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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MUSIC | The Trapp Family Camp (Personal Comments)

Fr. Wasner conducting the original Trapp Family Singers
in 1941. They went on tour in North America in 1938.
Maria Augusta Trapp's 1949 memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which was the basis of the Sound of Music Broadway show and movie has been republished by Morrow and is #9 on the NY Times best-seller list this week (Sunday edition, March 16).

Georg von Trapp was given his title by the Austro-Hungarian empire for services in World War I. After the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the von Trapps were Italian citizens and moved to Salzburg. Maria and her seven step-children and two biological children went on tour in 1938, and lived in Merion, Pa. in 1939, when the tenth child, Johannes, was born.

The Trapp Family Music Camp started in 1946 in Vermont and the Lodge was built for it. Georg von Trapp died in 1947 and is buried at the Stowe farm. As family members got married, substitutes were recruited. The group had its last concert in 1956. Some differences between the movie and the real story are described in a 2005 report along with a description of what happened subsequently:
[After the Trapp Family Singers broke up in] 1956, Maria, Johannes, Rosmarie, and daughter Maria went to New Guinea to do missionary work. Later, Maria ran the Trapp Family Lodge for many years. Of the children, Rupert became a medical doctor; Agathe a kindergarten teacher in Maryland; Maria was a missionary in New Guinea for 30 years; Werner was a farmer; Hedwig taught music; Johanna married and eventually returned to live in Austria; Martina married and died in childbirth; Rosmarie and Eleonore both settled in Vermont; and Johannes managed the Trapp Family Lodge. Maria died in 1987 and was buried alongside Georg and Martina.
Comment (John): The book came out the year our Granny died, 1949. The book is how we heard about the camp. We went to the Trapp Family Music Camp in Stowe in its first year at the new Lodge, 1950. When we got back to Montreal, we entered, as a family, a contest to prepare an album of descriptions of musical instruments.  We did one on the different types of recorders. We won second prize (we wuz robbed)...

Trapp Family on Tour in the USA in 1946. Johannes in
the middle would be seven years old. Fr. Wasner and
Georg von Trapp are in front.
When we went to Europe the first time in 1947, to visit relatives in Holland, on the boat (the Cunard RMS Ascania I think) we were called the "Lunch-Hour Marlins" because we went from 12 (Olga) to 2 (Lis). So in 1950  at the Trapp Family Camp, our ages would have been 15 to 5. The Trapp Family Camp was very important for us as a family - it was our first real introduction to choral singing and musical instruments.

We learned to sing many hymns in four parts (most of the musical repertoire was sacred music, since the neglected-by-history musicologist and conductor for the Trapp Family was Fr. Franz Wasner).

We also all started playing recorders. Olga afterwards continued teaching us and I also took recorder lessons in Montreal. Later we learned to play other instruments, but the singing was the most important takeaway.

Like Sheila (see below), I remember Agathe being especially patient. She became a teacher of young children. She died in 2010 at 97, leaving just four of the Trapp children left.

When we were at the Camp in 1950 the breakup of the Trapp Family Singers was already imminent. Some of the step-daughters wanted to become regular Americans and date/marry young men in the area. For as long as she could, Mrs. Trapp told them they were required to dress up in Austrian outfits to perform and make a success of the Singers and the Camp. Brigid’s story about Hedwig fits with the general stress that my older sisters observed among the step-daughters, who were doubtless watching the biological clock.

The Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway show with Mary Martin opened in 1959. The movie with Julie Andrews opened in 1965.

Olga:  The original book that came out in 1949 is what brought us to  the camp. Mother bought it and afterwards took us to a concert in Montreal where she learned about the Trapp Family summer camp in Stowe, Vermont. The Marlin Family descended on it in 1950, when Dad was settled in his new job with ICAO.  Mother found out that that Maria was not altogether pleased to have another big Catholic family there headed by a forceful woman. For the five eldest children, it was an unforgettable experience - total immersion in music.

Monsignor Wasner with Pope John
Paul II.
Brigid: I was 14 in 1950. My strongest memories are of the saintliness of Fr. Wasner, and the slight clash between Mother and Mrs. Trapp. For example, Maria Trapp was telling the story  about her struggle with her daughter Lorli (Eleonore), when Lorli was a little girl. She wanted Lorli to clean up her mess.  They had a big argument with Lorli saying "No!" until finally Lorli said, “Yes”.  So Mrs Trapp hugged her and put her to bed. But Mother pointed out that Lorli had never cleaned up the mess! In 1950, Lorli was grown up–about 18, and very pretty.  Mrs. Trapp seemed to prefer her biological children to her stepchildren, but she did save them all by bringing them out to America in 1938. However, when Hedwig wanted to marry a local farmer, Mrs. Trapp forbade her to, because she was their only soprano! She even locked Hedwig in her bedroom. But Hedwig was headstrong, tore up bedsheets and let herself out of the window, where her lover was waiting. They eloped. Mrs Trapp never forgave her. They got someone else, but it was the beginning of the end for the group. We heard this story later.

Sheila: I have memories of Agatha teaching me the recorder. I really liked her and she was very kind and patient. I also was very fond of Father Wasner. I remember mother thinking that Maria was in competition with her over who was the holiest. For example, If mother knelt in church, Maria would also kneel.