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The Youngest Von Trapp Generation Mashes Cultures
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The Youngest Von Trapp Generation Mashes Cultures

Music Interviews

The Youngest Von Trapp Generation Mashes Cultures

The Youngest Von Trapp Generation Mashes Cultures
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NPR's Scott Simon talks to China Forbes and Thomas Lauderdale of the band Pink Martini, and Sofia, August, Melanie, and Amanda von Trapp about their collaborative album and upcoming performances.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN STILLER NACHT")

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Let's get this straight right from the start. Those are not the voices of the Austrian kids who wear the green pants made out of the curtains, but they are von Trapps. Sofia, Melanie, Amanda and August - four young siblings have been singing together for over a decade. Their great-grandparents were in fact the Captain and Maria von Trapp, whose story was told in "The Sound of Music." But the younger von Trapps started singing as children - Austrian folk tune, songs from the musical. But now they're finding their own sound as young adults. They've teamed up with Pink Martini on an album called "Dream A Little Dream." And now the two groups are on the road together. Pink Martini and the von Trapps join us from the studios of Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland. Thanks so much for being with us.

PINK MARTINI AND THE VON TRAPPS: Thank you.

SIMON: Now there are a lot of people in the room. Let's try and do quick introductions. Pink Martini - Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes. You're there, right?

CHINA FORBES: Yes, we are.

THOMAS LAUDERDALE: Yes, we are.

SIMON: And the von Trapps, you are not named do, re, mi, fa, and so, la, right?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Could you introduce yourselves?

SOFIA VON TRAPP: Yes, my name is Sofie.

MELANIE VON TRAPP: And I'm Melanie.

AMANDA VON TRAPP: I'm Amanda.

AUGUST VON TRAPP: I'm August.

SIMON: Let me direct the first question to you. I mean, almost everyone in the world must think they know how your family started singing, right, with the Fraulein Maria - do, re, mi? How did you individually start singing?

S. VON TRAPP: We actually started singing because our grandfather, who is portrayed as Kurt in "The Sound Of Music" - the youngest boy - he would come to Montana and teach us folk songs. And at some point, he had a stroke and he wasn't able to come visit us anymore. So we thought we would record some of those songs and send it to him while he was in the hospital. And that's pretty much how we got started. We didn't really expect to go into a career in music.

SIMON: Well, let me stop you at something because I think the last glimpse millions of people got of your family - the von Trapp family - was, you know, the hills are alive and walking from Austria into Switzerland, not Montana.

(LAUGHTER)

M. VON TRAPP: Right.

SIMON: How did the family wind up in Montana?

S. VON TRAPP: When the family - when they escaped Austria, they actually went to Vermont and built their lodge there. And that's actually - I'm the eldest of the four of us, and that's where I was born. But then our dad moved us out to Montana when I was two years old, and that's where we essentially grew up. This beautiful mountain is, I guess, from the Alps to the Green Mountains in Vermont to the Rocky Mountains in Montana.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: And Thomas and China, you met the von Trapps over a Christmas tree?

LAUDERDALE: The day after Thanksgiving, there's a lighting at the Christmas tree in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon. And each year the band does this sort of - provides the musical bed for a sing-along. Nearly three years ago, the symphony called up and they said, we have a concert tomorrow night with the von Trapps. But they're in town tonight. Can they come on stage with you?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EDELWEISS")

PINK MARTINI AND THE VON TRAPPS: (Singing) Edelweiss, Edelweiss. Every morning you greet me.

S. VON TRAPP: We were at this point where we were deciding should we continue singing or should we stop? And we asked Thomas if you have any musical recommendations or just ideas of how we can re-create ourselves musically, that would be amazing. And he sent this beautiful song. You actually were just playing it at the beginning of the show called "In Stiller Nacht" by Brahms. It was magic, and we loved the music again.

M. VON TRAPP: After we'd sort of found two or three songs that we wanted to collaborate with Pink Martini on, Thomas said, hey, why don't you come to Portland for a few weeks and we'll record an album? Two weeks turned into, like, four months which turned into six months, and then we really haven't left since.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Thomas, China - Pink Martini was a multicultural mash-up before we used either of those worlds as freely as we do now. Let's listen to the clip "Fernando." Some people still think of it as an ABBA song but...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FERNANDO")

PINK MARTINI AND THE VON TRAPPS: (Singing in Swedish).

S. VON TRAPP: That was the original in Swedish. And of all the languages that we've learned for this album and in the past, Swedish was so difficult.

AMANDA VON TRAPP: Yeah, it was - there were some moments.

M. VON TRAPP: More so than Japanese, Chinese, Kinyarwandan. Swedish was really difficult.

S. VON TRAPP: That song was so fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FERNANDO")

PINK MARTINI AND THE VON TRAPPS: (Singing in Swedish).

SIMON: You had been performing in multiple languages even before you met the Martinians, right?

AMANDA VON TRAPP: Right, well, this is Amanda. The von Trapps - our great-grandparents - what a lot of people don't know is that after they escaped Austria, they were traveling all over the world touring and singing. When they would go to different countries, they'd learn a song there that meant a lot to the nation. And they would learn it in their language and perform it there, and then they'd come home and record it. And that was kind of something that we had picked up as well when we were traveling all over. And I think that's kind of why we always felt like we didn't really fit into a lot of genres, and we didn't really fit into the normal industry classes, subclasses or definitions. And when we met Pink Martini, we had this moment where we thought, oh, what we're doing is not so weird. You can make it cool and kind of confirming of the things that we had done in the past. So it was a good feeling.

SIMON: August, you've got three original songs on this album. Let's listen to one of them - "Storm."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORM")

PINK MARTINI AND THE VON TRAPPS: (Singing) I want to be one of the storms falling over the sea. I want to be rely, stars fiercer than Mars smile back at me.

SIMON: Does this song have a story?

AUGUST VON TRAPP: Yeah, actually. When the rain would come through - as it often does - all the, you know, the clouds would just be beautiful and enormous. And basically, that's the story, just being really excited to be here in Portland and inspired by the weather.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORM")

PINK MARTINI AND THE VON TRAPPS: (Singing) Oh, when the clouds swirl and all the world is waking with the wind. And when the waves hurl themselves against the shore to win. Oh, how the heart leaps with the lightning and the drum.

M. VON TRAPP: We were actually just kind of giving singing lessons for a group of kids. And one of them asked August, she says, so when you're writing songs, do you look at a flower? And August looks back at her and is like, no, not a flower. I look at a cloud.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: I've been building my way up to the song. I will explain, of course, we have the multicultural mash-up. We have the songs in I don't know how many languages in this album. We have original songs by the von Trapp's. There are a couple from the musical that everyone wants to hear. This is all a buildup to hearing "The Lonely Goatherd."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LONELY GOATHERD")

WAYNE NEWTON AND PINK MARTINI AND THE VON TRAPPS: (Singing) High on a hill was a lonely goatherd. Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo. Loud was the voice of the lonely goatherd. Lay ee odl lay ee odl-oo. Folks in a town that was quite remote heard.

LAUDERDALE: And do you know who that male singer is?

SIMON: It's Wayne Newton.

VON TRAPPS: That's right.

LAUDERDALE: You know, when we first started working on the album, I said, who are people that you know who are dynamic and fun? 'Cause we should get them to play on the record. And when they said they knew Wayne Newton, I sort of flipped out.

SIMON: I mean, from the "Danke Schoen" from "The Lonely Goatherd," what a career this man has had.

(LAUGHTER)

M. VON TRAPP: Right.

S. VON TRAPP: Yeah.

AMANDA VON TRAPP: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LONELY GOATHERD")

SIMON: Pink Martini - 20 years old. I checked, that's more than twice the distance The Beatles covered together. What's the key?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Or, then again, keep it to yourself.

FORBES: I think it's Portland. I think Portland is the key. Portland because - and Thomas has said this - if we lived in any other city, we would never have been able to do what we've done the way we've done it.

LAUDERDALE: That's true.

FORBES: Don't you think?

LAUDERDALE: I think that that's true. If we lived in New York, everybody would've had to have been in five different bands just to kind of pay the rent. And I think also the fact that there's so many people in the band, like, if you're not getting along with somebody, you can always hang out with somebody else.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM, "DREAM A LITTLE DREAM")

SIMON: Thomas Lauderdale, China Forbes of Pink Martini. Sofia, Melanie, Amanda and August. Did I miss any von Trapps there?

VON TRAPPS: No.

SIMON: And all performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. next weekend with the National Symphony Orchestra Pops. Wonderful speaking with all of you. Thanks very much for being with you.

PINK MARTINI AND THE VON TRAPPS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM, "DREAM A LITTLE DREAM")

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