I have had The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp on my shelf for at least fifteen years, and I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I guess that means there’s still hope for the hundred or so other titles languishing on the shelves. 😉 I’ve always meant to read this particular story, which is billed on the cover of the book I own as “The dramatic bestselling true story of The Sound of Music.” This time in my life of ultra-pickiness and a need for comfort reads seemed like a good time to try it out, and I’m glad I did.
I was surprised to find that the story of the musical The Sound of Music is covered in about the first quarter of the book. What follows in the book is, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.” In the musical, we watch as the Trapps escape the Nazis by climbing their beloved Austrian Alps. In The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, though, we go with them through the succeeding years–years of poverty, immigration and adaptation to a new country, but mostly, years of family life together and a determination and grit to weather the storms that come their way, of which there are plenty.
What I enjoyed most about this book is Maria Augusta Trapp’s voice and approach to life. She was actually sent to the Trapps as a tutor/nursemaid for a daughter, also named Maria, who was too sick to attend school (the mother Maria was herself in need of invigoration away from the abbey because of her health). Similar in some ways to the way it happens in the musical, she and the captain fall in love and marry. She quickly becomes a natural part of the family, and her faith and love are evident in her voice in the memoir. I marked several quotations that capture this.
Everyone was anxious to have all his homework done before supper, because then came the most beautiful time of day, the evenings spent together. A fire was lit in the fireplace. The older girls brought their knitting, the younger ones, their dolls or dwarfies; the boys and their father usually worked on wood, carving or whittling; and I, settling in a most comfortable chair, started to read aloud. It is most amazing how much literature you can cover during the long winter evenings. We read fairy tales and legends, hisotrical novels and biographies, and the works of the great masters of poetry.
After having read a couple of hours, I could say, “That’s enough for today. Let’s sing now; all right?”
That was the signal for everyone to drop whatever he was doing. We sat closer together and started out. First we sang rounds. You can do that for hours on end, and it is wonderful schooling for the ear. It leads quite naturally to polyphonic music. The rounds teach you to “mind your own business”; sing your part, never to mind what your neighbor sings. (72)
Isn’t that lovely? Of course I like it! 🙂
I also love Maria’s reaction when the family loses its considerable wealth. Oh, to have such an attitude! This is an exchange between her husband and her:
“What’s the matter with you? You act as if you had made a million dollars!”
“Oh, much more,” I said. I have just found out that we were not really rich, we just happened to have a lot of money. That’s why we can never be poor. I am so happy to know that we don’t belong to those for whom it is so hard to enter the Kingdom of God.” (114)
The book also has its humorous points, especially as the Trapps begin to try to adapt to American ways. Of course, most of these mishaps come as a result of not understanding or speaking English very well. It was particularly unfortunate for Maria that she learned much of her early English from a man (a bus driver, perhaps? his identity escapes me at the moment) with a penchant for slang and put-downs. Thereafter, she was known for saying what was inevitably the wrong thing at the wrong time, until much later when a neighbor and friend taught her a more refined way of speaking.
What I came away from this book with was Maria’s (and hence, the family’s) determination to seek out and do the will of God. A very devoted Catholic, Maria had learned during her time at abbey, “God’s will hath no why.” Through poverty, illnesses, war, family griefs, and loss, they lived out this truth.
Of course, finishing this book gave me a hankering to watch The Sound of Music, which was perfect timing since I’m taking it easy nowadays and normally would find it difficult to squeeze in such a long movie. My girls and I settled in for an early afternoon of “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” and “Do-Re-Mi.” We had watched parts of the movie together before when it came on television once while we were visiting my parents, but this was their first time to see it in its entirety. They stayed with it the entire time, even when I was called away by a phone call, and they seemed to enjoy it. The end of the movie was a little intense for them (Lulu watched through slits between her fingers which were covering her eyes; Louise had to join me on the couch), but they survived it and only asked 1,000,001 questions about the Nazis. 🙂
My favorite part of the movie is, of course, the music. I love “Edelweiss” and have fond memories of listening to it and the rest of The Sound of Music soundtrack on my portable CD player as I traveled through the Alps on a tour before Steady Eddie and I married. I’m including it here for your viewing and listening pleasure. Please ignore the (Arabic? I’m not sure. . .) subtitles and the poor quality of the dubbing.
As if my thoughts on all things Von Trapp aren’t enough, I can’t resist ending this post with a link to the Trapp Family Lodge. I learned while reading this memoir that the Trapps started a Family Music Camp in an old CCC camp close to their home in Stowe, Vermont, and lo and behold, apparently it’s still in the family somehow.
If you’re a fan of The Sound of Music in the least, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers is a book you would likely enjoy.