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Friday, October 23, 2009

Trapp Family Singers in Springfield, Mass.

This is a program from one of the earliest public performances in the U.S. by the Trapp Family Singers, only weeks after they had arrived in the country as immigrants fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria.

Concert manager Charles L. Wagner (among whose famous clients was 1930s movie musical diva Jeannette MacDonald) brought them from Europe. They had to borrow the money to get here, and arrived with little more than the clothes they had on. Their home-grown family choir, under the direction of Reverend Franz Wasner, was their only means of support and their surprising eventual claim to fame.

But before they became Stowe, Vermont’s famous hoteliers, before Rogers and Hammerstein made them storybook icons with “The Sound of Music” on Broadway and in one of the most successful blockbuster films ever made, here they were, just a few weeks off the boat, performing on October 24, 1938 at Auditorium (later Symphony Hall), in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Most of their program was comprised of classical works, German leider and one bravely attempted American folksong they had learned in their uncertain and as yet heavily accented English. As a tribute to their new home, they embraced Stephen Foster and sang “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Pictured here are Maria Von Trapp (3rd from the right), and her seven stepchildren. Her two daughters with her husband, Georg Von Trapp, were too young to perform with them at this time. Maria was pregnant with their son, Johannes, who would be born in a couple of months.

By the 1940s, the farm in Stowe, Vermont would be their new permanent home and future career, the older boys would serve in the U.S. Army, and Maria would drop the European class conscious “von” from her name when she became a US citizen.

But right now, this moment in October, 1938, 71 years ago tomorrow, it was on with the show.


sojourner said...

Thank you for this fascinating post! I am a Springfield history buff but was unaware that we had hosted the Trapp family singers. Over the decades (centuries, in fact) Springfield has enjoyed performances by some of the best. This nugget adds to the impressive
roster. I don't know where you come up with these gems, but I sure appreciate them.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you, sojourner, for your kind comments. I agree Springfield has an impressive history of live entertainment. I came across this program many years ago in the used book section of the former Johnson's Bookstore (talk about Springfield gems). You never know when or where you're going to stumble on these fragments of history.

sojourner said...

The closing of Johnson's Bookstore was the end of an era in
Springfield history. Downtown was the place to go shopping before the malls arrived, but even as the department stores and specialty shops disappeared one by one, Johnson's still drew shoppers to Main Street. The used book store was a fantastic place where browsers were welcome for as long as they cared to poke through the shelves. Much of my library came from Johnson's. How sad that it is only a memory!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I agree, sojourner. Johnson's was a terrific place.

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