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By Maria Augusta Trapp
New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 1997
ISBN: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1940 309 pages

Bob Corbett
June 2015

One evening in the March of 2015 we were watching a program on Public TV and a short program came on about the film, The Sound of Music. They talked about the film, but then one commentator pointed out that the film was based on a book that Maria Trapp wrote and that there were some interesting differences between the movie version the book itself. That immediately grabbed my attention. I also had a memory of just a few years ago when I went alone on a trip to Costa Rica and in a remote northern area of the mountains when I was walking along a tiny muddy road toward a national forest, I passed a large sign leading up a very muddy hill with two car ruts in the mud. The sign said: The Trapp Family Lodge. I’ve always wondered if it was actually run by the Trapps.

These two puzzles moved me to find a copy of Maria’s book. As pure chance would have it the morning that I was starting the book my partner, Sally, was feeling poorly and was just kicked back in her recliner resting with her eyes sort of closed but not really sleeping. I asked her if she’d like me to read to her from this book which I was just about to start. She was delighted for that, and after reading some 63 pages that morning, we resolved that we’d just slowly finish the book with me reading it aloud. It’s been a simply wonderful experience and now we are going to continue it with some of the books of short stories I have on my “to be read” shelves.

Our early read sounded in essence very much like the film that most people seem to know fairly well. However, a MAJOR difference is the person of Captain Von Trapp himself. In the film he is very stern and standoffish for a long time. However, in Marie’s account, the first time he heard the children singing, he was simply delighted and immediately joined in with them. After that he seemed to change and while not a father who stayed home all the time, he nonetheless was always a loving and caring and even gentle father. I liked the Captain Von Trapp of Marie’s non-fiction account much more than the movie father who was, for quite some time, a very stern and not a very loving and lovable father.

A second quite startling shock came for me in the early part of the book when some of the Captain’s friends spread rumors that the Captain had to marry Maria because he had gotten her pregnant! In the book she explains that this wasn’t really surprising the way gossip does run and even gets invented in social circles.

Maria tells of their early life and it sounds very much like quite an old-time Austrian life of even a century prior to the times it was, but given their separation, living in the large estate outside of Salzburg, it isn’t too surprising they could still live a very old-time form of life.

Two things combined to lead the Trapp family into becoming the Trapp Family Singers, much against the will of all of them at the beginning, and of Capt. Von Trapp for a long time:

  1. They lost most of their money when the Captain pulled much of his own wealth out of a London bank to help the “temporary” failing status of the bank of one of his friends. Alas the bank went bankrupt and he lost most of their savings.
  2. A famous Austrian opera singer just by chance heard them singing in a local park and urged them to go the next day to the folk festival being held in Salzburg. They ended up winning, and as they say, that was the beginning of a totally new chapter in their lives.

Thus began their singing, but it wasn’t for money, only for the joy of singing, but competing too. They did do some tours, but never spoke about money or being paid.

However, once the Anschluss came and Germany occupied and annexed Austria they used their concert “power” to come to the U.S. on a concert tour.

In New York and other east coast concerts they got a lot of good press and many wonderful people helped them out, however, the concerts simply didn’t draw, despite rave reviews. Then a blow came when there were denied permanent visas. They headed back to the Scandinavian countries and then back to the U.S. for another tour with only tourist visas as WWII broake out.

After that tour their manager in the U.S. had arranged short-term visas for another tour, but it simply didn’t go well. They seemed not to fit the nature of what American audiences wanted. But, they still had a visa for the concerts that were scheduled. By this time the war had fully broken out in Europe. They just were in a very unsure, even dangerous situation.

It took at least five years for the Trapp Family Singers to really become accustomed to American audiences and to work out programs that grew more and more successful.

At the same time they grew to dislike the humidity and nature of city living. They were used to the coolness of the mountain country and the rural setting. So as soon as they could save a bit of money and their tours were a fairly trustworthy source of income, they purchased a lovely spot in Vermont which reminded them in many ways of the Austria they had left behind.

During the years of WWII the family began their life in Stowe, Vermont. Their older sons were drafted into the army so the concerts became just for female voices. But much of their time was spent in building a new and larger house on the farm and learning to become farmers of virtually all that will grow or could be raised in Vermont. It is very clear that this was incredibly difficult work, yet they seemed to deeply enjoy the whole process.

As the basic story of the Trapp family has reached a major turning point Captain Von Trapp himself dies. This was also a sort of major turning point in the family, and things began to grow in their community and farm.

More and more people who are not related to the Trapps were incorporated into the family and they worked at the farm. This was a major rethinking of the nature of their work as something larger than a blood-related family thus recreating their community as a group of like-minded worker, prayers, and musicians.

The book is well-written and deeply touching. I would recommend it to all. It is INFINITELY “larger” than the movie, The Sound of Music.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett