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The von Trapps honor their legacy as they change with the times

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Right on the heels of the recent NBC live airing of “The Sound of Music,” starring Carrie Underwood, seen by a record-breaking 38 million viewers, the great grandchildren of the Captain and Maria von Trapp, upon whose story the musical is based, are carrying on the family tradition here in Indianapolis.

Currently, Sofi (25), Melanie (23), Amanda (22) and August von Trapp (19), known as The von Trapps, are not only featured in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “Duke Energy Yuletide Celebration” starring Sandi Patty through Dec. 23 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre—they are also performing in their own concert, Monday, Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m., also at the Hilbert.

Last seen in Indy in April of 2012 when they performed with Pink Martini and the ISO, the von Trapps, who have performed for the last 12 years, have toured and traveled all over the globe, making appearances with major symphonies in some of the greatest concert venues in world. Residents of Portland, Ore., the von Trapps have recorded six albums and a concert DVD, and are currently collaborating on a new album called “Get Happy” with fellow Portlandians, Pink Martini.

Recently Examiner.com sat down with the gregarious, polite and engaging group in the ISO offices to chat about “Yuletide,” their own concert and current projects.

Tell me about your “Yuletide” experience thus far?

Melanie: “It’s been really exciting actually. It’s the first time we’ve ever performed with Sandi Patty. It’s been really inspiring. She’s a really phenomenal performer. It’s fun in the show. We wear all these beautiful gowns. Whenever we are not on stage, we’re always watching the rest of the cast perform from offstage because they’re incredible dancers and singers. It’s a great cast.”

Sofi: “One of my favorite asppects of the show is how everyone is becoming best friends. We are all hanging out and eating cake together. We are bonding. And to work with Jack Everly…we have worked with him before and it is always a treat. He is an amazing conductor and composer and arranger and singing with the Indianapolis Symphony is such a treat.”

Amanda: “People who aren’t from Indianapolis don’t realize that the ‘Yuletide’ is such a tradition and so family-based. It’s something that you bring your kids to and then they all grow up and bring their kids. Plus there are members of the cast who have been doing it, some for the past 15 years of its 28 years. To be inserted into that family atmosphere is fun for us and unusual. We’ve had a good time with the cast members and with the audience. It’s nice to be part of bringing this tradition to our audiences.”

August: “I agree with everything they’ve said. Sandi Patty, Mr. Everly and the ensemble…they are such amazing talents. Getting to know them and hanging out with people who are so gifted is so cool.”

What is it you like specifically about working with Jack?

Melanie: “His conducting style is so easy and fluid. It’s easy to follow and that’s really wonderful.”

August: “All his arrangements in the show are amazing. When we first started we had a strictly music rehearsal and so we got to sit down, close our eyes and listen to the arrangements. In each there is something surprising and wonderful in the song and how the notes rub together. He’s really a master.”

Amanda: “What’s interesting is that we have been carrying on the family tradition for the past 13 years and Jack has seen us in various stages throughout our career …when we were very young and then now. Last year we were here with Jack to perform with the ISO and Pink Martini. It’s a band we are now doing an album with and it is the best project and we are so excited about it. What’s cool about being here for ‘Yuletide' is that Jack is once again watching us in another stage of our career.”

Is this a new experience for you being in such a long run? Have you ever done anything like this?

Amanda: “In 2003, we were in a production of ‘The Sound of Music,’ and it ran for about a month and a half, this is the first time since then but this is very different.”

Sofi: “Actually, it is almost relaxing in a way because we can be in one place for 25 shows. Usually we are travelling to a different venue each day and it takes so much energy to travel and set up. It was amazing how organized they were and of course the preparation is a lot of work but once the show starts we can really enjoy the audience perform for them and make them happy.”

How does the ISO's level of professionalism stack up with other symphonies you’ve performed with?

Melanie: “Yes, we’ve performed with many symphonies in a lot of places and we are really grateful for the exposure we’ve had. We just got back from Japan and we were in Carnegie Hall and the New York Pops last year. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is fantastic. There is a really cool part of history that connects them with us. Our grandparents were here 66 years ago performing for the first time with an orchestra and it was the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.”

Amanda: “One of the songs in the show is ‘In Stiller Nacht,’ which is a piece from Brahms. It was sung by our great grandparents on their farewell tour and to sing with the very first symphony that they performed is really meaningful.”

What have audiences been like?

August: “This morning we had a show that was almost completely children. I don’t know if I have ever had so much fun because they don’t react to the same jokes and the same things as adults. They are so accepting and warm. When we sang ‘So Long, Farewell,’ all the children said ‘goodbye’ back to us at the end of the song when we sang ‘goodbye’ (all laugh). The crowds are really warm and receptive. They arrive, already feeling loyal to the show and excited.”

Amanda: “That is what is so special about this show. It is so much about the audience and the audience’s experience and something they can have as a Christmas tradition is really special. I can’t believe how long it has been going and how many people are so enthused about it.”

How was it that you teamed up with Pink Martini?

Melanie: “It’s sort of funny, like in Indianapolis…the lighting on the circle…they have a similar thing in Portland but with a real tree and we were there 2 years ago to sing with the Portland Symphony. We were at this opening for the tree lighting and Pink Martini was doing the show and that is how we met Thomas Lauderdale, the bandleader. We loved his music and loved the band almost immediately. We asked him for his advice and if there was anything musically he could suggest for us. Fast friendship happened almost right off the bat and he asked us to become guest artists for them here in Indianapolis and that was the first time we’ve ever done anything with them and with the symphony, and then started talking about an album together. So we moved to Portland in January and we’ve been working on that album for a year and a half now and we just finished all the vocal recording.”

Amanda: “It’s been a really cool experience working with Pink Martini because there is such a focus on the instruments and for us, we were always so focused on our vocals and to kind of merge those to kind helped to recognize the significance of really putting a lot of effort into the non-vocal element of an album. Putting together two different bands and making one sound that we are all in love with and creating art is very special.”

Sofi: “What’s nice about this collaboration is that our common bond is very international, global sound.”

How many languages do you guys speak?

Melanie: “We sing in about 10-12 different languages. You don’t need to learn the languages to sing them (all laugh).”

So this ensures that you will have international appeal?

Sofi: “And that was a common thread with us because it was a family tradition that when you travelled, you learned the ‘Edelweiss’ of a specific country and that is kind of what has happened with this album because it has infused this fun element that Pink Martini has, which is really great.”

What is your decision making process as sibs?

Amanda: “That’s a great question. I don’t think anyone has ever asked us that. We all have different roles (everyone laughs). Learning each other’s roles and skill sets is what guides the ability to make decisions. We all have different personalities and we handle things differently. Some more differently than others.”

How about you August, as the youngest and the only male?

August: “(Laughs) It’s interesting. You definitely become more rhetorically based. As the youngest…it’s sort of the typical youngest sib thing.”

Melanie: “Yes, it’s kind of the stereotype of the oldest, the middle-child, the third and then the youngest and because we all started at such a young age, August was 7 and I was 13, we’ve grown up working together so we’ve had to respect each other not only as colleagues but as siblings.”

Tell me about your show and what it will consist of.

Melanie: “It will be a lot of the songs from the album with Pink Martini and a few Christmas songs and some original pieces that August wrote.”

You all play instruments, right?

August: “I play the ukulele.”

Melanie: “I play guitar and the shaker.”

Sofi: “I play a little piano but in the show I’ll play the melodica.”

Amanda: “I just play the shaker.”

Melanie: “There will be the four of us and our band, which is an upright bass, a piano and percussion. It will be fun.”

Why will it be fun?

Melanie: “A lot of the songs we sing are in different languages. I think about 10. One song we’ll do is a tango but in Japanese and is kind of a famous song in Japan. It’s well known and we’ll do an ABBA cover, ‘Fernando,’ but in the original Swedish with a Brazilian rhythm underneath. We also sing ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me.’”

Sofi: “In the show we’ll be weaving stories of our family in comparison to ‘The Sound of Music.’ And us growing up with that…paving the road for our own legacy.”

Any thoughts about writing a book?

Melanie: “August should write it. He is just an incredible writer.”

August: “We’ve had so many hilarious, sometimes unbelievable adventures along our way, with many having nothing to do with singing.” (laughs)

Do you work from a script or is it spontaneous?

Melanie: “It’s more of a concert that a show but it’s really neat for us because it is a totally new show we are doing as the von Trapps as opposed to the von Trapp children.”

So would it be safe to say that the von Trapps are re-branding?

All: “Yes.”

Amanda: “We want to honor what we’ve done for 10 years in the past. But we are growing up. We are ready to explore new avenues….especially world music. It’s been a journey growing up and bringing our fans with us. We have been surrounded by really amazing people, like Thomas Lauderdale who has really given us great advice on how to go through this transition. It’s very generous and very hope-filled.”

August: “It comes down to having quality music in the end. That’s what it is all about. I think what we strive for is that when people hear us, if they’ve know us before, or haven’t, they’ll keep listening because it is feeding them somehow.”

Melanie: “It’s not like we are trying to shake an image or get rid of something. We are just trying to take the same concept in this thing that we represent and just be adults in it and grow. It’s not like we are just leaving certain things behind. We are just trying to move forward and our audience has been extremely supportive in that and of course there is the occasional person who only wants us to sing certain stuff, but for the most part we have had incredible people who just want us to grow. They want to grow with you and as long as you are willing to let people come with you on that ride, you’ll have a much easier time growing.”

Besides Pink Martini, do you look forward to collaborating with other artists?

All: “Yes.”

Melanie: “What’s cool about this album with Pink Martini is that, it is a collaboration and we enjoyed that the most. We had Wayne Newtown come in and sing ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ with us. Charmian Carr who played Liesl in the ‘Sound of Music,’ she sings ‘Edelweiss’ on the album. Rufus Wainright. The Chieftains. We recorded with them in Dublin which was sort of a dream come true and then Jack Hanna, the animal guy (all laugh).”

Who is on your wish list?

Amanda:Fun. is incredible. Nate Ruess’ harmonies are fantastic.”

Melanie: “I am a huge Billy Joel fan. And also U2.”

August: “We tried to collaborate with the Fleet Foxes, which is a Northwest Band.”

Did you see Carrie Underwood play Maria in “Sound of Music,” and what did you think?

Melanie: “Actually it was our opening night when it aired so we didn’t actually watch it live but we’ve seen bits and pieces since. Of course, there have been lots of mixed reviews but for us, it’s an honor to have the story re-told, no matter what. It’ a huge honor for us so it important to be nothing but supportive.”

Sofi: “And it is such a courageous project to take on. The music from the 1965 movie is so iconic.”

Amanda: “I am sure it was a ton of work and you can tell watching her that she poured her heart into it and I couldn’t imagine having that pressure.”

Melanie: “’The Sound of Music,’ is a blessing for us to have a family story so loved by everybody not only in America but all over the world.”

Sofi. “Even in Rawanda. We were teaching music in Africa for 3 months and in this little village in Rawanda they knew ‘Do Re Mi’ and ‘Favorite Things,’ and when they sang it, it gave them joy and hope.”

For tickets and information about “Duke Energy Yuletide Celebration” and The von Trapp concert call the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra box office at (317) 639-4300 or visit www.indianapolissymphony.org.

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