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That’s right: “The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers.” By the one and only Julie Andrews. Um, I mean Maria Von Trapp.

Indeed, Rodgers and Hammerstein got their idea for a musical after reading the 1947 life-so-far story of a plucky (at least by her own reckoning) almost-but-aren’t-you-glad-she-didn’t-become-a nun.

It’s a great read, as it gives the real story (e.g. no midnight escape over the alps) and answers some long-nagging questions (The baron’s an admiral in the Austrian Navy? But Austria’s land locked...)

Moreover it tells the real riches to rags to somewhat riches story of the Von Trapp brood, with plenty of pit stops from Bach to yodeling.

Two particularly interesting passages to the modern a cappella performer:

One addressed the myriad varieties of applause, and the importance of being able to read each. An essential skill for the seasoned performer, if you’re interested in tailoring each show to reach each audience. Knowing what an audience is expecting, enjoying, rejecting is a very valuable skill, and the baseline is different with every group, every culture, every hall.

It got me thinking: perhaps we as performers should create a new vocabulary for applause, much as the inuits have their fabled 30+ words for “snow.” Might help us be better entertainers and performers. But I digress.

The second was their revelation that American audiences were not warming to their very traditional classical program. She decided to break from the program and admit that a fly had flown down her throat during a very difficult passage in the previous song, and the audience burst into laughter. Then they sang an impromptu folk song with a non-scripted introduction and the audience received it warmly. It was from then on that she realized Americans wanted the being invited into their living room for a friendly family concert.

It may seem a small revelation, but it applies to all of us. It’s not enough to make great music (as they reportedly did), but one must also communicate with the audience in a way that engages them. In their case that meant opening their lives, their personalities, their culture to the audience and simply being themselves. Sage advice.

I heartily recommend the book if you’re at all interested, and perhaps even if you aren’t (I picked up a copy in a Goodwill for my wife, whose favorite movie just so happens to include a healthy dose of Nazis, nuns and Edelweiss... and found myself drawn in after only a couple pages).

Although it's not in her biography, I still must close with a story:

My wife’s father spent one summer working up in Stowe, Vermont for the one and only Maria Von Trapp who would hire college students and pay them a modest sum in addition to room and board in exchange for their work on her farm.

However, as beaming as she may seem when played by Julie Andrews, it seems Ms. VT was a bit of a miser. In fact, she didn’t serve very much food to her strapping young servants, and as such they complained of being hungry.

One night, after everyone had long since gone to sleep, my father-in-law snuck down to the kitchen in the dark and slowly opened the refrigerator door, silently, carefully...


It appears our heroine was guarding her larder carefully, and my understanding is that the next morning she put a lock on the door to keep out snacking students.

So, perhaps not every word in her memoir is exactly true, or more likely there were elements of her personality that didn’t result in a perky Rogers and Hammerstein number.

But it’s still a ripping good yarn.