It’s not “So Long, Farewell” to The Sound of Music Just Yet

About the musical

The Sound of Music (1965; film) is an American Musical film produced and directed by Robert Wise and was originally written and composed for the stage by the legendary duo Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1959. Based on the true story of Maria von Trapp and the Trapp Family Singers, it begins with Maria, played by Julie Andrews, leaving the Abbey where she was training to be a nun and traveling to the von Trapp residence where she has been charged with taking care of the imitable Captain von Trapp’s, played by Christopher Plummer, seven children. Maria is independent and free spirited and never takes life too seriously, which is the complete opposite of the strict and no nonsense Captain. Taking place in Austria in the 1930s preceding World War II, Maria helps the Captain rekindle his relationship with his children while also forming relationships of her own with both the children and the Captain. This joyful storyline eventually becomes taken over by a darker threat of Nazi Germanic control.

Still Popular today

Despite coming out over fifty years ago, The Sound of Music (1965; film)is still a crowd favorite. This optimistic and sanguine film checks all the boxes. Notable actors that are charming and loveable? Check. Catchy music that is still being sung and reused while also inspiring new modern-day projects? Check. A plot that involves both an independent female protagonist as well as a swoon-worthy love story? Check. A more serious note of underlying political commentary? Check. These few features of the film are only scratching the surface of what makes this film a persistently popular culture phenomenon. 

The power of music

Music is the main element responsible for moving the story along, the title is literally The Sound of MUSIC. This can be seen from the very beginning with the prelude song, “Prelude / The Sound of Music,” where Maria is seen dancing and singing in a picturesque field all by herself. Andrews gives Maria such an energetic and youthful performance full of big hearty swooping motions and enthusiastic belting that it makes me want to stop what I’m doing and find a field to do the exact same thing. This scene sets the stage for understanding Maria and how she goes about life: happy and free.

Then there are also the iconic and catchy songs such as “My Favourite Things” and “Do-Re-Mi” that can be heard at Christmas time and in elementary school music classes everywhere. “My Favorite Things” has not only become a classic Christmas song, it has even been an inspiration for modern day artist, Ariana Grande in the form of her hit song “7 Rings,” and if that’s not a reflection on the timelessness of this musical, then I don’t know what is.

Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” music video, inspired by “My Favourite Things.”

As for “Do-Re-Mi,” this could be considered the origin story of the Trapp Family Singers, at least regarding the film. The von Trapp children don’t know how to sing, which is largely because of their father becoming withdrawn from all things playful and artistic after his wife passed. Maria’s character identity is largely based on her ability to sing, which Andrews embodies perfectly while also being in perfect pitch. Maria introduces the children to solfège of the major musical scale with this simple but extremely helpful song. The song, while not especially complicated, is what changes it all for the von Trapp kids because once they feel more comfortable with these musical elements, they acquire the ability to better get through to their partially estranged father. 

We finally hear the whole von Trapp family, including the captain, sing together when the captain overhears the children singing “The Sound of Music” to his guests. He has an obvious emotional response to hearing and seeing them sing together where his eyes seem to light up in joy and recognition, which is when he begins to sing along. The children have a moment of questioning where they stop singing for a moment, until they realize that their father is not only appreciating their sound, but also joining in, and then we finally get to hear all the von Trapp family sing as a group. This scene in the movie was, in my opinion, the most warming and heartfelt, and definitely brought tears to my eyes because it’s where we finally get to see the love the captain has for his children and in turn the love they have for him.

The Captain’s homeland

Once Captain von Trapp finally does come around, he even has a song that’s special to him. “Edelweiss,” is a flower meaning devotion and was his statement of Austrian patriotism in the face of pressure from Nazi Germany. This song really embodies the captain’s view on the political situation that is currently affecting him and his home country. It is the first song that the captain really takes the initiative to begin, and it’s also one of the last songs the von Trapp family is seen performing. They perform it in front of a crowd full of fellow Austrians as well as officers from the German Navy who are waiting to take him to their base and force him to accept a commission to their war navy. This performance is a statement to the German officers and to the Austrians that they are still going to represent and love their country in this battle with an unforeseen outcome.  With lyrics such as “Edelweiss, Edelweiss / Bless my homeland forever,” it becomes a sentimental response to the politically adverse climate that’s currently occurring. It also gives this scene as well as the remainder of the film an emotionally charged atmosphere that creates a much deeper meaning to the film as whole. 

Women empowerment?

Many might question if this film has any aspects of feminism or women empowerment because it seems to be mainly about a man and woman falling in love, which has come to be synonymous with a woman becoming dependent on a man. I wouldn’t say it’s an altogether feministic masterpiece because it’s less blatantly feminist and more of a coming-of-age story of a young woman, Maria, and could even be applied to the eldest daughter, Liesl. For Maria though, she is thrown into her job as a governess by The Reverend Mother because it’s obvious that her sole purpose is not to be a nun, she even says herself that she saw the nuns singing when she was a child and decided that’s what she wanted to do. This decision was not because she was particularly religious or had a strong yearning to be a nun; she just wanted to have fun singing with a group of people. She finds just what she’s looking for in the form of the von Trapp children, after she teaches them, what music is, of course. Maria has choices that she can make for herself about her life trajectory such as whether to become a nun or whether or not to take the job as the governess, and this at least gives her some semblance of agency over her life. On the other hand, these roles that she can choose from do seem to be limited to stereotypical roles assigned to women and seemingly with no option of pursuing something outside of gender normativity. Maria is very headstrong, which gives her some power to stand up for herself by going against the captain’s orders on how to care for his children and eventually help the children reunite fully with their father, but even in this defiance she is still playing into stereotypical roles women are expected to play such as the motherly figure and the peacekeeper.

As for Liesl, played by Charmian Carr, she’s just a young sixteen-year-old girl looking for her path in life. Her father has seemingly abandoned her and her siblings emotionally, she has no mother and no older siblings to look to or ask for advice. The only person who seems to have an interest in Maria’s life is seventeen-year-old Hitler enthusiast/messenger boy, Rolf. The song, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” which is coming from Rolf, who is only one year older than Liesl, is definitely a little condescending towards her as seen by him calling her “little girl” and warning her of being too naive and being taken advantage of by older men. Then when it comes to her verse, she obviously has an agenda, which is to get to Rolf. She plays into her naivety and tells him things he wants to hear to rile him up, such as calling herself “innocent as a rose” and saying, “I’ll depend on you” (i.e. Rolf). All throughout the duet they are seen dancing in a gazebo at night while it’s raining. They partner dance close together at times, but Rolf will back up when getting too close because he doesn’t want to be seen as one that’s taking advantage of her, but at this time in her life she wants Rolf, and she knows it, even though the audience can clearly tell Rolf is not the man for her. While this scene definitely doesn’t do the film any favors for being seen as one that empowers women, the prevailing idea is that Liesl is young and looking for her purpose in life. She might currently think that purpose is getting with Rolf, but she has the agency to change that, and with the help of Maria in their “Sixteen Going on Seventeen Reprise,” she realizes that she doesn’t actually need Rolf. She has the ability to keep searching for her true passion in life, without traitor Rolf.

Women empowering ideas in this film aren’t as obvious as they are in others, and it might even be a reach to call them women empowering, but it’s more about the fact that all the female characters are still looking for their place in life. This gives the idea that they have some semblance of agency in finding their dream and pursuing it, even if the dreams given are limited.

not a love story but still very much a love story

As a hopeless romantic, I can’t help but swoon at every love story, no matter how corny or unrealistic, I come into contact with. That is to say, I did indeed swoon when Maria and the Captain are in the gazebo professing their love for each other through the song, “Something Good.” Them standing so close to each other, both singing “I must have done something good / For here you are, standing there, loving me,” was the climax to the evident build up their relationship had been going through. Yes, the Captain had intended to marry the Baroness, but their chemistry was minimal, and neither of them really loved each other, which of course makes it okay for him to break up with her for another woman, especially if that woman is Maria. Despite their relationship being a major component in moving the story along, it’s also accompanied by things already talked about such as family reconciliation, female agency, and Austrian patriotism. All of these aspects help to create a better well-rounded outlook on the events that took place for this family, and without one aspect, the story would be one-dimensional and would lack the ability to attract a large audience. Plus, who doesn’t love a good romance story nowadays? Probably a lot of people, but let me have my moment okay!

the power of music part two

Every major plot line in The Sound of Music features a unique and memorable song to accompany it. Music is the way these characters communicate and share their feelings with each other. While music is the main component in moving the story along, it also gives the film a prevalent sense of optimism no matter the situation, which could seem to make light of the heavy political situation that was going on at the time. It almost gives the idea that no matter how dire the circumstances such as being summoned to serve in the Nazi Germany Navy as a devout Austrian, you can overcome it through music, which in the real world is obviously not true. On the other hand, the music can evoke these feelings of joy and optimism from the audience, which sometimes is the sole purpose of watching any form of entertainment. Not everything watched must be deep and dark and perfectly accurate, it’s okay to make light of heavy things because it makes it easier to get through. Music might diminish the extremity of situations, but it is also an engaging and relatable experience that can draw people in and get them to listen, and potentially help them learn something new. 

The von Trapp family escaping Austria headed for Switzerland.

the sound of music in today’s time

It can definitely be said that The Sound of Music is not the most inclusive when it comes to casting. Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and the actors who play the seven von Trapp children are all very much white, and while it is historically more accurate, it doesn’t give any representation of racial minorities. This being said, race is not a central theme in this film; it’s never mentioned, and does not contribute to the plot, which allows for more representation of people of color in these roles. So, if this film/musical is ever created again, it would be great to see more diversity when casting these roles.

Also, watching this now was very interesting with all of the anti-Semitic comments being made by big time celebrities like Kanye West. The von Trapp’s are not Jewish, so they are not the ones being targeted by the Nazis and the comparisons are not the exact same, but they are still trying to escape. This film obviously portrays the Nazis as the overall antagonist of the story, and when comparing this to things that are currently happening in the world, it’s crazy to think that the events are almost a century apart, yet the hatred is coming back full circle. If I were watching this in 1965, I’d believe that it’s a sentimental portrayal of this family and their escape from the Nazis but watching it now gives a new meaning, and it even makes me wonder if our world is coming close to another similar event happening, which is honestly very scary to think about. 

Despite The Sound of Music possibly being out of touch in today’s time, it’s sheer optimism and cheerfulness when facing hardships makes it, in my opinion, a timeless musical. If I’m ever feeling down, it’s something I can put on to lose myself in the lives of a singing family from the 1930s and maybe feel a little bit better.

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