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Von Trapps bring hills alive again

New York, Feb. 19 (Reuters): When last we saw Maria von Trapp and her adopted family of angel-voiced children, they were fleeing across the Alps from Austria, pursued by Nazis to the strains of Edelweiss.

“So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye” perhaps, but not quite the end of the story.

Because now, some 40 years after the musical and the movie The Sound of Music, the hills are alive once again with a new generation of von Trapps making sugar-sweet music.

They are the great-grandchildren of Captain Georg von Trapp, the retired naval officer played in the movie by Christopher Plummer who falls for the impetuous ex-nun Maria, one of Julie Andrews’ most beloved roles.

Surely even the most lonely goatherd in the world has seen The Sound of Music and the von Trapp children — Liesl, Louisa, Marta, Friedrich, Brigitta, Gretl and Kurt — who grow to love the free-spirited Fraulein Maria after first torturing her when she becomes their governess.

Now meet the new Von Trapp Children singing group — Melanie, Sofia, Amanda and Justin — born and raised not in the Austrian Alps, but in equally rugged Montana.

They have just released a CD featuring a couple of songs from the musical — Edelweiss and Lonely Goatherd — along with such classics as Danny Boy and Amazing Grace. Close your eyes and it’s like hearing the darlings from the movie all over again.

There has been such a positive response from their appearances with New Age pianist George Winston, folk royalty Peter, Paul and Mary and at New York’s Ground Zero site, that they are working on Volume 2 and an album of Christmas music.

After the von Trapps came to America before the war, the original kids sang together for 27 years, touring the US. But despite the musical heritage of their grandfather Werner (Kurt in the movie), the new kids’ own parents are not in the least musical.

Father Stefan operates a stone masonry business and mom Annie is busy organising the lives of the four children she schools at home.

“The kids have always been singing. They used to sing along with Barney (the dinosaur) on TV and that may have had a lot to do with it,” Annie von Trapp told Reuters in an interview.

Although they sang in churches, they didn’t really take it too seriously until last year when their grandfather was unable to visit them in Montana.

“Opa (grandfather Werner) had a stroke and couldn’t come to visit so I said to the kids ‘Why not put some songs on a CD and send them to him'’,” Annie said.

They recorded some favourites at the University of Montana and it turned into a major project.

“Annie and I are not musically inclined,” said Stefan during a family trip to New York where they appeared on Good Morning America. “But I have had a rebirth since.”

He recalled listening to his father and his aunts and uncles singing during those long New England winters at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, which reminded Maria and the baron so much of their homeland.

Of the original seven children, three are still alive -- Werner, along with older sisters Agathe (Liesl in the film), who is 90 this year, and Maria (Gretl). The original Maria von Trapp, who will live forever as Julie Andrews swirling around on an Alpine pasture above Salzburg, died in 1987 at the age of 82.

“Dad listened to that CD while recuperating. I blame him for all this,” said Stefan.

Their parents would be quite happy if the kids wanted to pursue careers in music. “But the neat thing is that they are really getting an understanding of their heritage,” said Annie.

Not quite ‘Sixteen going on Seventeen’, Sofia is the oldest, at 14. “I have seen The Sound of Music so many times and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like it. I never met (great-grandmother) Maria, but I heard she was always laughing,” she said.

Sofia has been studying German, and great-aunt Agatha taught the kids to sing Silent Night in German for the planned Christmas album. But Sofia is not sure if she wants a singing career. “I’m really interested in genetics,” she said.

For 12-year-old Melanie, the movie is clearly one of her favourite things. “It’s really neat to think it's about my family.”

On one of the planned albums, she and Sofia sing a duet of Cockles and Mussels. Melanie also plays guitar, and although she would like to be a singer, she is more interested in becoming a writer or a poet when she grows up. Next comes Amanda, who is 11, and is quite adamant she wants to be a police officer. She and brother Justin will sing God Bless America on the next CD. Last but not least, eight-year-old Justin likes singing enough now but has his eyes set on being a pilot or a sailor. And his favourite song from the movie is not My Favourite Things, but Do-Re-Mi.

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