The Last of the Von Trapp Family (“Sound of Music”) Dies
The West’s Judeo-Christian heritage rejoiced in the contributions of the Von Trapp Family Singers, made famous in the 1965 movie, “The Sound of Music.” The report came out that the last of the family members (who had not been one of the singers) has just died at age 93.
I once wrote about the Von Trapp Family:
The End of an Era that Ended Long Ago
By Jerry Newcombe, D.Min.
I need a break from all the bloodshed and mayhem in the news. I need a mini-vacation from the violence, the beheadings, the cultural rot that confront us virtually every night on the news.
The Bible says that it’s good for us to focus on that which is good, that which is perfect, that which is lovely and of good report. Whatever things are pure, think on these things.
In the spirit of that advice, I want to say a few things about The Sound of Music, the 1965 movie of the year.
An event happened earlier in this year related to the movie that didn’t get much press. It involves the last of the Von Trapp Family Singers, the last of the children—the real ones, not the ones in the classic film.
In February 2014, Maria Von Trapp died in her adopted home state of Vermont. She is not to be confused with her stepmother, the one played by Julie Andrews in the 1965 movie. The adopted matron of the family had died in 1987.
But the death of the younger Maria Von Trapp marks officially the end of an era—an era that ended long ago.
As a grandfather of a young baby (one year, two months and three days as I write these words, but who’s counting?), I am amazed at how transfixed she can become while watching certain musical scenes from The Sound of Music. What a great movie. In particular, my granddaughter tenses up in anticipation and joy in watching the puppet scene from that film. Her eyes get real big, and she sometimes squeals with delight.
The movie is so well done and deserved its movie-of-the-year status. I hadn’t realized until reading a book on Orson Welles that one man worked in a critical capacity on Citizen Kane, as its editor, and also on The Sound of Music as its director—Robert Wise. What a resume. Two of the best films made. Ever. Both of those films stand the test of time.
What’s fascinating about the real Von Trapp Family is just how Christian the real story is. The purpose of the rest of this article is to highlight some of the faith aspects of the Von Trapp Family Singers that are not necessarily well known.
The religious elements come out to some degree in the movie. Yet when the movie was marketed for Brazil, instead of the title we know the movie by, they decided to call it (in Portuguese) “The Rebellious Nun.” But she didn’t really rebel. She just discovered that God’s call on her life was to serve God as a wife and mother, not in a cloister.
In her 1949 book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, Maria Augusta Trapp said of her marriage to the Captain, Georg Trapp, “I greeted it with a heart full of happiness and readiness to serve God where He needed me most—wholeheartedly and cheerfully.” Maybe it sold more movie tickets to call her a rebellious nun, but that wasn’t the real picture.
A fascinating book tells the true story of the family and Maria’s marriage to Georg. This was by Maria Augusta Trapp (Maria Von Trapp was the daughter of the Captain), the character played by Julie Andrews. The 1949 book was called The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.
Initially, she didn’t mind the assignment to help the children because she viewed it as a temporary situation: “After all—I don’t belong here; I am just loaned” (p. 19).
She was shocked when she found out they never put up an Advent wreath. She found that out when she asked Maria (the one who died this year), “Don’t you have an Advent wreath every year?” The child replied, “No, we never did. What is it?” So the nun on loan to help the children not only brought music to the Von Trapp family, but a Christ-centered Christmas as well.
The Captain later confessed, “I always feared Christmas more than any other day. But this year you have made it very beautiful for us. Thank you.”
Maria whispered a prayer of gratitude to Jesus, “I thank You so much for sending me there. Please help me to draw them all closer to You.”
Her prayer was answered. The Captain said to Maria, “I wish my children would get thoroughly acquainted with Holy Scriptures…Let’s start them with the New Testament, and let’s read it together every evening until Easter.”
Maria said of their Bible-reading: “It proved to be the Book of Books, the only one in the whole world to which a four-year old girl would listen with enraptured interest while all the philosophers are not yet able to get to the bottom of its divine wisdom.”
Maria and the Captain got married in 1927; and the Von Trapps began performing musically as a family after a priest friend, Father Wasner, discovered what talent they had. They became a smash hit.
Meanwhile, after the Nazis took over their native land in 1938, the children told their parents: “In school we are not permitted to sing any religious songs with the name of Christ or Christmas.”
This was just the tip of the iceberg. So they had a family conference, where Captain Von Trapp said: “Children, we have the choice now.” Either keep “the material goods we still have” or “our faith and our honor. We can’t have both any more….I’d rather see us poor, but honest. If we choose this, then we have to leave. Do you agree?” They agreed and got away in time.
On a sad note, they later learned that their mansion they had fled back in Salzburg had been seized by the Nazis, who turned their chapel into a beer parlor. Heinrich Himmler himself lived there and Father Wasner’s room was turned into a guest bedroom for Hitler.
Maria writes, “One day when Hitler was visiting there, chauffeurs and orderlies were waiting outside on call. One of these soldiers hummed the melody of a Russian folksong.” It was reported that Hitler then had them all shot on the spot.
The family came to America to tour as a music group. But initially it did not go well in this country. Their act was too oriented toward sacred classical music. They were almost reduced to getting menial jobs unrelated to music just to stay in America. Their first manager lost money on them and said, “You will never be a hit in America. Go back to Europe.”
Said Maria: “Back to Europe, with the Swastika stretching its black spider legs all over the map.”
But they got another chance from a new manager who said, “…we shall start by changing your name. Trapp Family Choir sounds too churchy. I am the manager of the Trapp Family Singers.”
Eventually, they settled down in Vermont and created the Von Trapp Family Lodge, which still operates today. So we salute the end of an era, which proved the wisdom of the statement made in the movie: “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Or as the elder Maria says in her book, “God’s will hath no why.”