Directors Log: Children and Music

The events of The Sound of Music take place in 1938. As I started planning the vision for the upcoming VOS production, I wondered: What did children do for fun in that era?

Did they text? No.
Did they snap/insta/tiktok/tweet etc? NO.
Did they watch television? Not likely.
Did they watch movies? Maybe, but they didn’t have sound yet.
Did they listen to the radio? Wait… do kids TODAY listen to the radio? I don’t even know.

There is nothing more lovely than hearing the sound of a young voice singing. It’s one of the reasons I love working with kids – the amount of growth a young person can display throughout the process of a show is astounding. Making music together can break through the barriers and tear down the walls that modern technology tends to build between us.

The kids in The Sound of Music remind me of that every time I see them. Ranging in ages from 6 to 19, the VOS von Trapp children have grown together as a unit, and together we’ve explored what the experience of being a kid in 1938 might have been like.

When Maria Rainer brings music back into the von Trapp household, the children are transformed. It’s entertainment! It’s a chance to play together, have fun, and pretend to be someone else, somewhere else, in their imagination.

I’ve had the unique privilege of watching our cast of kids grow together during the rehearsal process. It’s no wonder that kids who learn music at a young age tend to be good at so many things – the muscles between their ears have learned how to work!

Sidney Gallimore in a pit rehearsal for The Sound of Music

Last weekend as I listened to the orchestra rehearse, I noticed Sidney Gallimore, our swing for Louisa and Liesl, come in with her violin case tucked under her arm. She asked me if it would be alright if she played in the pit on the nights she wasn’t on stage. She astounded me during the rehearsal. The first violin part in a Rogers and Hammerstein musical is not for the faint of heart, and she nailed it. She’s scheduled to play Lousia twice during our run, and her voice is of such quality that she can cover ANY of the other kids’ vocal parts should the need arise, but I believe it will be well worth the price of admission to come and hear her play in the pit as well.

Our Gretl, played by Madeleine McCreadie, had a unique audition. Her mother sent me a video of her singing by their piano while her dad played the theme music to Winnie the Pooh. Little did she know that I grew up listening to that song, and hearing a 7-year-old catch the melody just so made me want to change the show and cast her as Christopher Robin. My heart goes out to any adult who has to share the stage with Maddie, as she has the propensity to steal the scene simply by sitting on the bottom stair and singing, “Good-bye.”

Catherine Ford works with the VOS von Trapp children

I can’t write a post about music without mentioning our vocal director, Catherine Ford. She has worked with all of our singers since January, often giving her time for 1-on-1 lessons when needed. Herself an incredible vocalist, she has been especially dynamic in teaching our boys how to navigate their changing voices while singing on their own and as part of a group. I attribute much of the confidence that our young singers have to Catherine’s continued attention.

Many productions of The Sound of Music feature swings to cover the roles if there are any illnesses and provide a rest for young actors during an intense performance schedule. Nine shows in ten days after an arduous rehearsal process is asking a lot of a kid. I’ve been incredibly impressed with our swings – they will have had to rehearse not only their own role but other parts as well, depending on the day, and sometimes they don’t get to rehearse their own part at all. But when the time comes to perform, they are always ready. I believe that kind of commitment comes from few and far between in an age of instant gratification and an all-to-common me-first attitude. Hail to the swings!

The von Trapp family in rehearsal

I would like to include a paragraph about every one of our young actors, as they are all extraordinary, but I also believe that as a team, the sum is greater than the whole of its parts. Each voice is unique and special, but that individual’s quality, while impressive, is eclipsed by the boundless energy of the group.

I hope you take the opportunity to come and see the VOS Production of The Sound of Music at the beautiful Victoria Hall in Cobourg, running April 13 – 22.

Director’s log: Why I chose The Sound of Music

When I first heard my good friend Bea Quarrie’s harrowing tale of escape from Hungary when she was a small child, I was thankful that we lived in a world where Nazism and the expansion of the Soviet regime is a decades-old memory. And then, on Feb 24th, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, and we started watching foreign correspondents on the news reporting from cities under siege. The footage of refugees rushing to the safety of neighbouring European countries made me wonder what kind of world we’re living in. We live in a world like Bea’s childhood – where families must cross borders in the dark of night to escape political persecution and invasion.

It turns out the world in 1938 Europe, specifically in Austria, where the events of The Sound of Music take place, was just like that, just like what’s happening in Eastern Europe now, again.

Many of you will have seen The Sound of Music on TV – it has aired every Christmas for many years – but we can easily forget that behind the music, behind the love story, is a backdrop of looming war. The German annexation of Austria, known as the Anschluss, happens during the play’s events and profoundly affects the characters. We see their reactions, and we see them choose sides, which I think we can all relate to in our own way. Even our parties and dinner tables have become more politically charged places in the last few years.

It’s also important to remember that The Sound of Music is a true story – this actually happened to a real family. I often think of Bea’s story. When I was casting Birgitta, I pictured Bea as a young girl, and I think of her choosing between her dolls and the family photos for what she would take with her on her escape from her homeland. The Von Trapp children, having gained a mother in Maria, also lost their home and all their possessions when their father chose not to join the German military. 

Many Ukrainian families have lost their homes, their livelihood, and their possessions. Yet, in the news coverage that focuses on those coping with their new circumstances, I am surprised by what I see. These families are in the cold, dark basements of their country, or billeted in strange countries as refugees, and what are they doing? They are singing together, sometimes smiling and finding small moments of happiness. 

That’s why I chose The Sound of Music.

I hope you can come and experience this truly wonderful musical at Victoria Hall in Cobourg, Ontario, this April.

Joel Varty