The Sound Of Music Turns 50: Musical Activities To Mark The Occasion

SBO Staff • ChoralGuest EditorialSeptember 2009 • September 30, 2009

Mary Martin as Maria with the Von Trapp family singers in the original 1959 Broadway production.
Mary Martin as Maria with the Von Trapp family singers in the original 1959 Broadway production.

All photos courtesy of the Rodgers Hammerstein Organization.

The Sound of Music celebrates the 50th anniversary of its Broadway premiere on November 16, 2009. This classic musical by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II can easily serve as a springboard for curricular activities, especially in music. This article takes a detailed look at Rodgers and Hammerstein’s last collaboration and offers suggestions for music lessons for students of all ages. Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music are generally considered “the big five” Rodgers and Hammerstein shows of their 11 collaborations. Andrew Lloyd Webber staged a London revival of The Sound of Music in 2006.

The main plot of The Sound of Music features a novice nun who becomes governess to a naval captain’s seven children, falls in love with the children’s father, and marries him. The Trapp family formed a singing group and performed in Europe until they fled their homeland in 1938 to escape the Nazi regime. They ended up settling in Stowe, Vermont and opening an inn called the Trapp Family Lodge. They continued to perform in the United States for 15 years.

Rodgers and Hammerstein, undoubtedly two of the most important musicians of the 20th century, first collaborated on Oklahoma!, which has been hailed as a turning point in Broadway history because of its seamless integration of story, songs, and dance. Wilk (1999) identified Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most enduring works. Hirsch (1993) serves as a chronicle of the making of the movie version of The Sound of Music. Maslon (2006) provides details on all aspects of the musical including background about Maria Von Trapp, Austria, the Broadway staging, the screen version, and musical internationally on stage and screen.

Background: The Stage and Screen Versions
Legendary Broadway actress Mary Martin and her producer husband Richard Halliday approached Rodgers and Hammerstein about writing one or two new songs to accompany traditional tunes for a musical about the Trapp Family singers. The couple had seen a German language film about the Trapp Family. The legendary musical team liked the concept of the show but suggested that they write an entire fresh score. Finding that Rodgers and Hammerstein were busy with Flower Drum Song, Martin and Halliday agreed to wait a year until they were available. Hammerstein, who usually wrote the lyrics and libretto for his shows, acted solely as lyricist on The Sound of Music, with Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse writing the libretto. Rodgers once again served as composer.

Screenwriter Ernest Lehmann saw the Broadway production and envisioned it as the perfect vehicle for a successful film version. Despite some negative reviews, the public embraced the story and score, making it one of their all-time favorites.

It was hoped that the film version of The Sound of Music would save 20th Century Fox Studios after they produced the expensive blockbuster Cleopatra. Their hopes were fulfilled since the film was a box office success, mainly from word of mouth recommendations from viewers.

The movie version of The Sound of Music was released when I was three. When I saw it, my parents to this day claim that their hyperactive son sat for nearly three hours totally mesmerized! The 20th Century Fox film version, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, was released almost six years after the Broadway premiere. Screenwriter Ernest Lehmann, who thought the Broadway musical would make a phenomenal movie, penned the screenplay.

Julie Andrews stars in the 1965 motion picture.

The Sound of Music film dialogue and song lyrics have been dubbed in a number of languages. The film’s title had more figurative names in Spanish (Sonrisas y lágrimas, which means “Smiles and tears” or La Novicia Rebelde, meaning “The Rebellious Novice,”) in French (La M

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