‘Hills are Alive’ with Maidens & von Trapp
ADDISON COUNTY — Ladies and gentlemen, heat up those curlers, shine those shoes and get ready to roll out the red carpet, because a celebrity’s coming to town. Elisabeth von Trapp — yup, the same von Trapp family that influenced the making of the classic and beloved film The Sound of Music — will be singing two shows with Maiden Vermont at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Wait? Back up, how exactly did Addison County’s barbershop chorus convince a soloist star like von Trapp to perform with them?
“There was a lot of begging,” Maiden Vermont director Lindi Bourtney blurted with a giggle.
Well, Cathy Sontum (who joined the Maidens 10 years ago) and her husband Steve were listening to one of Elisabeth von Trapp’s holiday albums in winter 2014 and had the idea.
“It was really Steve’s idea,” said Sontum. “Quite honestly I didn’t think she would be able to come and sing with us.”
But Sontum ran it by Bourtney anyway, and Bourtney jumped at the opportunity.
“My mother taught me to ask,” Bourtney said. “If you don’t ask, you never know.”
After a few scheduling conflicts, they secured this week for two performances ? that was almost two years ago. Sontum sends a big thank you to the Town Hall Theater and their resident groups for shifting their schedules to accommodate von Trapp’s availability.
Last week, von Trapp joined the Maidens for one, and only one, rehearsal at Salisbury Elementary.
“She was wonderful,” said Bourtney. “She was very complimentary of us.”
“Maiden Vermont is a wonderful group of upbeat and vibrant women who take their music seriously, but deliver their program of eclectic songs with joyful enthusiasm, sincerity and clarity of tone,” von Trapp wrote in a post-rehearsal email. “It was a pleasure to hear them singing such mellifluous and smooth harmonies. Their music is charmingly touching, uplifting and cheerful.”
Barbershop singing is quite different from von Trapp’s normal folk sounds. The Chicago Tribune described von Trapp’s style as “soft with an astonishing clarity about disappointment, the power of love and coming of age… Her music reflects her classical training and her love of folk music.”
Compare that to the doo-wop sound and cheery dance moves of Addison County’s own Barbershop chorus… well, it’s different.
Ask Bourtney — who retired from a 30-plus year career as a barbershop chorus director at a high school in New York City, moved to Ripton with her husband in 2002, then jumped right back in and started up Maiden Vermont two years later — what’s it all about? And she’ll tell you it’s all about the overtones. “They call it Angel singing,” said Bourtney. “When they’re singing right, I feel it in my knees. It’s wonderful.”
But ask any of the 40-plus members of Maiden Vermont, and they’ll tell you something different. It’s about “friendships, collaboration, happiness, transcendence, sisterhood, history, beautiful music, togetherness, family, learning, creativity and community.”
“Elisabeth said she felt the sense of community,” said Bourtney after the rehearsal last week. “That’s what music can do… We all have one thing in common: When you walk in that door, you’re home. People come for the music, but they stay for the friendships.”
But Bourtney gets frustrated every once in a while, after all, these are voluntary members not professional singers… “I have to be really understanding,” she said. “I never have the same chorus every week.”
But Bourtney teaches the Maidens what she can.
“Barbershop teaches singers how to listen,” Bourtney continued. “You have to listen louder than you sing. That’s how you get your blend… that’s what makes us exceptional.”
Saturday’s performances will feature two halves: The first will be a set by Maiden Vermont; you can expect the energetic sounds and choreography that come with the Maiden’s best hits. The second half will feature von Trapp as a soloist with her guitar and saxophone accompanist Christopher Peterman, then Maiden Vermont will join in for a few songs. The show is called “The Hills Are Alive,” which Bourtney said, hints at von Trapp’s origins (she’s the granddaughter of Maria and Baron von Trapp) without being misleading.
“I identify with all seven children in the film The Sound Of Music, in that I totally enjoy music and believe, as my relatives proved their whole life long, that the act of singing a song can bring hope and joy to the listener’s heart,” said von Trapp, who lives with her husband Ed Hall in Waitsfield. “I most deeply identify with the child ‘Kurt,’ since that member of the seven von Trapp children represents my own father, Werner von Trapp. I believe that he instilled the love of singing in my heart at a very young age and encouraged me all through my childhood and early adult life to pursue a musical career.”
Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors and students. Proceeds benefit the Maiden Vermont scholarship that is given annually to a graduating senior from Mount Abraham, Middlebury Union, Vergennes or Otter Valley High School who is pursuing a degree in music education. For more information about Maiden Vermont visit www.maidenvermont.com. For more info about the show visit www.townhalltheater.org or call 802-382-9222.
Editor’s Note: Elsie Lynn Parini is the daughter of Sarah Harrison Lynn who is a member of Maiden Vermont.