Earlier this year, an event happened that did not receive wide notice. The last of the Von Trapp Family Singers, the last of the children – the real ones – died.
Her name was Maria – not to be confused with the lady played by Julie Andrews, Maria Augusta Trapp, who died in 1987. Maria Von Trapp’s death in February 2014 marks the end of an era.
“The Sound of Music” deserves its accolades as Best Picture (1965) and one of the finest films ever made. Even my 1-year-old granddaughter is mesmerized by the puppet scene.
As a film it is an icon. One time the great anti-gambling crusader Rev. Tom Grey was asked on “60 Minutes” to respond to those who say gambling is just entertainment. Noting the tragic toll the “entertainment” of gambling often takes on its victims, Grey asked, “Who watches ‘The Sound of Music’ and then shoots himself in the parking lot?”
What’s fascinating about the real Von Trapp Family is just how Christian the true story is.
The religious elements come out to some degree in the movie. Yet when the movie was marketed for Brazil, instead of the title we know the movie by, they decided to call it (in Portuguese) “The Rebellious Nun.” But Maria didn’t really rebel per se. She just discovered that God’s call on her life was to serve God as a wife and mother, not in a cloister.
In her 1949 book, “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers,” Maria Augusta Trapp said of her marriage to the captain, Georg Von Trapp, “I greeted it with a heart full of happiness and readiness to serve God where He needed me most – wholeheartedly and cheerfully.”
Although her role expanded later, Maria the nun was initially assigned just to tutor Maria, the daughter of Capt. Von Trapp. Ironically, Maria the little girl was “of delicate health,” yet she’s the one who died earlier this year, after living to be 99, outlasting them all.
The elder Maria didn’t mind the assignment to help the children (even though there had been 25 tutors and governesses before her) because she viewed it as temporary: “After all – I don’t belong here; I am just loaned.” But soon she came to be appreciated by the whole family, including the captain.
Maria was shocked when she asked Maria Von Trapp, “Don’t you have an Advent wreath every year?” The child replied, “No, we never did. What is it?” So the nun on loan to help the children not only brought music to the Von Trapp family, but a Christ-centered Christmas as well.
The captain later confessed, “I always feared Christmas more than any other day. But this year you have made it very beautiful for us. Thank you.”
Maria whispered a prayer of gratitude to Jesus, “I thank You so much for sending me there. Please help me to draw them all closer to You.”
Her prayer was answered. The captain said to Maria, “I wish my children would get thoroughly acquainted with Holy Scriptures. … Let’s start them with the New Testament, and let’s read it together every evening until Easter.”
Maria said of their Bible-reading: “It proved to be the Book of Books, the only one in the whole world to which a 4-year-old girl would listen with enraptured interest while all the philosophers are not yet able to get to the bottom of its divine wisdom.”
Maria and the captain got married in 1927; and the Von Trapps began performing musically as a family after a priest friend, Father Wasner, discovered what talent they had. They became a smash hit.
Meanwhile, after the Nazis took over their native land in 1938, the children told their parents: “In school we are not permitted to sing any religious songs with the name of Christ or Christmas.”
This was just the tip of the iceberg. So they had a family conference, where Capt. Von Trapp said: “Children, we have the choice now.” Either keep “the material goods we still have” or “our faith and our honor. We can’t have both any more. … I’d rather see us poor, but honest. If we choose this, then we have to leave. Do you agree?” They agreed and got away in time.
On a sad note, they later learned that their mansion they had fled back in Salzburg had been seized by the Nazis, who turned their chapel into a beer parlor. Heinrich Himmler himself lived there, and Father Wasner’s room was turned into a guest bedroom for Hitler. One day Hitler had all the servants shot on the spot because one of them had hummed a Russian folksong.
The family came to America to tour as a music group. But initially it did not go well in this country. Their act was too oriented toward sacred classical music. They were almost reduced to getting menial jobs unrelated to music just to stay in America. Their first manager lost money on them and said, “You will never be a hit in America. Go back to Europe.”
Said Maria: “Back to Europe, with the Swastika stretching its black spider legs all over the map.”
But they got another chance from a new manager who said, “… we shall start by changing your name. Trapp Family Choir sounds too churchy. I am the manager of the Trapp Family Singers.”
Eventually, they settled down in Vermont and created the Von Trapp Family Lodge, which still operates today. So we salute the end of an era, which proved the wisdom of the statement made in the movie: “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Or as the elder Maria says in her book, “God’s will hath no why.”
Media wishing to interview Jerry Newcombe, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.