Sunday, April 22, 2012

This One’s for Ruth: My Thoughts on The Sound of Music

I had an unpleasant illness recently (are there pleasant illnesses?) that prompted me to spend an unusual number of hours in bed. Between naps, I watched TV and a couple of favorite movies. One of them was 1965’s The Sound of Music. It took me two days to get through the three-hour musical, but I enjoyed it, again.

Each time I watch it I’m struck by the same things:

Julie Andrews’ voice. Such expression, such effortlessness. I recently researched her life journey and learned that her step-father discovered her four-octave range when she was eight years old. Most of us can sing two octaves; many trained singers can cover three. She described it as “freakish,” calling it “an adult voice in a little body.” Sadly, vocal cord surgery in 1997 forever altered her clear soprano.

A personal connection: My father, who had a beautiful tenor voice, had a similar unsatisfactory result from vocal cord surgery. He didn’t sue anybody, but it was sure sad. Meanwhile, my husband, with a rich baritone, has had seven surgeries on his vocal cords—and can still sing beautifully. I think the conditions and treatments were different, but I’m still amazed and extremely grateful each time I hear my hubby sing.

The Alps. The mountains aren’t just a beautiful setting, they’re an important character. Could the story have been set anywhere else, at any other time in history? Without the Alps, there are no “hills” to be alive with the sound of music. Climb Every Mountain becomes a less meaningful analogy. And the movie would lack its dramatic conclusion—the escape by foot over the mountains.

The Nuns. I’d love to sing in a multi-part ensemble like that, singing lowest alto. One of the nuns, Sister Sophia,is none other than Marni Nixon. Who is Marni Nixon, you may ask. She’s the talented singer that dubbed the singing voices of several notable film actresses of the day. She sang for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. In the DVD commentary for The Sound of Music, director Robert Wise comments that audiences were finally able to see the woman whose voice they knew so well.

Edelweiss. A lovely song that became a school choir standard in the ’60s. I distinctly remember my third grade teacher (1966-67) saying, “We are not singing Edelweiss for the parents’ program.” We sang Windy, made popular by The Association. My third grade teacher was too cool for school. She also had a blonde “beehive” and wore miniskirts and pink lipstick. She’s the woman who first inspired me to be a writer. I think of her when I hear the song Edelweiss. And silently thank her.
My favorite line. A Nazi sympathizer, Herr Zeller, attends a party at the Von Trapp home. In a tense conversation about Hitler’s suspected invasion into peaceful Austria, the Captain says to Herr Zeller, “If the Nazis take over Austria, you will be the entire trumpet section.” 

 Zeller responds, “You flatter me.” 

And then, the Captain says my favorite line in the movie: “Oh, how clumsy of me. I meant to accuse you.” 

So polished, so dignified, but so cutting.

Liesl is pretty, but pitchy. The dear soul was flat most of the time. If I can hear it, couldn’t the musical directors? Why didn’t they re-record her parts until she got it right? This really bugs me.

Which child is my age? I’ve always wondered which of the children is closest in age to me so I finally looked it up on the Internet. I’m the same age—a month younger—as the littlest girl, Gretl, played by Kym Karath (born August 4, 1958). Makes ya feel old, doesn’t it?

It’s nice to have a few movies I can watch again and again “when I’m feeling bad.” They’re like old friends that know just what to say to make me feel better, to help me “sing once more.”

This movie also makes me think of my dear friend Ruth who claims it as her favorite. This blog post is dedicated to her.

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