The Real Von Trapps and the sound of freedom

By Teri Downard
For the DCPA NewsCenter

For 1,200 years Nonnberg, the First Abbey of Benedictine Nuns nestled on an Austrian hillside, offered a spiritual shelter from the dark forces of the world. It was here, just prior to World War II, that a high-spirited young novice named Maria sought a life of sacrifice and prayer.

As is told in one of the most popular musicals in American history, Maria was hurtled from a life of solitude into the tumultuous life on the world stage. Most sitting in the audience know the story of this nun-turned-governess-turned-singer-turned-wife-and-mother.

Sound of Music Ben Davis Kerstin Anderson Matthew Murphy But what happened to Maria after leaving her beloved Austria?

The family headed for America with only the clothes on their backs and a few treasured belongings. They had no money and spoke no English as they began a new life in New York doing the only thing they knew: singing for their supper.

Touring this country from ocean to ocean countless times in a big blue bus, the family learned a new language, new culture and learned to love their adopted country. When they arrived to perform a concert near Stowe, Vermont, they were stunned by the beauty of the place.

Though plagued by money problems, they were catching on to the American notion of “time payments,” and decided to buy a dilapidated house on a mountain-top overlooking a valley, instead of buying new clothes for the large family.

“We can build a house and barns, but we can never build a view like this,” Georg exclaimed. (Pictured above right: Ben Davis as Captain Georg von Trapp and Kerstin Anderson as Maria Rainer in ‘The Sound of Music.’)

The von Trapp family’s story is one of faith, courage and love. When they ran out of money, they prayed and new opportunities for performing arose. When part of their rickety house fell down, they prayed and friends appeared to help them build a new one. When a nearby Army Corps of Engineers facility was closed, they prayed for guidance about a bit of wartime red tape that prevented land purchases by aliens. After threatening Maria with jail, Vermont state officials suddenly relented and the von Trapps turned it into a hugely successful summer music camp.

When their fellow Austrians were desperate for food and clothing, they prayed to be shown a way to help. They created the Austrian Relief Fund, which grew to include relief drives for several European countries.

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Money and tons of food and clothing were collected. They mailed bundles of goods from post offices along their route. When they stood before a judge and took an oath of allegiance to the United States of America, they prayed in gratitude that they were now citizens of the country whose freedom they so deeply cherished.

The von Trapps touched millions of lives with their music and through their generosity. “…Only one thing is necessary to be happy and to make others happy,” Maria said, “and that one thing is not money, nor connections, nor health — it is love.”

The Abbey of Nonnberg cast a long shadow. Its young novice lived a life of service. after all.

This story was adapted from an article by Teri Downard, former Deputy Director of the DCPA’s Media Relations and Publications Department.

Our The Sound of Music Photo Gallery:

The Sound of Music
Photos by Matthew Murphy. To see more, click the forward arrow in the image above.

The Sound of Music:
Ticket information

June 21-26
Buell Theatre
Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
Groups: Call 303-446-4829
ASL interpreted, Audio Described and Open Captioned performance: 2 p.m., June 25

The Sound of Music. Photo by Matthew MurphyKerstin Anderson as ‘Maria Rainer’ and the von Trapp children in ‘The Sound of Music.’ From left: Svea Johnson, Audrey Bennett, Quinn Erickson, Mackenzie Currie, Maria Knasel, Erich Schuett and Paige Silvester. Photo by Matthew Murphy.