In the 1940s and 1950s, the Trapp Family Singers were one of the biggest showbiz institutions on the planet, touring globally and singing traditional songs from their homeland of Austria. The remarkable story of the von Trapp family would later be immortalized in a little film you may have heard of called "The Sound of Music."
Two generations and 60 years later, the von Trapp family is back on stage. The great-grandchildren of Captain Georg and Maria - now known simply as The Von Trapps - will present a concert of world music Saturday at Cary's Booth Amphitheatre.
Titled "Around the World with The Von Trapps," the concert is the final installment in the North Carolina Symphony's Summerfest Series and the latest stop in a kind of perpetual world tour for the von Trapps. Although the North Carolina symphony itself will not perform, The Von Trapps play their own instruments along with a small backing band including drums, upright bass and piano.
This new generation of singing Von Trapps - siblings Sofia, Melanie, Amanda and August - range in age from 19 to 25. They've been performing together for more than a decade, but their musical career was actually rather accidental.
The four siblings are the grandchildren of Werner von Trapp, also known as Kurt "the incorrigible one" in "The Sound of Music." As young children, the siblings used to sing with their "Opa" when he'd come to visit the family home in Montana. When Werner suffered a stroke, the kids made a recording of songs to cheer him up.
That recording led to more recordings, festival performances and eventually a full-on musical career that now spans 13 years, six albums, a concert DVD and collaborations with artists including Rufus Wainwright, the Chieftains and Wayne Newton. Now based in Portland, Oregon, The Von Trapps released their latest recording in March - "Dream a Little Dream," a collaboration with Portland musical collective Pink Martini.
An eclectic mix
Saturday's performance will mix material from the new record along with The Von Trapps' usual array of traditional songs from around the world. Speaking from her home in Portland, eldest sibling Sofia von Trapp, 25, said the repertoire is eclectic and incorporates the siblings' instrumental talents as well: August plays ukelele, Melanie plays guitar and Sofia plays melodica.
"There's a mix of things, and it's always hard to quickly describe," Sofia said. "It's a lot of harmonies, and we sing in 10 different languages. We have tangos and bossa nova, music from Ireland and east Africa. The new original material is kind of Beach Boys-Carpenters indie pop. Somehow it makes sense."
August von Trapp - the baby brother at 19 - writes most of the group's original material, and said the siblings like to collect elements of music from different eras and places.
"One of my personal favorites is a funny Japanese tango based off of an old Italian folk song about a black cat," August said. "There are original songs and songs that our grandparents sang before we were born."
'Sound' with a twist
And of course The Von Trapps will be singing selections from "The Sound of Music" - but with a twist. Several twists, actually.
"They're such beautiful songs, and we tell the stories behind them," Sofia said. "We do different things with them. For example, I sing 'My Favorite Things' in Portuguese. We get into how the songs have gone all over the world and been translated into different cultures."
After the performance in Cary, The Von Trapps will head out to Istanbul, Turkey. After that, it's France, then California, then the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
"There are definitely perks to singing for a living," said Amanda von Trapp, 22. "You get to travel the world and fall into all kinds of adventures and experiences that you'd normally not have."
As to the challenges of spending so much time in close quarters with immediate family, the von Trapp kids have a system.
"We figured that out a long time ago," Sofia said. "When you're working together, you can't slam the door and not talk - we have to do a show. We all grew up together on a farm, and were home-schooled. We've been classmates and playmates forever. I'm proud to call my siblings my friends. They're cool people."