von Trapp delights audience with song

By Beth A. Birmingham and Charlotte Henderson | Sep 04, 2019
Courtesy of: Elisabeth von Trapp Elisabeth von Trapp

Washington — The strong, rich voice of Elisabeth von Trapp put smiles on the faces of the ample audience at Washington Village Church the evening of Aug. 25.

von Trapp, who grew up in the famous musical family, shared some personal stories and accompanied herself on guitar with skill and drama, offering a varied and thoughtful repertoire of popular, folk and gospel songs – and, of course, a few tunes from "The Sound of Music."

A special treat was her arrangement of poet Robert Frost’s "The Road Less Traveled," the music for which she wrote as the first composer given authority to set his words to music.

"I love Maine," von Trapp said in a telephone interview Aug. 22. "It always reminds me of beautiful times spent with my parents, who used to visit Vinalhaven."

The 65-year-old musician presently lives in Waitsfield, Vt. Originally from Stowe, Vt., she is one of six children -- four boys and two girls -- whom she toured with early on.

She has found herself recently spending time going through old letters and family photographs and reflecting on lifetime experiences. "I think one learns from everyone you meet. There's something unique about every relationship that we have, and I would say that I was very, very close to my parents and my siblings growing up. It's the people that you encounter that makes your life full and deep."

Being present in the moment to deliver a song is key to von Trapp, who said the songs tell the story -- each one adding to what she termed a bouquet.

"Being creative through sound is very important," she said. "The tones and songs just transport me."

von Trapp tunes her own guitars at home, playing around with the textures and sounds. She also plays piano and has been practicing the banjo.

She loves listening to orchestrated and choral music, she said. Although the Washington performance was a solo event, she has toured for 10 years with a cellist and pianists and has performed with a brass band at Christmastime. "It has been a very beautiful musical experience."

von Trapp said she has been having a dual experience in the last seven years with her husband and manager, Edward Hall -- touring and exploring.

She said trying to keep up with all the invitations to perform keeps her busy, performing upward of 50 concerts a year. "I find that the more I do, the better it is. The voice gets into shape and you just get into a focus. I love it."

She said she keeps her voice in tune by singing. "The other thing is not to be afraid of anything and just do it. The biggest lesson I'm learning is to have the faith that it all comes together."

She said it's very important to have good acoustics where she sings, but admitted she'll sing anywhere.

von Trapp sang alto with a choir in Austria, which was a whole new experience for her. "It was so smooth and so easy, it just came together. I think it was the joy of singing the songs my family sang and honoring them. It was full circle."

With more than five albums of her own complete, von Trapp said she loves arranging music and one of the greatest experiences has been being in the studio -- recording and almost shaping and sculpting the tone in an effort to draw her audience to the song, to the lyrics, and the arrangement, by putting her own tone to another lyricist's music. "I just love that kind of work," she said.

Being able to make a living with music and getting to know the world because of it is what von Trapp feels is the highlight of her life, "and meeting the wonderful people along the way ... people who have vision and are really making a difference in the world through the arts."

She said she's following in her father's footsteps. He toured for 20 years and saw the world and she never thought it would be possible for her to do the same.

"What I try to do through my work is bring people together. Music is meant to enrich people. Diversity is a given -- let us celebrate it," she said.

von Trapp said she has often thought about what her life would be like had the movie not been made about her family. "There's so many blessings for the hard work that my relatives endured," she said. "That the story was chosen to be made into a musical and then a film ... it's one of those things that represents the change and turmoil of that era."

"It's like a fairy tale," she said.

She said if you asked any one of them about their experiences, each one would have a different take on it because of their age, gender, etc., but the one thing they all had in common was exploring their faith and work. She said the songs they crafted for their final show helped her learn their legacy.

"Most people thought it was a fake story about a fake family, but once they realized it was real, it made them even more excited," she said. "They survived together, and we all need to remember that we are surviving together."

von Trapp has a master's in education, but realizing she loved to be creative, she said the best way to do that was to become a musician. She said everybody is meant to be different and things can't be done the same all the time.

"I sing a little bit of 'The Sound of Music' because people enjoy it, but I do it my way," she explained. "It's the inner vision that's so important to stay true to. Staying true to yourself is probably one of the hardest things to do."

"Music lifts our hearts and creates a new moment, I think that's the importance of music," von Trapp said.

A portion of the donations received from the concert will go toward a new roof for the church.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

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