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Elisabeth von Trapp and Empire Brass Bring "Christmas" to Cape May

Elisabeth von Trapp and Empire Brass Bring "Christmas" to Cape May

Yes, Thanksgiving is over (although I’m still working my way through the abundant leftovers), and that means two things in my book: holiday gift shopping and Christmas music. While I can’t help you figure out what to get crazy Cousin Aloysius this year, I can help you find a concert of great seasonal music. On Saturday, Dec. 15 at 8 p.m., Elisabeth von Trapp and The Empire Brass team up for “The Sound of Christmas,” a family-friendly event presented by Stockton College at the new Cape May Convention Hall. Among the highlights of the evening’s program will be a wonderful medley from “The Sound of Music,” during which the guitar solo “Edelweiss” flows into an extraordinary rendition of “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night).

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And in case you’re wondering: Yes, Elisabeth von Trapp is part of the famous von Trapp family that inspired the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music.” She is the granddaughter of Maria and Baron Georg von Trapp, and the daughter of Werner, who was called “Kurt” in the show. Werner, like many of the von Trapps, took issue with many of the details of the musical. But whether fact, fiction or somewhere in between, this family’s story continues to capture the hearts of viewers of all ages.

While von Trapp did not have the opportunity to meet Julie Andrews, who portrayed her grandmother in the movie version, she says that Maria was very different in real life. As a young child, however, she was introduced to Mary Martin, who played Maria in the original Broadway production. Von Trapp says she and her family met Martin in the lead-up to the New York premiere in preparation for a feature in LIFE magazine in November 1959. Von Trapp’s grandparents, along with their family, fled Austria in 1938 as the Nazis took control. In their native country, the family sang in performances and contests (mostly classical, sacred and folk music, with a focus on liturgical music, thanks to the group’s conductor, a particularly musical priest). Talent scouts attending a contest in Strasbourg recognized the von Trapps’ wide appeal and booked them for performances in Europe and a 1936 concert tour of the United States. After a couple more U.S. tours (and a brief stay on Ellis Island), the family came here to stay in 1939. They eventually settled in Vermont, where von Trapp still lives a few miles away from the family homestead with her husband, who is also her executive producer.

Von Trapp has very clear memories, from an early age, of her family’s belief in the importance of music in a person’s life and says music was a daily part of the household. And we’re not talking about a narrow slice of musical styles. Young Elisabeth loved listening to the Mamas and the Papas, Bob Dylan and Judy Collins. Her (four) brothers preferred the Kinks and the Rolling Stones. Her parents (as well as Elisabeth and her siblings) enjoyed the works of classical composers, such as Vivaldi, Mozart and Bach. At home there were a number of instruments available for playing, including dulcimer, guitar, piano, violin, harp and various Baroque instruments.

Von Trapp believes that studying older music helps to develop a more complete understanding of new music. As a composer and singer, she creates her own style by blending elements of classical, folk and pop, which makes sense given her varied influences while growing up. She began piano lessons at age 8, and by 16 she was playing guitar and traveling throughout New England, performing with her brothers and sisters in small settings. Since then, she has appeared in a wide range of venues, including small opera houses and major performance centers such as Washington National Cathedral, the Kennedy Center and the Great Hall at New York’s Grand Central Station.

Along with von Trapp, next month’s “The Sound of Christmas” features selections by The Empire Brass: Rolf Smedvig and Marc Brian Reese, trumpets; Michelle Perry, French horn; Mark Hetzler, trombone; and Kenneth Amis, tuba. The brass quintet (plus Douglas Major, organ, and Steve Wilkes, percussion) plays concerts throughout the year in North America, Europe and Asia, with repertoire as varied as Bach and Handel, jazz and Broadway.

“The Sound of Christmas” takes place at Cape May Convention Hall, which just opened in May and seats about 900. But not to worry: Unlike many other parts of our region, Cape May was spared the full brunt of superstorm Sandy’s recent devastation. Tickets are $35 and may be ordered at the box office (714 Beach Ave.), online at capemaycity.com or by calling (855) 708-9699.

On second thought … invite crazy Cousin Aloysius to go with you to “The Sound of Christmas.” You’ll be able to cross two things off your holiday to-do list this year.

You’re welcome and happy holidays!

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