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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

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The von Trapp children are still singing.
The von Trapp children are still singing.

The von Trapp kids carry on great-grandparents' musical legacy

What if one of the most beloved classic movies of all time was based on your great-grandparents’ love story?

That’s the case for Sofia von Trapp. The 24-year-old granddaughter of Werner von Trapp (depicted as Kurt, the youngest son of Captain von Trapp in the iconic 1965 movie "The Sound of Music") grew up with the whole world knowing about her family's inspirational escape from Austria after its annexation to Nazi Germany. Now, along with her sisters Melanie, 23, and Amanda, 21, and brother August, 18, Sofia is carrying the sound of music into another von Trapp generation.

The von Trapps have spent over a decade touring the globe, performing on television, for packed houses at places like the Sydney Opera House and even for heads of state. On Saturday, July 13, the von Trapps will appear at Gathering on the Green at Mequon Rotary Park Pavilion for a show that will consist of classical and folk tunes, pops standards and, of course, a little Rodgers and Hammerstein.

For many kids, this kind of name recognition could be a downright nuisance. But Sofia is refreshingly sweet, eloquent and truly grateful for an opportunity to share her family's story with the world. The children began singing over a decade ago as an innocent attempt to cheer up their ailing grandfather, and the hobby blossomed into a rewarding career for all four of them.

"We never expected it," she said. "But we’ve been really blessed by these whole 13 years."

Sofia talked to OnMilwaukee.com about her upcoming show, her great-grandparents’ legacy, and what it was like to meet Oprah and Julie Andrews (at the same time!).

OnMilwaukee.com: What kind of music will you guys be singing at Gathering on the Green?

Sofia von Trapp: This is actually a really exciting show for us. We’ve just been doing a collaboration with a band called Pink Martini, and they do a lot of beautiful old popular tunes that were done in different countries. So the songs that we’ve been doing with them are kind of amazing; we’re really excited about them. One of them is this beautiful Hebrew lullaby, and also "Dream a Little Dream" and "Fernando" – which is an ABBA song but we’re going to be doing it in Swedish.

We love doing songs in different languages and so this is a whole bunch of new material that’s so fresh right now and we’re all just super-excited about singing. And, of course, we sing the songs from "The Sound of Music" because those are just timeless classics that everyone loves. It’s going to be a really fun show.

OMC: You’re the great-grandchildren of Captain von Trapp and his wife Maria?

SVT: Yes, and our grandfather is portrayed as Kurt in "The Sound of Music." The youngest boy of the seven children. His real name is Werner.

OMC: I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but how does it feel to have the whole world know your grandparents from the movie and basically feel like they are part of your family?

SVT: It’s really amazing to be able – everyone that you meet has some really beautiful memory connected to "The Sound of Music." That’s what’s so incredible about it. It’s just one of those – like, they hear von Trapp and they’re like, "Oh, I watched this movie with my grandmother every Christmas" or "This was our first date in 1964!" The most beautiful memories and stories come from this family story, this movie, and we’re all very honored to be able to carry on that sense of hope and joy that those memories brought to so many people.

OMC: Was that something you and your brother and sisters were always aware of? That there was a movie about your grandparents? Did you watch the movie when you were little?

SVT: It’s been kind of a journey of figuring out what the movie represents, or what the story represents. When we first saw it, I was about four, I think, and we saw the first half of it on VHS – it was two VHS tapes, so we watched the first one and then we discovered that we lost the second one! So we didn’t know what happened! But obviously everything was okay because, well, we were alive ...

But the reason why we started was because our grandfather would always come to Montana (where the family moved after Sofia’s birth) ... and teach us songs, little Austrian songs. It was really lovely. So he got sick about 13 years ago, he had a stroke, so he was in the hospital a lot, and just to make him feel better we started to record some of the songs that he taught us. And when he heard the CD he said, "Oh, why don’t you make a whole CD of more songs that you know?" So we did that just kind of for fun, not expecting it would go anywhere and not even thinking about it, actually. And then someone asked us to do a show and it just kind of took off from there. It was really amazing because our first show was in the same town that our grandparents had their first show in America. It was fate, I guess. 

OMC: Was your grandpa really proud of you?

SVT: Yeah, he was such a great support for us. He would listen to two CDs: ours and Mozart. So we were in good company!

OMC: You guys have traveled all over the world, and you appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2010 with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer – what was that like to be on the show with the cast from the movie and your brother and sisters?

SVT: It was – I can’t even – it was magical, in a way. It was all of these people that were affected by this story and to see it – where we come from was the real, historical family, and where they come from is this beautiful musical that spread that story to the world, and to see both of those worlds collaborating together was really powerful. And Oprah was so, so sweet. We went backstage and we were in a corner just kind of watching everything and she came up to us and was like, "Hey, you guys want to get a picture with Julie Andrews, don’t you?" And we were like, "Yes! That would be amazing." So she went to the green room and got them out herself and brought them over – and then we were like, "Wait! We want one with you too!" It was a really special memory for all of us.

OMC: Is there any place that you’ve toured that was your favorite place to sing?

SVT: There was a place in Belgium, it was an a cappella festival. We were singing in the ruins of an old monastery, and the acoustics were just so beautiful. There were – I can’t even remember how many – it must have been about seven years ago, and there were a cappella groups from all over the world, from Cuba to Italy to Asia. I think that was one of my favorites, but there have been so many. We were just in China last year and that was amazing place to be in; we went to Australia to the Sydney Opera House, which is a beautiful venue.

OMC: And you guys are all so young!

SVT: Yeah! I feel old. We’re young, but all the experiences – we’ve been really – it’s been amazing to see all the things we’ve been able to see and experience all that we have.

For more information on the von Trapps, visit vontrappchildren.com. For information on Gathering on the Green, visit gatheringonthegreen.org.

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