The story behind ‘The Sound of Music’

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Seven children singing perfect harmonies and winning the affections of their stern, naval captain father - what could be more endearing? "The Sound of Music," Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical masterpiece, has been capturing the hearts of audiences for generations. With this family classic coming to the Everest-Rohrer stage, the Bethel community might be interested in the background of this famous musical. sound of music For instance, there were actually ten von Trapp children. And no, dear naïve “sixteen-going-on-seventeen” Liesl was not one of them. The first seven von Trapp children did consist of five girls and two boys as portrayed on stage. However, their original names were actually Rupert, Agatha, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna and Martina. The playwrights, Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, changed the children’s sexes, names and personalities to preserve the privacy of the real children. In addition to the seven children Captain von Trapp had with his first wife, Agatha Whitehead (who died of scarlet fever), the Captain and Maria also had three more children together. Their names were Rosemarie, Eleanor and Johannes. Another difference between the musical and the true story is that Maria did not actually come as a governess for the children but as a tutor for one child in particular—also named Maria—who was too ill to walk to school. But as all the other children also gravitated to her, she became like a second mother to them over the next two years. Also, Captain von Trapp was not cold and detached but already had a close relationship with his children and encouraged their musicality. Interestingly, the captain did use a whistle to call for his children because of how expansive his estate was. However, Maria thought it was a fantastic idea! Also, the fun-loving, mooching Uncle Max was not based on a real person. The von Trapps’ music manager was actually the family’s priest Rev. Franz Wasner. Little is known about Wasner other than the fact that he left Austria with the von Trapp family and served as their music manager and conductor, leading The Trapp Family Singers, as the group was officially known, in classical pieces and folk songs, most of which were sung in the von Trapps’ native German. Unlike in the musical, the Captain and Maria had been married for eleven years and The Trapp Family Singers were already famous before the threat of the Nazis drove them to flee the country. Not only was the Nazi regime breathing down Captain von Trapp’s neck to join the Third Reich, but Hitler himself was demanding that the singing group perform at his birthday bash. After issuing multiple refusals to come, the von Trapps finally decided to flee the country. However, they did not “climb every mountain” to Switzerland, but rather hopped a train to Italy. Once the von Trapps arrived in America, they founded the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, which is still open today and features ski slopes, horse-drawn sleigh rides, an indoor rock climbing wall, spa treatments, concerts in the meadow, weekly airings of "The Sound of Music" and much more. Today, four of the real von Trapps’ great-grandchildren—Melanie, Amanda, Sofia and August—tour the world singing classics from the musical such as “Edelweiss” and “The Lonely Goatherd.” "The Sound of Music" has captivated audiences for generations with its catchy tunes and heart-warming storyline. As much as the playwrights crammed into the nearly three-hour musical, much was left out or adapted for the sake of creating as dramatic a show as possible. However, there is a real von Trapp family who has a slightly different story. And while it may not have all the same characters or the tunes we have come to know and love, it was still pretty amazing. The real von Trapp family provided the inspiration for one of the most heart-warming family classics of all time. It takes courage to let your family’s story be told (and adapted) to bring joy to other people. The Bethel College Theatre Department is performing "The Sound of Music" on Feb. 13-15. For tickets, call the box office at (574)-807-7080.
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