How the von Trapps got together with Pink Martini

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The von Trapps, who are heard on Pink Martini’s latest album Dream a Little Dream, are joining the group on its current tour, which comes to Wisconsin in early March. -PHOTO: Chris Hornbecker

Where else but on a Pink Martini album such as Dream a Little Dream would you be able to hear Abba’s “Fernando” sung in the original Swedish? Not only that, it’s sung by the von Trapps (Sofia, Melanie, Amanda and August), the great grandchildren of Maria and Georg. Yes, that Maria and Georg. Also worth mentioning is a duet on “Lonely Goatherd” (in keeping with The Sound of Music theme) performed by Wayne Newton and Jack Hanna. And just wait until you hear what Pink Martini does with the title track, a standard that became a hit for The Mamas & The Papas in the 1960s.

Under the direction of gay bandleader and pianist Thomas Lauderdale, the international ensemble Pink Martini has been intoxicating audiences. I spoke about the new album with Lauderdale earlier this month. 

Gregg Shapiro: In recent years, Pink Martini has expanded its scope through collaboration.

Thomas Lauderdale: The band has always been about collaboration from the beginning. For me, I never thought that I would be in a band, let alone lead one. The reason I chose not to go off to music school or conservatory was because I felt like the people who were going to conservatory were really narrow-thinking and completely isolated in a practice room and not able to relate to other people.

I wanted to go to a liberal arts college and get a broad education. What I learned in college was how to throw a party more than anything else. I was kind of like the cruise director of the Harvard campus for four years.

When I started the band, what I really liked was bringing more people on the stage, which made the whole experience more festive and fun. A shared experience as opposed to being a lonely concert pianist with nobody to spend time with. The stage then became more theatrical and fun by adding more people.

The von Trapps could be heard on Get Happy and, to a greater extent, on Dream a Little Dream. How did the collaboration with the von Trapps come about?

Two years ago, I was scoring music for the annual Christmas tree lighting in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland (Ore.). I’m on the board for the Oregon Symphony, and they called up and said, “We’ve got the von Trapps, the great-grandchildren of Maria and Georg, and they are going to be playing with the symphony tomorrow night. Do you mind if they come onstage during the Christmas tree lighting and perform a song or two?” I, who love The Sound of Music so much, was in heaven.

When I met them, they were totally incredible. Beautiful young people who had been homeschooled in Montana and they’ve been traveling and performing for 10 years and had this incredible rapport and this incredible unified sound.

Plus, there’s the extraordinary history. I totally fell in love.

Looking at the repertoire they were performing, I thought, “It’s pretty Sound of Music heavy. I could think of at least five songs that they should consider. They were straddling that line between being The Sound of Music kids (and) adults. I felt like I was a good person to actually make recommendations and to be helpful.

We started working on this album, and my goal for the album was to help them make the transition out of being just The Sound of Music to actually something else. I think what the album does is that.

Some of Pink Martini’s upcoming tour dates will feature the von Trapps. What can people expect from the concerts?

It’s going to be a hodgepodge of activity. We’re going to do all the material that comes from the collaboration with the von Trapps. Traveling with the von Trapps, they always make things better. I can only imagine that it’s going to be the most fun tour ever.