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Susan Page

‘Sound Of Music’ A Favorite Thing

What would the Christmas season be without the sound of music? Yes, it’s a new TV movie musical, but I’m also talking about the classic Christmas sounds that inspire the holiday mood. The old classic carols like Deck the Halls and Silent Night, Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland playing on the car radio can even make Honolulu traffic less nerve-wracking.

Given that it wasn’t a Christmas-themed show, NBC decided to slip a new version of the revered classic The Sound of Music, starring country singer Carrie Underwood, into the December Christmas season TV lineup of classics, such as Miracle on 34th Street and a few goofy musical specials. Heavily publicized, the airing was well-viewed. Curious, I reluctantly watched this remake with a critical eye, but I found myself just appreciating how much we owe to those who bring us great music: writers, singers and musicians alike.

Music is so universal it seems our Creator might’ve embedded a little clef note into our DNA that allows us all to desire, appreciate and want to make melodious sounds (and then there are heavy metal and rap!).

As I said, I dreaded watching a remake of my beloved, all-time favorite movie, The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews. The original version is like the holy grail of film to me, and redoing it felt like blasphemy. The year it debuted, 1965, was the same year I started college at Texas Tech. My older sister also attended Tech and had a car, so she drove us to the theater not far from campus where the film was playing. Since it was a weekend, I could stay out of the dorm a little later, enabling us to watch the whole thing start to finish; however, the next 10 times I saw it, I walked to the theater and had to be back in the dorm well before the Von Trapp family performed at the Salzburg Music Festival and made their big escape on foot into the Alps.

It mattered little. All of “my favorite things” had been on screen already, and most of the spectacular Rodgers and Hammerstein songs had been sung by then. I think OCD (obsessive-compulsive) behavior should be forgiven when it comes to excessive viewing of the five Academy Award-winning musical film, the movie that knocked Gone with the Wind off its most-watched pedestal. For a homesick college girl, this movie filled up an empty heart space. Was it the inspirational story of the benevolent yet bold sisters in the Abbey, the plucky goodness of Maria, the rigid, stoic widower Capt. Von Trapp, the rascally, attention-starved Von Trapp children, the breathtaking Austrian Alps or the ultimate escape from the Nazi takeover of Austria? Or was it the music: “My heart wants to sing every song it hears …”? Probably both.

The live remake left something to be desired, but it was a well-produced if not overly ambitious production. Since it was shot entirely on a voluminous, elaborately crafted sound stage, Maria and the children couldn’t very well cavort over and around the majestic real Alps as in the original. And Carrie Underwood, while competent, earnest and pleasant to watch, doesn’t have the singing or acting chops of Julie Andrews. But who does? Andrews’ Maria set an unreachable bar. Despite the obvious constraints of a live TV show, again, the music didn’t disappoint.

Unbeknownst to most, not everyone was enamored by the original The Sound of Music in 1965. It opened to mixed reviews from Broadway types who were obviously snobbish about Mary Martin’s Broadway theater version. Pauline Kael, a film critic for McCall’s magazine, said the film was “the sugar-coated lie people seem to want to eat,” and “we have been turned into emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs.” Kael was fired over that review. And Germans and Austrians eschewed the harsh way the Nazi takeover was portrayed in the film.

Obviously, a few people are music sourpusses. My very talented neighbor Jan, with a beautiful singing voice, was performing Christmas carols with a group at a nursing home last year, and after a few songs she asked her aged audience, “Are there any requests?” At that, an elderly gentleman in a wheel-chair shouted loudly from the back of the room, “Yes, please shut up.”

On that off-key “note,” I will just sing “I wish you a Merry Christmas, I wish you a Merry Christmas, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” And that your own Christmas celebration is filled with the sound of music you love.

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