September 23, 2009
Sep. 23--Elisabeth von Trapp clearly remembers the first time she was aware of her legacy as part of the von Trapp family that produced the Trapp Family Singers and inspired "The Sound of Music" musical and movie.
She was about the age of five when her family saw "The Sound of Music" play in Burlington, Vt., starring Mary Martin, the first actress to play Maria on stage. Her grandmother, the real Maria von Trapp , got up in front of the congregation and spoke -- and Elisabeth was terrified for her.
She also knew the play was about her father, Werner von Trapp, one of the Baron Georg von Trapp's seven children.
"It was as though (that event) was a celebration of acceptance and acknowledgment," she said in a phone interview recently.
As part of a fall solo tour throughout Virginia, von Trapp will be performing at Watson Memorial United Methodist Church in Chatham at 7 p.m. on Sept. 30.
After that defining moment at such a young age, von Trapp remembers that Martin came to visit her grandmother for 10 days to learn how to portray her better on Broadway. She also taught the children to sing the songs from "The Sound of Music" that they had never heard.
"Life magazine did a story about Mary Martin's visit and needed kids for a photo op," von Trapp said. "There were pictures in the article of me, dancing with her on the front lawn of the lodge ... It started to dawn on me that it was unusual, but it was fun."
Von Trapp was born and raised in Vermont where she still lives with her husband, Ed Hall, her driver for the tour.
The von Trapp family settled in Vermont after escaping Austria before World War II. They first lived near Lake Champlain, which reminded them of the lake they had grown up near in Salzburg, von Trapp said.
Then they hiked up to Stowe, Vt., according to von Trapp, and found the home that became a lodge and later the Trapp Family Lodge, a 2,400-acre Austrian-style mountain resort owned and managed by members of the Trapp family.
Elisabeth von Trapp lives nearby in Waitsville, Vt., where her part of the family bought a beautiful farm not far from the lodge, allowing her to visit her grandmother every day when she was growing up.
Touring since childhood
There are 27 cousins in von Trapp's generation, but she is the only one who now tours, even though they all grew up singing.
"Whenever we were together, we would sing," she said. "Before a meal, before leaving a party, at birthday parties, if we were sad or joyful, at Thanksgiving if there was something to be thankful for -- the moment was always crowned with singing."
For the past 10 years, von Trapp has been touring throughout the world and the United States. Singing professionally since childhood, von Trapp has performed from European cathedrals to Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center.
She has also released five self-produced albums. Her music has been featured on National Public Radio, BBC-Radio, Japanese National Radio and CNN Spanish Radio.
Inspired by her father's guitar playing and singing, she began taking piano lessons at age 8 and by 16, she was playing guitar and traveling New England performing with her siblings at weddings, gospel meetings and town halls.
"I have performed in every beautiful jewel of a theater," she said. "I've had the experience of small towns, large cities, cathedrals and churches."
When a minister in South Carolina asked if she would be willing share her music with smaller communities, she decided she would do a fall solo tour. The minister sent out an e-mail to see who would be interested and got a "phenomenal response," von Trapp said.
Performing in Chatham
One church to respond was Watson Memorial in Chatham.
"We are thrilled to have the opportunity in Chatham not only to meet but to participate in a concert by the granddaughter of the legendary Baron and Maria von Trapp," Pat Tony, pastor of Watson Memorial, said.
Von Trapp said her musical selections range from "Bach to Broadway, from Schubert to Sting, and maybe a little of Rogers and Hammerstein too."
Her Web site, http://www.elisabethvontrapp.com, states, "She sings timeless wonders like Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Favorite Things' and 'Edelweiss,' the music of Mozart, Puccini's 'O Mio Babbino Caro,' soaring gospel tunes, pop classics like 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' and her own stunning compositions."
Before touring, von Trapp had a clothing business, Von Trapp Designs, of women and children's apparel
"I loved working with textures and designs and had plenty of time to listen to music over and over, which helped me break the music down as to how I would perform it," she said. "I thought I was just paying the bills and being creative, but I never thought what it would mean for my music."
As part of her concert, individuals and local choirs will be able to join von Trapp on stage at the end and sing with her.
"We share a moment of song, and it changes everyone," she said. "Songs can bring us to a different place. The unity we feel in song is the memory we are left with. I will have a lasting memory of the moment we all blend together in song. It is somewhat visceral.
"I feel it for days, and it affects who I am. It is a collective vision. If I come to sing, I support the visions the community has."
If a church choir or individual wishes to sing but has not been contacted yet, Tony said they may call Watson Memorial at (434) 432-0161 for more information.
The concert will be financed through a love offering. Von Trapp's CDs will be available for purchase during a time of fellowship and light refreshments following the concert. A nursery will be available, but parents need to call the church ahead of time to reserve space.