The new sound of mu­sic

These von Trapps are singing in­die rock in Port­land, not folk songs in Aus­tria


The mod­ern-day Trapp fam­ily singers were hang­ing out on the craggy pa­tio of a Washington, D.C., café, each wear­ing some vari­a­tion on skinny jeans, bangs and com­bat boots.

Me­lanie, 25, had wrapped her­self in a leop­ard-print trench, while Sofi, 27, was clad in a cropped red leather jacket. Amanda, 24, was in head-to­toe black. And then there was Au­gust, just 21, who let his hair do all the state­ment-mak­ing, the bleached­blond wisps of his bangs swoop­ing over one eye, Bieber-style.

“What,” Amanda asked wryly. “You were ex­pect­ing leder­ho­sen?”

Well, uh, yeah. But could you blame us?

The mu­si­cal four­some known as the von Trapps is the spawn of the whole­some, singing Aus­trian clan of The Sound of Mu­sic fame. Their grand­fa­ther, Werner, was one of those von Trapps, who skipped around the world in the 1930s and ’40s as the Trapp Fam­ily Singers, belt­ing out madri­gals and the folk songs of their na­tive Aus­tria for au­di­ences shell-shocked by suc­ces­sive wars.

The older gen­er­a­tion of singing von Trapps be­came the very loose source ma­te­rial for a Rodgers & Ham­mer­stein Broad­way mu­si­cal and then for one of the most-watched movies of all time.

But sib­lings Me­lanie, Sofi, Amanda and Au­gust are leav­ing be­hind the Aus­trian lul­la­bies for some­thing un­ex­pected. They moved to Port­land, Ore., to forge ca­reers as in­die-rock­ers. Ask them who they want to sound like and they’ll tick off names such as Fleet Foxes, Beach House and Suf­jan Stevens.

In April, the von Trapps lobbed their first EP of orig­i­nal mu­sic, “Danc­ing in Gold,” out into the uni­verse, where EPs are gen­er­ally greeted like cos­mic space junk. Un­less, of course, your name is von Trapp.

In that case, four songs were enough to prompt a call from their agent won­der­ing how they’d feel about maybe open­ing for Loretta Lynn in Washington.

So here they were, sip­ping cof­fee at U Street’s Lin­coln Theatre, where the great-grand­chil­dren of the Cap­tain and Maria von Trapp would share a bill with the Coal Miner’s Daugh­ter.

Af­ter im­mi­grat­ing to the United States in 1939, the Cap­tain, Maria and the first gen­er­a­tion of singing von Trapps set­tled in Stowe, a hill­top town in Ver­mont. They bought a farm and opened a ski re­sort, the Trapp Fam­ily Lodge.

They pur­sued other pas­sions. By the time Maria’s memoir was adapted into the 1959 Broad­way mu­si­cal, and the fair-haired, porce­lain­skinned Julie An­drews was cast as the dark-fea­tured ma­tri­arch a cou­ple of years af­ter that, the Trapp Fam­ily Singers had aban­doned gigs for good. The von Trapps scat­tered, land­ing all over the coun­try.

So Ste­fan von Trapp, Werner’s son, and his wife, An­nie, didn’t have much in­ter­est in mu­sic, the kids say. “Our par­ents had no clue what it was to go on tour or have kids in the mu­sic in­dus­try,” Au­gust said.

It was dairy farmer Werner (the one who was re-en­vi­sioned as the blond, chubby-cheeked Kurt for the sil­ver screen) who taught his grand­chil­dren to sing on his vis­its to the fam­ily home in Mon­tana. Ste­fan and An­nie in­dulged them and fer­ried them to vo­cal lessons af­ter that, the kids say. But tak­ing all the chil­dren to a sin­gle les­son proved fate­ful: The young von Trapps be­came har­mo­niz­ers, kinda like the old von Trapps.

And, of course, they al­ready had the name. Doors open for von Trapps.

In 2001, the fam­ily was in­vited to sing at Ground Zero for fire­fight­ers on lunch breaks. It was the first time they’d left Mon­tana for a gig. Au­gust was just 7, but soon they were get­ting re­quests from all over the world. These days, they’re un­der the wings of mod­ern or­ches­tral act Pink Mar­tini and pro­duced “Danc­ing in Gold,” with Is­rael Ne­beker of the Port­land band Blind Pi­lot.

At the Lin­coln Theatre, where the four per­form­ers stood at their mikes and har­mo­nized through a sparkly, if spare, 25-minute set, it wasn’t un­til Me­lanie an­nounced they were the von Trapps that the au­di­ence be­gan to shift in its seats and mur­mur. Of the von Trapps? When they were done, a few in the au­di­ence even rose to give them a stand­ing ova­tion.

If the name opens doors, it can also bury the von Trapps un­der ex­pec­ta­tions.

“There are times when it has that nice ring of fate to it,” Au­gust says. “But we’re not try­ing to do what they did al­ready.”

Among their sprawl­ing clan these days, in fact, no one else seems to want to in­herit the fam­ily busi­ness. So far, they’re the only ones who have wanted to use the name for their own mu­si­cal group, although they did toy with other sug­ges­tions.

“There’s a whole gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple for whom it was an an­nual event to tune into The Sound of Mu­sic,” said Thomas Laud­erdale, founder of Pink Mar­tini. He re­calls that even he was “very cu­ri­ous to see what this new gen­er­a­tion was like.”

At the Lin­coln Theatre, they left the au­di­ence with one last song, which, Sofi an­nounced with an ex­pec­tant smile, was about a flower that grows in the Alps.

It was “Edel­weiss.” And though the von Trapp el­ders never ac­tu­ally per­formed it — like “Do-Re-Mi,” it was pure mu­si­cal fic­tion, writ­ten for the Broad­way show — their hipster de­scen­dents didn’t mind indulging the fan­tasy a bit.


From left, Amanda, Me­lanie, Au­gust and Sofi von Trapp are de­scen­dants of the fa­mous von Trapps.

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