That is a far less dramatic ending than the movie gave them. In The Sound of Music, they hike over the Austrian Alps while the choir sings Climb Every Mountain loudly behind them. On Julie Andrews variety show, the real Maria von Trapp told Julie that when escaping from the Nazis, one does not sing at the top of one’s lungs.
Yes, there was a Maria von Trapp. She was a postulant (kind of a beginning level of nun), when she was called to the von Trapp home to be the nanny, first of one of the children, who was sick, and later all seven of them. She did marry the Baron, who was twice her age, in 1927 (not just before they escaped). Together, they had three more children. They did tour the world as The Trapp Family Singers. And the great-great grandchildren are still performing.
I don’t want to spend too much time on the musical as a whole because I really want to talk about the title song: The Sound of Music. I am sure that some of you are groaning about now. I know, the song has become associated with everything that is cliched. But sometimes cliché isn’t bad.
I contend that every accidental, every change from the rhythm is a clue to the singer, a hint about the character that is singing, and a hint about what the composer intended. And Richard Rodgers gives the singer a lot of clues in this song.
While the movie cut the opening of the song, on stage there is an opening verse. I love the verse. It is pretty much a recitative, meaning that it is almost as if it were spoken. There are some wonderful bits that slip from major to minor and back again, as Maria sings about needing to leave the hills to go back inside.
My day in the hills, has come to an end, I know
A star has come out to tell me it’s time to go.
But deep in the dark green shadows
Are voices that urge me to stay.
So I pause and I wait and I listen
For one more sound,
For one more lovely thing that the hills might say.
In the accompaniment for this section, there are high notes that shimmer above the melody, just like stars shining down on the singer.
Then there is a brief pause. A moment of silence, as the singer takes in what the hills are saying to her.
The hills are alive with the sound of music,
With songs they have sung for a thousand years.
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music.
My heart wants to sing every song it hears.
This last phrase is sung on an ascending line until it reaches the word song. Why not continue the line going up? Perhaps so that your heart can hear nature’s song. If the line continued upwards, hearing anything else might be difficult.
But, regardless, we have reached a different part of the song.
My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees.
There is a strong beat that lies underneath this sentence, that feels just like the strong beat of the bird’s wings.
My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies from a church on a breeze,
The word flies is the high point of this phrase. It can become onomatopoetic. (Onomatopoeia is when the word sound like what it is – usually associated with words like bang. But in this case, I think it can work.) The word can fly by emphasizing the fl sound, and then allowing the y sound to trail off a bit.
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over stones on its way,
Here the accompaniment takes on the feel of the stream underneath the singer’s words. And the words trip and falls can once again take on onomatopoetic qualities.
To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray.
This is my favorite line in the entire song. I have mentioned before that we had a canary when I was growing up. His name was Hansel. Hansel and I would sing duets a lot. He loved this phrase too and could always be counted upon to swell to the occasion. He gave me a perfect example of what this line meant.
And now we come full circle, to a repeat of the beginning of the refrain.
I go to the hills when my heart is lonely.
I know I will hear what I’ve heard before.
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
And I’ll sing once more.
Those last two lines bring tears to my eyes every time. They perfectly encapsulate what music, what singing means to me. And to end the song with the acknowledgement that you will sing again. How powerful. What an acclamation.
In the play and in movie, this song ends quietly. Sometimes I end it quietly, and sometimes I feel it needs a big, high ending. That depends on when in a program I am singing it, and where.
As I said earlier, I know that many people hear this song and groan. I hope that looking into it in a little more depth has given you a better appreciation of how beautifully Richard Rodgers music and Oscar Hammerstein’s words meld together into an almost perfect package.
I’ll be playing this song and a few others from The Sound of Music this week on my Minnich Music FaceBook page this week, so be sure to check those out.
Until next time!