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What ‘The Sound of Music’ can teach us about being women


20th Century Fox Entertainment

Bethanne Patrick - published on 03/11/18

The saga of the von Trapps is a reminder that we all live in the tension between time and duty.

I’ve watched the Family von Trapp’s saga on television every year since I was old enough to remember watching it, and that means I probably saw it before that, too. My mother, who loves musical theater, saw the original Broadway production with Mary Martin and Theodor Bikel; I learned all of the lyrics at a very young age, including a few songs that didn’t appear in the movie, like “How Can Love Survive?,” a farcical ballad sung by the Duchess and her confidante, played by an appropriately oily Max von Sydow.

Our family’s annual viewing of The Sound of Music even leaked into my real life. When my new husband and I visited Salzburg at age 22, I insisted on visiting as many sites from the movie as possible. I even have a snapshot of me twirling in the child character Liesl von Trapp’s white gazebo, the one where she sings “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” with the treacherous Rolf. (Okay, I’m wearing a heavy wool overcoat and scarf instead of a pretty pink dress, but it was November in Austria!)

Today, my husband and daughters laugh at my devotion to the Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer vehicle, but I still make a date with myself each year to watch The Sound of Music and address our family snail mail cards. It’s a warm, comforting moment for me. I hum along to the songs and laugh at the witty jokes. But it’s also a time for reflection: every time I watch, the movie gently unfolds a story of deeper things, of love and humanity. Of what makes a family, and what makes a woman.

The saga of the von Trapps reminds me of a universal fact: that we all live in the tension between time and duty. I can only imagine how many other young women watching the gazebo scene wanted to be Liesl, just like I did. Who wouldn’t want to be Liesl? She’s young and beautiful and innocent and full of potential. When we are “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” time stretches before us as lavishly as the mountain meadows in the movie opening. We have so much time to get things done, and to get them done to our own liking.

But as we see — and as happened for the real von Trapp family, even if not in quite so dramatic a fashion — when the moment comes to act, you don’t always have the leisure to twirl in a gazebo. You have to follow your values to do what’s right, not your girlish dreams.

As I’ve watched the film over the decades, my dreams of becoming Liesl have faded. A few years ago, I was surprised to find that I’ve come to want to be Maria, a woman who faces difficult choices and sticks with her decisions. A woman in full.

Twentieth Century Fox |

Most of today’s urgent moments, I’ll admit, are tougher to discern than an immediate threat of capture by the Nazis. We struggle to understand how to live moral lives, lives of purpose, and we must do so through small, everyday battles. Something in The Sound of Music, despite its hammy moments, its simplistic moments, and its overly romanticized views of complicated people, reminds us that we are at heart meant to serve each other.

Read more:
What NBC’s Reimagining of “The Sound of Music” Says About Modern Society

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