1948: Pocono Mountains alive with the sound of music
March 03 , 2015 Filed in: Arts
Publicity photo of the Von Trapp Family Singers from the December 4, 1948 edition of The Daily Record newspaper.
Monroe County Historical Association
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the film “The Sound of Music.” Released in March 1965, the movie was Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s interpretation of the beloved tale of a young Austrian nun, Maria, who became a governess of the seven children of widowed Naval officer, Georg Von Trapp. Loosely based on a true story, Rodgers and Hammerstein embellished the story of Maria and the Von Trapp family for Hollywood. While there were many discrepancies between the real Von Trapp family and the one portrayed in the movie, the Von Trapps truly were a musical family and did perform for the public in a number of concerts.
On Wednesday, December 8, 1948, at 8:30 p.m. the Von Trapp Family Singers performed in the auditorium at East Stroudsburg State Teachers College (now East Stroudsburg University) to a sold-out crowd. Hosted by the Pocono Community Concert Association, the Von Trapp Family Singers were the featured attraction for the 1948-49 season. Directed by the family pastor, Rev. Franz Wasner, the Baroness Maria Von Trapp, two sons, and six daughters blended “their voices in beautiful harmony” while adorned in “colorful Bavarian costumes.”
Advertising for this “group of world famous artists” had begun in September 1948 in the local newspapers, including The Daily Record, and tickets sales were made possible through a subscription service. The popularity of this concert was evident as the president of the Pocono Community Concert Association, George T. Robinson, remarked that tickets would not be sold at the door.
Even after tickets had been sold out, The Daily Record continued to run articles boasting the popularity of the Von Trapp Family Singers. The December 4 edition stated “rarely has a musical attraction drawn on so wide a public, appearing alike to countless thousands who have never before frequented the concert hall.”
Two days later, The Daily Record touted, “The Von Trapp Family Singers have participated in seven transcontinental tours and have captured the admiration of American audiences, not only for their performances on the concert stage but for their personalities which are said to resemble a story-book family come true.”
As expected, the December 8 concert was a success. A Christmas tree and candle-lit lanterns provided the backdrop for the performance. Both the venue and the crowds were large, but the Von Trapps gave an intimate feeling of participation to the audience “partly by the quality of their singing and partly by the family feeling which they managed to impart.”
Maria Von Trapp was dressed in black with a black lace shawl. The five daughters were dressed in “white Tyrolean costumes, with huge sleeves and embroidered bodices and the two sons in the short black coats of the Tyrol…” Maria Von Trapp entertained the audience with stories about the background of the songs led by their music conductor, Franz Wasner. The opening songs featured works by Handel, Mozart, and Bruckner.
Serving as a break between the singing, an instrumental trio performed on “three ancient instruments: The recorder, viola de Gamba with six strings, and the virginial or spinet.”
The second part of the concert “held the rollicking folk dance melodies from the Austrian Alps, complete with echo and yodel.”
The finale featured the Von Trapp Family Singers, who had changed into brightly colored peasant costumes, sitting with their candle-lit lanterns quietly singing traditional Christmas carols. Their last song at the East Stroudsburg State Teacher’s College’s auditorium was “Silent Night,” during which they moved with their lanterns and left only the lighted Christmas tree and a very impressed audience.”
Although the movie exaggerated the story, Maria and Georg Von Trapp were indeed married, and they, along with the Von Trapp children, did flee Nazi Austria in 1938. Georg Von Trapp refused to accept a commission in Hilter’s Navy, and he also refused to sing at Hilter’s birthday party, leaving the family open for possible retaliations by the Nazi Party.
Unlike the movie, the couple had been married for 11 years before the family left Austria. When the Von Trapps did flee, they did not hike over the Alps to Switzerland. Traveling with Wasner, their musical conductor and Martha Zochbauer, their secretary, the Von Trapp family secured a 6-month visitor’s visa to the United States to perform. When they landed in America, the family immediately began their concert tour in Pennsylvania. Their son, Johannes, was born in Philadelphia in January 1939.
After their 6-month visa expired, the Von Trapps returned to Europe, sailing to Norway to perform. By the end of 1939, the family returned to America, entering New York aboard the S.S. Bergensfjord. The Von Trapp family is included on the passenger list dated September 27, 1939.
Between 1942 and 1948, the members of the Von Trapp family applied for U.S. citizenship. All were approved. The family settled in Stowe, Vermont, where they operated a lodge and music camp. The Trapp Family Lodge lis still in business, and more information can be found online at www.trappfamily.com.
For additional information on the Von Trapp Family and to view their naturalization records, visit The von Trapp Family in Federal Records page of the National Archive at Boston.
The special concert performed in East Stroudsburg by this renowned family didn’t happen all that long ago. Perhaps you or someone you know was among the local residents who were lucky enough to see the Von Trapp Family Singers perform in our county.