Busted Halo
feature: entertainment & lifestyle
November 13th, 2009

Corny and Profound

The Sound of Music at 50



For Christmas one year, when I was in high school, my grandpa gave me the video of The Sound of Music. I was thrilled: my favorite movie, the one I’d loved since childhood, was mine to watch at will.

My cousin Mark, in his early twenties at the time, regarded my new tape with good-natured disdain. “That’s such a corny movie,” he said.

I froze in horror. “It is not corny!” I answered vehemently. Not my finest comeback, but outrage was making me inarticulate. We went a few rounds. Neither of us conceded any turf, so we left it at that. It was Christmas, after all.

But here’s the thing: in some deep secret part of myself, I knew that Mark was right. And now, twenty years later, I will freely admit it to the world. Yes, The Sound of Music is a very corny movie.

But it’s a corny movie that has profoundly shaped my life.

This year marks the fiftieth birthday of The Sound of Music. In November of 1959, the play opened on Broadway; six years later, the film version was released, to immense popular acclaim. My own acquaintance with the musical came in 1977, when I was four. That was the year that my mom took my sister Amy and me, along with our neighbors Becky and Doug and their mom, to see the film when it came to the local theatre.

A deep impression

The movie impressed us kids deeply. Back at home, Amy and Becky ran across the lawn twirling like juvenile Marias. I, by virtue of my age, had to be a Nazi storm trooper with Doug. We rode our Big Wheels ferociously down the sidewalk, on the hunt for imaginary von Trapps cowering in graveyards. We were too young to know that you never, under any circumstances, want to be a Nazi. In fact, we did not even know what a Nazi was, except that they were the only ones in the movie who got to drive really fast.

As the years rolled along, The Sound of Musicwas often in my thoughts. Amy and I, along with our neighbors and other assorted friends, were constantly planning elaborate living room productions. I was always going to be one of the dark-haired daughters: Marta, or Brigitta. (We were incredibly literal in our casting.) These productions never got off the ground, mostly because we did not know any boys with the gravitas to pull off Captain von Trapp. The scene where the boat capsizes in the lake also presented some unique and ultimately insurmountable production challenges.

Even though I grew up with a loving and safe family, the outside world seemed so large, the potential for terror so wide. But no matter what happened in life, the von Trapps always made it over that mountain.

But still, that didn’t stop us from making marionettes for our “Lonely Goatherd” scene. (We used tennis balls covered in cloth for the heads. They bounced wildly when dropped.) And every one of us kids had the soundtrack memorized. We sang along robustly to any number featuring the children and waited restlessly for the end of Maria and the Captain’s love song in the gazebo. If we hadn’t been afraid of scratching our parents’ records, we would’ve skipped that one entirely.

Being Catholic, I also felt a special kinship with the film and its characters. There were sisters who taught at my elementary school; they had knee-length habits and short veils and Philadelphia accents. When I watched the movie with my best friend, who was Protestant, I had a certain feeling of ownership: I could lay claim to those movie sisters in a way that she could not. I knew nuns. I got nuns. In a way, it’s fair to say that The Sound of Music made me proud of being Catholic. And though our sisters never had to perform urgent auto work to thwart the progress of Nazi storm troopers, I didn’t doubt for a minute that they could.

A comforting message

And what else can I really say about The Sound of Music, except that it made my childhood just that much happier? Along with the Catholic pride and the fun of planning those neighborhood productions, there was such a comforting sense of security every time I watched the movie. I always knew that the Captain’s cold heart would thaw after a few bars of the title song. I always knew that the brittle Baroness, with her sneaky plans to send the kids to boarding school, would lose to the charms of the warmly affectionate Maria. (This plot twist was comforting years later, as I navigated the dating world: I loved believing that honest authenticity would trump bitchy glamour.) And as powerful as the iron-hearted Nazis were, I knew that they would never trap the von Trapps. When I watched the movie, there was no doubt that good would prevail. Music, family and faith — these are powerful things, the musical says. Any one of these can help you weather the dog bites and bee stings of life. And when the three are combined — well, nothing, not even fascism, is stronger.

It may sound hokey, but I really feel that there’s something transcendent about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s score.

That message was instinctively comforting to me. As a kid, I was a brooder. I’d hear the headlines of the evening news — a murder here, a kidnapping there — and I’d worry, deeply and silently. Even though I grew up with a loving and safe family, the outside world seemed so large, the potential for terror so wide. But no matter what happened in life, the von Trapps always made it over that mountain. I’d listen to the album on the portable record player in my room, and when the finale of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” came crashing out, I’d get a lump in my throat: one sensitive little kid sharing vicariously in someone else’s triumph.

Now, as a thirty-six year old mother of two, the musical still touches a chord inside me. It may sound hokey, but I really feel that there’s something transcendent about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s score. When I hear the soundtrack, it’s as if time bends and I’m once again living the coziness and the endless summer afternoons of childhood. For just a moment, I’m happier. It’s as simple and as lovely as that.

And, thanks to my indoctrination, my toddler Matthew is proving to be quite the Sound of Music fan himself. I show him the DVD, playing the “songs only” track (someday, he’ll be shocked to learn that there is an actual story in the film). He laughs gleefully with the children during “My Favorite Things,” and he loves to sing “Do Re Mi” when we are in the car, an endearingly imperfect serenade from the backseat. Maybe one of these years he too will be planning living room productions, trying to crack the logistics of that boat scene, making marionettes out of fabric scraps and endless imagination.

And I’ll watch with affection, silently thanking The Sound of Music for making my little boy’s childhood — like my own — just that much happier.

The Author : Ginny Kubitz Moyer
Ginny Kubitz Moyer is the author of the award-winning book Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area and blogs at randomactsofmomness.com.
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  • Waldhof

    I had a lot of the same feelings about Sound of Music when I was little, which was late 60’s and into the 70’s. After visiting Europe and Salzburg in particular, I began enjoying it simply because I liked seeing places I’d been.

    My wife loved the movie, too. So, when she went to Europe with me one year, we went to Salzburg and (not without my objection) took the “Sound of Music” bus tour. To make a long story short, the tour pretty much spoiled the movie for her, and the tour itself was every bit the rip-off I anticipated.

    Still, we still periodically kick the tape in and watch with the kids (who love it). In spite of its almost surreal historical absurdities and distortions of the real von Trapps, the movie has proven educational. Not only was viewing the movie an opportunity to teach the kids about Germany and Austria, but they now have an awareness of the nature of National Socialism and extremism.

  • Max Lindenman

    There’s no shame in loving Catholic schmalz cinema. Song of Music has never really been my cup of tea (or my glass of schnapps), but I rarely let a month go by without re-watching Song of Bernadette, or Boys’ Town, or the genre’s own crown jewel, Angels with Dirty Faces. Two hours with Cagney and the Dead End Kids will have me addressing my own parish priests as “Faddah” for at least a week.

  • Karen

    Hi Ginny,

    I absolutely loved your article! It brings back so many wonderful memories for me as well. I really identified with your article and appreciate the opportunity to have read it. I fondly remember all the productions that you and Amy put on and have special memories of the productions that I was able to participate in while at your house!

    Thank you very much for taking me down memory lane and allowing me to be a part of a special memory for you. I will have to invest in the movie/soundtrack for my own kids as I know my daugther would absolutely love it. Thank you for making my morning happier after reading your article and pondering what my children’s lives will be like with the Sound of Music in their lives!

    Miss you much and thank you!

    Will you please add me to your email list as my mom often sends your articles to me? :-)

  • Shea

    I’ve always loved the Sound of Music as well. It was the first movie I ever saw in the movie theater! And at night! How exciting! ;-)

    My sister actually *did* scratch my Mom & Dad’s SOM record. It was time to flip it over, but the phone rang. My sister did the honors. I can still hear it in my head: “High on a hill was a lonely goat … High on a hill was a lonely goat … High on a hill was a lonely goat … High on a hill was a lonely goat … ”

    Probably one of the most poignant SOM moments I had was when I had my 3 year old niece in the car with me, and I had the soundtrack on. She wanted me to tell her the story. I almost cried when she asked, “What’s war?” I wish I could have kept her in that innocent bliss forever.

  • Rosemary Azzaro

    Dating myself here, but have to share that SOM was the First Broadway show for me, Nancy Dussault was in the lead (around 1962ish) and her nephew ended up being the boy sitting next to me with whom I shared my candy at intermission. I was shocked to get to meet “Maria” after the show. The original Broadway cast album was also another first: the first album in my vinyl collection– when I got my first record player.

    I still love this movie, all the music and the story.

    Reading Marissa’s post, I am reminded that “Climb Every Mountain” is one of my mother’s all-time favorites.

    Thanks for this nice memory today! And a great idea for corny Christmas gifts.

  • Lauren Connelly

    Hi Ginny,
    I, too, remember watching TSM every year on television. We didnt have a VCR, so we waited for the network broadcast during the holudays. Imagine my shock upon learning that my soon-to-be husband was completely unaware of the films’ existence! I learned of it in the following way: one year on a lengthy drive to Vermont, I decided to pass the time by singing songs. This was a solo a cappella performance, as my husband doesn’t really sing. It is a testament to his patience (or his profound ability to tune me out,) that he allowed my to gradually work my way through literally every song I know, including several songs from The Sound of Music.

    A day or two after our arrival at the ski lodge in Vermont, it began to rain. Relentlessly. It rained away all the snow we were supposed to be skiing on. New Englanders will ski in weather considered completely impossible for folks out West, but we still require snow. So we stayed in the lodge with books and movies and cocoa. The Sound of Music was on. Mitch asked me, with shock, how I had known all those songs. He’d never seen the film.

    Now, Mitch’s family is comprised of fairly-recently-arrived European Jews, so it’s possible a movie with Nazis in it just wasn’t a matter of light entertainment for them, although surely they’d’ve enjoyed seeing them outsmarted. But more likely it just wasn’t part of the cultural landscape in Mitch’s house. But it is now!

  • Mike Hayes

    I love the movie too for some strange reason. But when you think you’re taking it too seriously go see “Sing Along Sound of Music” which combines the movie with a Rocky Horror Picture Show-like participation flair.

  • Marissa L

    I, too, love The Sound of Music. A friend, who loves musicals, told me I should watch something less “cloying,” and while I agree it is cloying, it’s still near and dear to me. The score is gorgeous, and the scenery is beautiful.

    One of my cousins used the wedding march from the movie as the processional for her wedding, so perhaps there’s some aspect of the princess idea with Maria, and waiting for the right man to make everything okay.

    When it comes down to it, though, I prefer not to inspect it too closely. It’s a nice story with a good score and it’s set in a beautiful city.

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