As The Evenings Grow Longer (Part Two)-Group Discussion, Singing, Home Concerts – Maria Von Trapp



by Maria von Trapp, Around the Year With the Trapp Family

Part One is here.


Once, in one of our camp seasons, a lady said to me just before lunch, “Can’t we have a discussion some day?” I answered quickly, “Oh, certainly–on what?” and was slightly baffled when she answered cheerily, “Never mind on what–just a discussion.”

This led me to announce at the end of lunch: “At three o’clock we shall have a discussion. Everybody who is interested please come to Stephen Foster Hall.”

Everybody was at Stephen Foster Hall at three o’clock, wondering what the discussion would be about. I started out by relating the little incident before lunch and inviting those present to name a few topics which might be of general interest. And we had a most enjoyable hour.

The topic finally was: “What can we–the ones who are present–contribute toward world peace?”

I remember the keen interest of the whole group–how they listened to a grade school teacher, a dentist, a country doctor, a nurse, several housewives, a grandmother, a university professor, a factory worker, a missionary from China….

Ever since that experience we have such a discussion meeting–the topic chosen by those present–in each Sing Week at least once.

Occasionally we also spend an evening or a Sunday afternoon at home in our bay window discussing old or new questions, such as “What is beautiful?” (still not settled though much pondered and discussed with many different groups of friends and members of the family).

Modern art is another widely, and wildly, discussed subject, with special emphasis, in our house, on modern music. “The Time of the Gadget,” as I disrespectfully refer to the technical age, is also hotly discussed.

Some of these discussions come about quite naturally; some of them could be planned. In this way growing children learn not only to listen to and to respect another’s opinion, but also to state their own bravely, even if it should be opposed by the rest of the group. Do not the Gospels show us Our Lord, ever so often, involved in discussions with His friends, the Apostles, or holding His own against His enemies, the Pharisees!


From the very time when the first baby is born, the mother should sing to her child. There are innumerable lullabies, nursery rhymes, and little prayers to be found in songbooks, just waiting to be brought to life.

Parents will be astonished at how soon the little ones will carry a tune, and this will lead naturally to singing in parts, with Mummy taking over the second and Daddy later adding the third.

Singing is something entirely natural. If only one could cure that horrible phobia we come across so often: “I can’t sing–I don’t have a piano!” The most beautiful instrument is the human voice, which God gave to everyone.

The radio could provide a valuable education in every household if listening were planned intelligently with the help of the weekly program.

But often the radio is turned on early in the morning, to be turned off only after the lights are put out at night. More than once when people invited us to their homes after a concert, I noticed that even before they switched on the light they turned the knob on the radio.

It always filled me with awe to see how completely this piece of machinery dominates our homes. Let’s turn off the radio so that we may discover our own voices in an evening of song.

From years of experience here in America we know how much fun everybody gets out of singing “rounds”; so let us begin by singing every round first in unison; and when everyone knows the melody well enough to hold his own, in two parts; and later, in three or four–whatever this particular round calls for.

“Rounds” are performed in the following way: One singer, or one group of singers, starts out. When the score shows the figure “2,” the second singer, or second group, comes in, and so on. One can end rounds in two different ways: (1) Either everyone keeps on singing the melody and repeating it until the leader indicates the time to end and the singers hold the tone marked by a fermata {symbol cannot be used in ASCII text}.

(In the notation of rounds this is what fermata stands for.) (2) Or a round may be ended in the same manner it began: by having every part sing their melody twice or three times and then stop, so that the last group to start singing is the last to finish.

Most of the time you can use any combination of equal or unequal voices for the singing of rounds. Very soon you will hear these rounds sung throughout the house during dish washing, during housework–wherever there are two or more people in the same room–or in summer while weeding in the garden.

Singing rounds is the most natural and easiest way to school the ear for part singing. Here we give a few songs from our summer program which have become favorites in many an American home.


What we said about sharing the masterpieces in world literature through family reading should be said with equal emphasis for the listening to the masterpieces of the world’s music. Young married couples might find among their wedding gifts a stock of long-playing records–since “hi-fi” brings Carnegie Hall not only to every town, but practically into every home!

As the children grow up, they will get used to being cautioned to silence while father and mother are listening to some symphony, opera, or vocal concert on the record player. A well-stocked record library makes it easy for us to arrange for a real concert on Saturday nights (when we don’t go out!) or Sunday afternoons, or special feast-day evenings around the year.

The great oratorios cannot be listened to in one sitting, and understood and enjoyed at the same time. One section should be played at a time and played more than once, until the listener grows familiar with each part and learns to appreciate the whole work.

The weeks of Advent are an excellent period for a study of “The Messiah,” and the weeks of Lent for the “St. Matthew Passion”; then, at the end of the season, at Christmas and during Holy Week, the entire work will be played in one sitting.

For the Christmas season, there are the Christmas carols by the Robert Shaw Chorale; the Christmas music of early Italian composers, played by “I Virtuosi di Roma,” or the two records “Christmas with the Trapp Family.”

Lent might be the time for Negro spirituals, for the oratorio (for example, “The Seven Last Words” by Haydn or the “German Requiem” of Brahms) or for Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor.

We have had considerable experience with people who viewed our selection of records with great suspicion and when exposed to such a “concert at home,” were preparing themselves to be “bored to death with that long-haired music,” only to exclaim afterwards, “But that is beautiful!”

For those who want to start the experiment, here are four works which are so captivating, even to the untrained ear, that everybody without exception has enjoyed them at first hearing:

Mozart, Quintet for Clarinet & Strings in A Major, K. 581

Mozart, Quartet for Oboe & Strings Mozart, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”

Haydn, Concerto for Trumpet & Orchestra in D Major

Here are some program suggestions for such “Concerts at Home,” which of course each family will vary to suit its tastes:

Respighi, “Suite of Ancient Arias and Dances”

Mozart, Symphony in D Major (“Prague”)

* * *

Bach, Brandenburg Concerto I in F Major

Schubert, Quintet for Strings in C Major, op. 163

(one of the most moving, most beautiful works of all time)

* * *

Mozart, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”

Schubert, Symphony No. 8 in B Minor (“Unfinished”)

* * *

Mozart, Serenade in E Flat Major

Schubert, Symphony No. 7 in C Major (“Great”)

The prejudice so many have against operas could easily be overcome by first getting acquainted with their texts. For a few cents one can get “The Pocket Book of Great Operas” by Henry W. Simon and Abraham Veinus, (Pocket Books, Inc., New York, 1949). There one can find the story of the most popular operas, and that is the first gate to cross.

Then we suggest that you listen to one act at a time, and read first the story (which nearly every album includes with the records) and then the libretto, following the original text and translation until you are thoroughly familiar with it and can enjoy the whole without a book or translation.

Operas suggested for family enjoyment are Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger,” Verdi’s “Aida;” and the children in particular will delight in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” and Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” which is especially appropriate for the Christmas season.

If you wish to end such an evening on a lighter vein, add one of the great waltzes by Johann Strauss in the authentic, wonderful performance of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

“If you spend the first ten years with your children, they will spend the next ten years with you.” -Maria von Trapp




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