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Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Wisdom of the Sound of Music


By Richard K. Munro
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers is a memoir written by Maria Augusta von Trapp, the neophyte-turned-baroness whose life was fictionalized, secularized and romanticized in the musical The Sound of Music. (See “The Real Story of the von Trapp Singers). But the basic story line is true; for example as depicted in The Sound of Music, the family won first place in the Salzburg Music Festival in 1936 and became successful, singing folk songs and classical music, in the style of the Vienna Boys Choir, all across Europe. The curious thing about the music of The Sound of Music is, of course, is that none of the music sung –except for the religious songs- are traditional but are creations by Rogers and Hammerstein. This is intentional, I believe, because so many traditional Austrian and German songs were used in the Hitler Youth and so were, however unfairly, seen contaminated by their associations with Nazism as Wagner was. One of Maria’s friends wrote:
Maria never intended to write anything of her life; but a friend persistently pleaded with her not to allow her story to be forgotten by others. She denied she had any writing skill whatsoever, but her friend was not to be put off and kept on asking her whenever they saw each other. Finally, one day, in desperation, Maria excused herself and went to her room for an hour to scribble a few pages about her life story, hoping to prove once and for all she was no writer. However, this displayed such natural writing talent that she reluctantly agreed to finish what she had started, and her jottings formed the basis of the first chapter of her memoirs
Some of the lines in the musical play are almost verbatim quotations from Maria’s story but others of course are completely fictional; for example all the discussions with Max are fictional because Max was an entirely fictional creation of the musical play; he is an effective foil for Captain von Trapp, however, and creates a link to the festival, and the Baroness. The Sound of Music is more than a charming musical play; it has a famous and witty script that deals with important issues such as the following: how to choose your life’s career and direction? How to educate children? Does might (power) make right or is government to be by consent of the people?

Q1 How to choose your life’s career and direction?
The Mother Abbess stresses, with humility and love, FREE WILL (libre albedrío). Ultimately, your life’s choices must be YOUR choices, according to the hand (cards) life deals you. YOU MUST TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR OWN LIFE and TAKE RESPOSIBLITY for your actions or inactions. She counsels Maria to follow her heart and keep to her ideals to the very end, remaining true to herself. Do the right thing! If she can to that she will find happiness and love. Love in all its manifold forms and manifold kindnesses is the raison d’être of human life and the most powerful force for good we may find in ourselves. Maria tutored the von Trapp children and developed a caring and loving relationship with all the children. She enjoyed singing with them and getting them involved in outdoor activities. During this time, Captain von Trapp fell in love with Maria and asked her to stay with him and become a second mother to his children. Of his proposal, Maria said, "God must have made him word it that way because if he had only asked me to marry him I might not have said yes." As Virgil sang amor omnia vincit, love conquers all.

Climb every mountain, search high and low
Follow every byway, every path you know.
Climb every mountain, ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow, 'til you find your dream!

A dream that will need
all the love you can give,
Every day of your life
for as long as you live.

Climb every mountain, ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow, 'til you find your dream!

Sister Margaretta: Reverend Mother, I have sinned.
Sister Berthe: I, too, Reverend Mother.
Mother Abbess: What is this sin, my children?
[the nuns look at each other, then reveal from under their robes the distributor and coil they have removed from the Germans' cars]

Q2 How to educate children? “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.” -María
Capitan von Trapp “The first rule of this household is discipline.”
Frau Schmidt: “The Von Trapp children don't play. They march”. Is this the path of the Van Trapp family? To be Nazi storm troopers?
But Maria’s answer is you teach with love, with joy, with patience and with delight! Admit some flaws in people and children; usually the rest is not bad at all. Reject the bad but focus on the positive! When Georg von Trapp approached the Reverend Mother of the Abbey seeking a teacher for his sick daughter, Maria was chosen because of her skill as a teacher and musical talents. Maria was supposed to remain with the von Trapps for 10 months, at the end of which she would formally enter the convent and take up her final vows as a nun. I think people forget that Maria was a very gifted and wise teacher. Authority, in Maria’s view, does not impose or coerce. It enlightens; it invites; it sings. Its appeal is to the heart and to the understanding, not the merely the will. A good teacher does not strong-arm students or make appeals to position but earns confidence by EXPERIENCE, PATIENCE, KNOWLEDGE, INSIGHT and finally TRUTH. A good teacher like a good shepherdess loves her flock and does no harm. She knows the Good of the Flock is greater than the good of the Shepherd for the Flock –the youth- is the future. The greatest thing is not obedience and the strong hand but free choice with love, respect for the dignity of all, respect for wisdom and respect and awareness for the need to have restraint ,self-control and gratitude. Maria has joy but great humility. Nature, as Maria sees it –the heart delighting beauty of creation- can be that window which allows us to have, perhaps, a glimpse of God.
Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

We can know something of the beauty of God the Father through the beauty of his design. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” ( Matthew, 6). As Keats sang, “Truth is beauty and Beauty is Truth”.

Q3 Does might (power) make right or is government to be by consent of the people? This is the argument of the Nazis who believed in the strong hand, coerced obedience and who said, essentially, “work, pay, obey or die”.
Captain Von Trapp answers: ________________________________________
I am a free man and both my faith and freedom are important to me and my family. I will sacrifice anything for that freedom –even my life and be prepared to lose everything –even my property, my home and my country. No one can force me to join the Nazi Navy as a U-boat commander! I will not be ordered by a madman to countless atrocities! No one has the right take my children from me and force them to join the Hitler Youth! No one has a right to take my beloved country over and make it a province of a criminal enterprise called the Third Reich! God forbid! I will not be slave or a collaborator to the Nazis because I know they are evil and will bring nothing but death, destruction and devastation to my Austria, my family and the world. Yes, we will lose our home, all our money and all our property but not our souls and not our family. The Nazis can take everything away but not our strong faith, our love and our desire to be free!

His signature song is Edelweiss meaning NOBLE and PURE ALPINE FLOWER ”(Leontopodium alpinum), a mountain flower of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). The name comes from German edel (meaning noble) and weiß (meaning white).

Captain von Trapp: My fellow Austrians, I shall not be seeing you again perhaps for a very long time. I would like to sing for you now... a love song. I know you share this love. I pray that you will never let it die. EDELWEISS (Flor Alpina)
Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Every morning you greet me
Small and white clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Bless my homeland forever.
Max: What's going to happen's going to happen. Just make sure it doesn't happen to you.
Captain von Trapp: Max. Don't you *ever* say that again.
Max: You know I have no political convictions. Can I help it if other people do?
Captain von Trapp: Oh yes, you can help it. You must help it.

Herr Zeller: Perhaps those who would warn you that the Anschluss is coming - and it is coming, Captain - perhaps they would get further with you by setting their words to music.
Captain von Trapp: If the Nazis take over Austria, I have no doubt, Herr Zeller, that you will be the entire trumpet section.
Herr Zeller: You flatter me, Captain.
Captain von Trapp: Oh, how clumsy of me - I meant to accuse you.

When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, the von Trapps realized that they were in great danger. Capitan von Trapp did in fact refuse to fly the Nazi flag on his house, but he also refused a request to sing at Hitler's birthday party. Maria and Captain von Trapp were also becoming aware of the Nazis' anti-religious propaganda and policies, the pervasive fear that those around them could be acting as spies for the Nazis, and the brainwashing of children against their parents. And one truth more. Captain von Trapp had been born in Fiume which was once a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As it was part of Italy, he claimed Italian citizenship for himself and his family thus was granted automatic residency. Thus, the von Trapps were saved because of Italy’s liberal immigration policies. In real life they did not have to climb the mountains to escape to Switzerland. They did sneak out of Austria, however, getting on a train early on a Sunday morning, with few or no personal possessions. They made their way to the USA where they were granted asylum and applied for U.S. citizenship in 1942 where they lived happily ever after. They built a lodge in Vermont, USA, which is still in family hands.

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