It’s not uncommon in the world of popular music for the progeny of legendary performers to try and make a name of their own. The late Natalie Cole, the late Frank Sinatra Jr., and Jason Bonham are a few successful, contemporary examples.
For sibling singers Sofia, Melanie, Amanda, and August von Trapp, the mere mention of their famous surname evokes Julie Andrews and warm memories, giving the von Trapps a chance to pay
homage to and capitalize on their family history.
The von Trapps are the grandchildren of Werner von Trapp, who was one of the seven siblings (along with patriarch Captain George von Trapp and their stepmother and onetime governess, Maria von Trapp) immortalized in the classic 1965 movie The Sound of Music. The four descendants have had most of their lives to nurture their own talents.
However, their time as a family singing unit will end after the group’s April 1 concert at Chandler Center for the Arts. The von Trapps recently announced that they are bidding so long and farewell to their music career with a final gig on May 3 in Portland.
The von Trapps, ages 26, 24, 23, and 20, have toured across the globe since they were toddlers, and are now in the midst of releasing the second and third of three consecutive EPs of original material, having released Dancing in Gold in 2015, produced by Israel Nebeker, singer and songwriter for indie folk band Blind Pilot.
The foursome has performed at the Grand Ole Opry, Carnegie Hall, Beijing’s Forbidden City, and the Sydney Opera House; sang for beleaguered first responders at a rest station in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks; and appeared on Oprah and Good Morning America.
“I’ve never really thought of it as a destiny so much as it’s just something that really works for us,” explains August von Trapp.
After escaping Nazi persecution in Germany, the family came to Vermont, where they would establish the Trapp Family Lodge.
Singing was this family’s way of staying together even after the siblings’ father, Stefan von Trapp, one of Werner’s children, struck out on his own and moved his young family west to Montana, where he practiced his trade as a stonemason.
But the siblings’ ancestral desire to sing couldn’t be suppressed.
“They didn’t really want us to sing in the beginning. In fact, my dad had to put his job on hold in Montana to follow us around as we were touring. It was a big sacrifice on [his] part,” von Trapp says.
When their grandfather, whom they called Oppa, could no longer visit them regularly in Montana, the four decided to make a recording so he could continue to hear them sing until his passing in 2007.
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“He was very supportive, especially of the music, and he instilled in us that it is something that is very powerful,” von Trapp says.
The group moved to Portland a few years ago, inspired by their collaborations with pianist Thomas Lauderdale and his group, Pink Martini. The four perform on PM’s eighth studio album, Dream a Little Dream, and the family’s timeless classic “Edelweiss” found its way onto the recording.
“We used to sing completely a cappella, but the new influences from Pink Martini and their instrumentation, which is brilliant, is pretty inspiring,” notes von Trapp. “There is so much expression that we are making now that we couldn’t do before.”
In the end, they figure out ways to meld the ancestral spirit of old-world Austrian songs and yodeling with their newfound indie-folk sound — a sound that will allow their own music to stand on its own and still pay tribute to the family’s musical history.