written by Cathy Carroll | photo by Ben Moon
Ever longed for a sequel to The Sound of Music? Pine no more. Consider it recast with twenty-first century Oregon indie darlings who remain true to their great-grandparents’ Nazi-fleeing, Austrian folk-singing verve. Albeit not a film (yet), the story of the Portland-based band The von Trapps uncannily harks back to the classic musical. As children growing up in Montana, they learned Austrian folk songs from their grandfather, Werner von Trapp (Kurt in the movie) during his summer visits from Vermont. After he had a stroke in 2001, the four siblings recorded their tunes to send to him in the hospital. An acquaintance heard it and suggested they make a demo. Several albums and years of world touring ensued with their mother as a tutor. (Sound familiar?)
In 2012, The von Trapps began recording with Pink Martini after performing alongside them and the Oregon Symphony. During the two-year process, they fell in love with Portland and moved there. Dancing in Gold, the latest from Sofia, 27, Melanie, 25, Amanda, 24 and August, 21, is their first release of original songs. Produced by Blind Pilot lead singer and songwriter Israel Nebeker, the album’s harmonies are as smooth as alpine cheese from a lonely goatherd. These songs will certainly be a few of your favorite things.
The von Trapps, the great-grandchildren of the captain and Maria of The Sound of Music fame, may have begun their career as children singing Austrian folk songs, but since then, a diversity of music has influenced them. They came of age listening to music from around the world, while on toured as they performed. They collaborated with Pink Martini, which led them to fall in love with Portland and move there.
Following the April release of Dancing in Gold, their first release of original songs, they are contemplating their next step as they experiment artistically. They name Sufjan Stevens, Rufus Wainwright, Fleet Foxes, Beach House, My Morning Jacket, The Beach Boys and U2 as among those they dream of working with.
“A more dramatic rock angle would be fun,” said Amanda von Trapp. “With each genre, there is a specific type of training. You sing this way for a rock song, that way for a ballad. Any time there’s something new and dramatic to grab on to and broaden our musicality, well, we are experience junkies.”
In the meantime, you may find them whipping up the family schnitzel recipe while singing (an experience they offer up for charity auctions), hiking and keeping their yodeling pipes in shape, (“It’s hard to do well and we definitely try to work on it,” Amanda said. “A von Trapp who can’t yodel? That’s embarrassing.”) Even the campy, cultish movie theater sing-alongs to The Sound of Music aren’t ruled out.
“There definitely were some differences between the personalities portrayed in the movie and what was going on in real life,” Amanda said. “For instance, the captain was more thoughtful and patient and Maria was more strict, a little bit more like the captain in the film. But the movie did a great job with the core of the message, about family, music, standing up what you believe in, and pursuing a better life.”