketler Auditorium at Pew Fine Arts Center at Grove City College.

"It's special being here," said Melanie, who studied at GCC in 2010 and would have been a junior this year had she and her siblings' singing career not taken priority.

They had just came from a tour in China before their stint at GCC, Amanda added.

The local concert included a duet with the von Trapps and the Grove City Touring Choir, which has members who are friends with Melanie, who asked the choir to sing with them.

The singers are the third-generation offspring of Maria and Georg "Captain" von Trapp, represented by Julia Andrews and Christopher Plummer in "The Sound of Music."

The captain is a widower with seven children -- which was true -- and Maria becomes their governess and eventually his wife. In real life, he and Maria had three more children together. Maria actually a tutor to Georg's sick daughter, who was also named Maria, but called "Louisa" in the movie.

The kids made up the Trapp Family Singers for 20 years "before 'The Sound of Music' ever came out," Melanie noted. Their grandfather Werner von Trapp -- the father of their dad, Stefan von Trapp, a stonemason -- was portrayed in the movie as "Kurt," the youngest of the seven kids in the singing group.

He is also the reason why the siblings -- of Kalispell, Mont. -- began singing professionally 11 years ago. Werner would visit his grandkids each year "and teach us yodeling songs as a fun thing," Melanie said.

In 2001, Werner suffered a stroke, so the grandkids made a CD for him; the music their "Opa" -- grandfather -- had taught them "because he couldn't visit us anymore," Melanie said. Building a career on some of that music -- which was encouraged by their mother and road manager, Annie von Trapp, who homeschooled her children with her husband -- started blossoming from there.

They opened for a benefit with the renowned classical pianist, George Winston, whose booking agent heard the Opa recording. The agent soon signed on the kids, whose first official performance was in Bethlehem, Pa., where the Trapp Family Singers performed first when coming to America.

The family escaped the Nazi occupation of Austria, on a train -- not through the mountains, as the movie portrays -- and their trip to sing in America was part of it, Justin said.

"They were detained on Ellis Island," he added, which was funny because the early von Trapp singers had been known in Europe for years. "They didn't know English at all," Justin added.

The current von Trapp siblings are the first singing group to form from the family since the Trapp Family Singers disbanded, although their fathers' sister, Aunt Elisabeth von Trapp, has a solo singing career.

Before their grandfather died, "our great aunts came with us onstage in Vermont and we all sang together," Melanie said. "It was a special show; to show their support for us." Most of the family live in Vermont. As the four siblings tour, they find that "people generally have a strong attachment to 'The Sound of Music' with childhood memories that give a positive reaction," Justin said.

"It reminds them of the positive message of the movie," he added. "We are honored and happy to be doing it."

"The Sound of Music" is "a little 'Hollywood-ized,' but it really kept the message and meaning of the story of having such strong principals and saying 'no' to the Nazis," Melanie said.

"That was all true and what the Captain believed. The whole family is so grateful they captured that."

The siblings got to meet Julie Andrews two years ago on Oprah Winfrey's talk show. From GCC, they will leaving the U.S. to sing in the Philippines in December, then performing with the international band, Pink Martini, at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Although much of their music is folk and classical songs, the von Trapps will be working to give it a more contemporary feel through the inspiring leader of Pink Martini, whom they met last year after a gig with the Portland Symphony, Amanda said.  "Now we're working on an album with the whole band."

After the collaboration is completed, "We'll be going to Japan next year," Sofia added. "We're building a team for the next step."

She, Melanie, Amanda and Justin never met their famous ancestors.

Georg had died in the 1940s and Maria died the year before Sofia, the oldest, was born. Only one of Georg's first seven children are alive; 98-year-old Maria, who brought his second wife to him. The three later children are still living and in their 70s. None of the young von Trapp singers are married or have children. "We don't have time," Sofia said, smiling. However, the four siblings and their mom were expected to take in a GCC football game today, and hang out with Melanie's friends tomorrow before leaving on Monday. "Our strong family unit has kept us grounded, and our faith. God has really blessed us," Sofia said. "With all the people we've met, we've felt blessed. It's been a wonderful life so far."

The von Trapps can be found on Facebook and Twitter under Von Trapp Children; their web site is www.vontrappchildren.com

Story published Oct. 6, 2012 in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201-A Erie St., Grove City.