A Problem Like Maria

My greatest crimes against high culture are plain to all: Diet Coke, Disneyland, Packer football, and Styx.

Hidden deeply away is a confession so terrible that I can only now admit it: I love musical theater and I adore the “Sound of Music.”

I know I should think of Salzburg, on the rare chances I get to visit, as the birthplace of Mozart and home of a great musical festival. I am sensitive to how residents of Salzburg feel about my gauche ways: good for business, bad for culture.

And yet still sitting here in the mountains, I am humming that marvelous score. Hope and I ran by the fountain, splashed, and had ‘”confidence.” We trembled for the safety of Maria and the children by the nunnery.

I love the “Sound of Music.”

Worst of all, I like the book even better than the movie. Maria von Trapp wrote “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers” and it inspired the show and the movie. I have heard she had mixed feeling about both and it is easy to see why.

The movie makes me a better romantic, but her book makes me a better Christian. The two are of course compatible, the kind of romance in the movie was invented by the Church, but they are not just the same.

Maria and the Captain lived dominated by the teachings the Catholic church. Their best friend and guide was a priest, Father Wasner. He shared all their adventures and to remove him from the story must have excised the heart of it for the family.

Maria is not great writer, but a true one. Reading her is knowing her. It is hard to see any pretense in her. Oddly, she attacks, often, the false “folk culture” of marketing that kills true folk music.

Maria rebukes my love of Maria!

And yet, perhaps not. She may not have liked Disney the money maker, but surely she could have understood the man who built a park so he could ride trains and a fire engine. Wouldn’t she have loved a man who asked the Sherman brothers to play “Feed the Birds” each week on his piano?

Whatever the motives of Broadway or Hollywood, their songs and those of Rodgers and Hammerstein are American folk songs now. My students, younger than Maria’s grandchildren, know them all. They loved Salzburg before they arrived.

Is there harm in it? Or great good?

For me, growing up, musical theater or classical movie musicals turned me toward Mozart. The musicals were more elaborate than my favorite song in college (“Come Sail Away”) and harder on my untrained ear than U2 (“Joshua Tree”). God help me, they seemed “high” to me.

I didn’t stop there, of course. The music in “Magic Flute” is better and I am learning to hum it, but I still love Rodgers and Hammerstein. I still crush on Julie Andrews

Except to recollect the past, I cannot stand most of my college music. I have outgrow it, but the best Disney (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Mary Poppins”) still works for me. John WIlliams fits this category too: maker of my folk music.

I stopped writing just then and looked out the window as the rain fell on Austrian helps. Musical Maria taught me to love them, literary Maria to praise God in them, but Mary, mother of God, points to their real meaning: they say “yes” to God in their beauty.

They are alive singing the Te Deum.


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