Identity, Living, Recovery, Spirituality

Really Hearing the Sound of Music

Everybody’s talking about The Sound of Music lately.

Julie vs. Carrie. Film vs. live performance. Old vs. new.

Initially I was appalled at the news of a SOM revamp with Carrie Underwood.  Who could mess with Julie Andrews’ dulcet tones?  I pushed it out of my head and got too busy to set the DVR.  After putting the kids to bed the night it first broadcast, I wandered downstairs to my husband’s channel surfing.  The remote lighted upon Carrie’s rendition of “The Lonely Goatherd”, yodels and all.  Woo Hee.  Bouncing and dancing and yodelling.  Can’t fault a chick for that.  I was thoroughly impressed.  She has a lovely voice.  But that’s all I watched.  I wandered off in another direction.

A few days later, my oldest daughter had some friends over for a mini-birthday celebration.  The movie this newly-minted nine year-old chose to watch?  The Sound of Music.  (original on VHS, baby!)  And the four other girls who attended sat in rapt attention and sang along!  My husband turned to me and said, “There is hope [for the next generation]!”

We found the televised version on-demand this past snowy weekend and that same daughter begged to watch it.  The five of us squished on the couch and did.  I don’t know whether it was that this new cast did such a bang-up job or if it was the sheer magic of the story itself that bore me along in its spell.  I couldn’t keep from singing.  I teared up when the Mother Abbess implored Maria to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”.  I finished with a hope in humanity, the enduring strength and support of family, that standing for one’s ideals will pay off in the end.  My middle daughter requested to watch it again two days later when she returned from school.  All three girls sang and danced around the living room as if on alpine mountains.

What is it about this story that captures our imagination?

The music has become part of the cultural canon.  The refrains are easily learned and easily lodged in one’s head.  Their topics and the theme of the story itself is familiar in some way or another to us all.  We’ve all struggled with our life’s calling, finding a true mate, the personal vs political, facing up to or hiding from our problems.  Perhaps the most enduring theme of all is that love does indeed conquer all – even amidst dire struggle and imperfect circumstances.

For me, personally, the part that really struck a chord – that point in the movie when you could’ve knocked me over with a wisp of Edelweiss – was the conversation between the Mother Abbess and Maria when she balks at returning to the von Trapp home.  Maria asks, “How will I know which life is mine to live?” or some approximation of that (a line I don’t think was even in the 1965 film).  The abbess (portrayed by Audra McDonald) tells her emphatically that she must go out and look for it, at which point she breaks into a soul-stirring rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”.  Are you supposed to have life epiphanies watching network-television rip-offs of classic cinema?  I had a moment.

This conversation, these words, the Mother Abbess’ exhortation, the orchestral arrangment – they spoke to me of things I’d forgotten.  Things I’d known, but forgotten to pursue.  Things, necessities that have been dulled by constant use or made commonplace by their very existence.  Things I learned as a child – most notably when I was presented with a cross inscribed with its own exhortation: “Christ is counting on you to search.”

Christ is counting on you

I may have been like Maria, sulking behind the abbey’s walls because life hasn’t turned out the way I’d expected.  Maybe I’d forgotten how to climb those mountains – or even how to try.  I’d gotten lazy in my search for a dream that will make me want to live and love it everyday of my life.  And I’d forgotten to listen for the sound of music in the hills all around me.

The Sound of Music (1965) was playing on the hospital TV as I labored with my third daughter.  I vetoed my husband’s choice of some flavor of Law and Order, saying I’d be witnessing enough blood and gore that night.  Somewhere in my subconscious, I hoped it would soothe and inspire me.  I can’t say that it necessarily did, but I can’t help but think that, now, it’s brought me full circle.  That labor signalled the beginning of one of the roughest times of my life.  Perhaps the Mother Abbess’ exhortation has been sent to me again to snap out of it and get out and climb.


4 thoughts on “Really Hearing the Sound of Music

  1. Excellent blog – loved it! and enjoyed the word pictures you painted. Well written.
    For my part it took me back to a time 30 years ago when my young daughter was poorly with some childhood ailment or other and the vhs of The Sound of Music was all she would watch!
    As an old grannie I would say get out and climb the mountain, or at least a small part of it… and dreams are there for a reason – so don’t forget them.


    • Jennifer Butler Basile says:

      Well, if you could only watch ONE thing . . . that’s a pretty good choice, I’d say!

      Yes, I should climb those mountains while I can – and never forget the reason.

      Thank you so much for reading!


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