November 20, 2011

What: A von Trapp Family Christmas with the Oregon Symphony and conductor Gregory Vajda

When: 3 p.m. Nov. 27

Where: Willamette University's Smith Auditorium

Tickets: $25 to $45 through or at the Travel Salem Travel Café, 181 High St. NE; 25 percent discount online through Nov. 24 with promo code thanks. Smith Auditorium box office opens at 1:30 p.m. on concert day. $5 seats for ages 14 and younger who are accompanied by an adult; reserve by calling (503) 364-0149 by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Meet Me for Dinner: No-host dinner with von Trapps and their parents takes place after the concert at Rudy's at Salem Golf Club, reservations required by calling (503) 399-0449 and mentioning the Oregon Symphony in Salem.

Parking: Free in the permit lots at Willamette University. For special-needs parking, call (503) 364-0149.

Of note: This will be Gregory Vajda's final concert in Salem as resident conductor. He recently was named music director of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra in Huntsville, Ala.

The von Trapp Children - Melanie von Trapp, 20, and siblings Sofia, 22, Amanda, 19, and Justin, 16 - have spent their adolescences on stage, wearing dirndls and lederhosen. But it's all been good, said Melanie recently while taking a break from touring in Atlanta. "It taught us a lot about working hard and if you want something, you have to go at it full blast," she said. "We spend 24/7 with each other; we have grown close and learned to get along with each other." The "children" - who now prefer the von Trapp Singers or the von Trapp Family, despite their official bios - will be in Salem Nov. 27 for "A von Trapp Family Christmas." Gregory Vajda will conduct the Oregon Symphony in a program of "Sound of Music" songs, carols and family favorites. After the show, the singers will join the "Meet Me for Dinner" event for concert-goers at Rudy's at Salem Golf Club. "We love being able to meet people who live in the places we sing in," Melanie said. "It means more to be able to connect with the audience that way and hear what they have to say."

Melanie and her siblings are the great-grandchildren of Count Georg and Maria von Trapp, whose unlikely romance was dramatized in the "Sound of Music" on Broadway (1959) and on film (1965). Mary Martin (Broadway) and Julie Andrews (film) played Maria, the novice-turned-governess who taught the count's kids to sing. The original von Trapps fled war-torn Europe for Vermont, opened the von Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe and toured worldwide. They sang their last show in 1956.

Melanie and her siblings picked up the story nearly a half-century later, in 2003. Their grandfather, Werner - called "Kurt" in the film - suffered a stroke, and the four kids decided to record several of the songs he used to teach. That family gift morphed into a full album. The children wound up opening for pianist George Winston and touring with a two-hour show of their own. "To be honest, we didn't have any idea what we were doing," Melanie said. "We loved to sing. There was no pressure from the rest of the family to get started."

YouTube videos show the kids growing up on stage as they toured the United States, made guest appearances on "Oprah" and "Today" and recorded five albums. A world tour took them to Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea. On the road for nine months a year, they were homeschooled through middle school, then worked long distance with a tutor for high school. The girls started college but decided to take this year off to tour.

It hasn't been hard to channel the spirit of the original family, Melanie said. For one thing, their dad, Stefan von Trapp, the youngest son of "Kurt," led singing on family car trips from their Kalispell, Mont., home. Growing up, they'd often visit their extended family in Vermont. Their great-aunt Agatha - "Liesl" in the film - would tell stories and share the sketchbook she had made during her own von Trapp Family touring days."We would sit there and laugh so hard because we knew exactly what it was like," Melanie said. "It was really fun to be able to connect with our great-aunt that way." During part of their show, the girls wear traditional Austrian dresses that have been passed down in the family, including some that Maria herself wore.

Touring takes most of their time these days, although the siblings enjoyed a rare break earlier this month to meet with their vocal coach. In what free time they have, they love to hike and to explore the places they visit, Melanie said. Next year, they'll spend six months touring China, Malaysia and the Philippines. "It's amazing how much 'The Sound of Music' has been received over there," she said. "They know every word to every song, and they sing along. For some reason, there's a huge base for us over there." Melanie couldn't predict how long they'd keep this up. "We love to perform, and we love singing," she said. "As we grow musically and incorporate that into our show, the show grows and we grow. "We'll be doing it as long as it makes sense and is fun. Who knows what will happen."

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