Elisabeth Von Trapp’s Living Family Legacy Comes Alive in South Carolina
“It’s a new thing we’re trying out, kind of a grassroots campaign to get out on the road and travel where the opportunities take us,” Elisabeth Von Trapp told me at dinner tonight. Yes, she’s one of THOSE Von Trapps, as if there were any others, and she does plenty of Von Trapp related songs in her repertoire. This month, however, she’s more or less barnstorming in the deep south, playing churches and small halls for a pass-the-plate show with no guaranteed money. Somehow I’ve managed to get them to come to the Methodist church I attend, which is how I ended up breaking bread with the woman who’s carrying the Von Trapp family legacy around these days. I wasn’t alone, we had a good chunk of the church choir show up too so they could chat and run through a few songs they’d be singing in the concert.
On this particular evening, Ms. Von Trapp and her husband and traveling companion Edward Hall set up shop in our chapel, the smaller of our two worship spaces–lots of wood and carpet, and the kind of built-in history and warmth that comes with a sanctuary built in the 1940s. The crowd, mostly members of the congregation with a few other curious locals sprinkled among them, fills in slowly; it’s a decent showing but not a packed house.
Something else Elisabeth told me during dinner was that she is most happy when she’s fully invested in what she’s singing, to that point where the performing of the songs is as much of a pleasure for her to accomplish as it is for others to listen. It’s with that kind of commitment that she sings, turning songs such as “Deep River” and “The Road Less Taken” (the famous Frost poem set to music) into breathtaking exercises in vocal control and fleet-fingered guitar picking. At times, Von Trapp’s voice soared so high she stepped back from the microphone and proved she hardly needed the amplification.
The crowd-pleasing portion of the show had to be the series of songs from the “Sound Of Music” soundtrack, and yes, she played almost all of them, from a jazzy arrangement of “My Favorite Things” to the title song and of course, “Climb Every Mountain.” She’s undoubtedly sung the songs countless times yet they didn’t seem perfunctory or tossed-off, and the stories she told about her grandfather and father and the “real story” that lies behind the movie version made the medley even more meaningful.
On a quickly arranged show like this one, inviting the local choir to sing along could have invited disaster. Here, it instead capped the show with some nice full harmonies on a set of hymnal and gospel classics, and allowed choir members to rub shoulders with Von Trapp, musically speaking, before she packed up and headed to the next small town, the next opportunity to take another audience to another place where the hills are still alive with the sound of music.