Songs from Musicals: #32, “The Sound of Music,” from “The Sound of Music”

Honorable mentions: “Something Good,” “Edelweiss”

The Sound of Music, your mother’s and my mother’s favorite musical. I think as soon as a woman with kids turns forty – maybe even thirty-five – she gravitates inexorably towards the Julie Andrews film, which won Best Picture a year after #33, four years after #43, and seven years before #44. We’ll be talking about The Sound of Music in terms of the movie in this post; we could think about it like the stage show, which has a vocal intro to the more famous “The hills are alive!…” business, but that’s not the avalanche I want to be crushed in.

Here’s the secret about The Sound of Music, although I’m sure that if you’ve followed me this far into the series, you can guess what it is: the parts with the children singing, by and large, are meh and the parts with the adults singing are good. People may think that they like “Do-Re-Mi” or “My Favorite Things” or whatever other schmaltzy number involves Austria’s Tiniest U-Boat Crew dancing around Maria like a maypole. That’s fallacious. The children take up a great deal of those songs, which have become, I think, the most iconic songs of the musical. Aside from that soul-releasing C that Julie Andrews hits at the end of “Do-Re-Mi,” they don’t charm me all that much.

Part of the problem is the relentless cheeriness of those songs; “My Favorite Things,” in particular, is like chewing a bag of sugar cubes. But a much greater one, I think, is that the lyrics are pert rather than interesting. “The Sound of Music” is, in its own way, every bit as joyful as any other song in the musical; the singer speaks of an impulse to sing – and to connect with the world around her – so strong that it cannot be contained. That much is rememberable, but it also fails to consider the master class in imagery that is “The Sound of Music.” One is, even without the camera or the green hills, attuned to church bells and birdsong and the movement of water over stones. There are distinctly beautiful pictures in the song, something which is largely missing from many of the writers who have taken the mantle from Rodgers and Hammerstein. Is there a song like this in The Phantom of the Opera? or Rent? or Passion? or Hamilton?

I’m cheating a little bit by adding the reprise, but as good reprises should be, this one is the reverse side of the coin. I’m cheating a lot more as well, because I made a small harangue concerning the use of the children in the songs from this musical, and of course, “The Sound of Music (Reprise)” is about three-quarters kids, one-quarter Captain. My excuse is that the children are like the point guard in this scenario who tosses up the alley-oop for some center to slam down; if ever there was a moment where Christopher Plummer and DeAndre Jordan could come together, it’s here, when a man who has surgically excised the joy from his life hears a song he has not come across in years. It’s not an accident that he lets loose where he does, either:

I go to the hills

When my heart is lonely.

I know I will hear

What I heard before.

My heart will be blessed

By the sound of music,

And I’ll sing once more.


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