Von Trapp concert sets musician apart from well-known ancestors

Elizabeth Von Trapp (pictured left) performed with Paul Asbell (pictured right) in Saint Michael’s Church on Friday Nov. 2. Von Trapp, a folk musician, has had a solo career since 1999 (Josie Kwan/assoc. Photo Editor).

In the high-ceilinged hall of Saint Michael’s Church on Friday Nov. 2, the folk musician Elisabeth Von Trapp performed a live concert as part of the church’s Archangel Concert Series. 

Elisabeth Von Trapp is a folk musician who has been performing since she was a child. Von Trapp’s father, a member of the Trapp Family Singers, helped inspire this love of performance. 

Those familiar with the 1965 film The Sound of Music probably recognize the Trapp surname since Elisabeth’s grandparents were the couple on which the film is based. Since performing with her family, Von Trapp has led a successful solo career, including the release of four albums between 1999 and 2015. 

Joining Trapp for the performance was Chicago-born musician Paul Asbell. Asbell is an accomplished blues performer best known for being a founding member of the bands Kilimanjaro and Big Joe Burrell and the Unknown Blues Band. In addition to his main projects, he has also collaborated with numerous artists including John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush and Pops Staples. 

In addition to blues, Asbell has also performed folk music and has played guitar on all of Trapp’s albums. This relationship was out in full force during Trapp’s Saint Michael’s performance as both musicians played acoustic guitars. 

Von Trapp’s performance consisted of 17 songs, ranging from hits featured in The Sound of Music to original pieces. Von Trapp even performed musical covers of famous poems such as Robert Frost’s “The Road not Taken” or “A Minor Bird.” The songs varied significantly, ranging from somber, slower songs to faster-paced optimistic tunes complemented well by Asbell and Von Trapp’s solos.

The chapel’s pews were packed with audience members ranging from college students to local families. It was especially mesmerizing to hear the audience participate, singing along with Trapp to songs like The Sound of Music’s “The Hills are Alive.” 

Saint Michael’s chaplain, Reverend William Daniel, found moments like these particularly powerful.

“[Trapp] made several successful attempts to include the audience in the performance as opposed to being passive spectators,” Daniel said.

Trapp also played several covers, including Alison Krauss’s “I Fly Away” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” These pieces were particularly memorable due to Von Trapp’s slower, more somber take and to her incredible vocal range. These covers were favorites of many members of the audience including Geneseo local Martha Cousins. 

“‘I Fly Away’ was my favorite part of the performance because it was such a beautiful rendition with Elisabeth’s own unique style,” Cousins said.

The final three songs of Von Trapp’s concert were performed with a special helping hand from nine members of Saint Michael’s Youth Choir, who sang background vocals as well as duets with Von Trapp. 

These final songs included “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” Orlando Gibbon’s 15th Century hymn “Peace Perfect Peace in this Dark World of Sin?” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from The Sound of Music. 

Choir member Rylie Randall was grateful for the experience.

“It’s really cool to hear a professional singer, someone people look up to,” Randall said. “She was very laid back and easy to be around,” Randall said.

Von Trapp and Asbell’s performances were an all-around hit. They both showed off their incredible musical talents and unique styles while offering an amazing experience for the audience as well as Saint Michael’s Youth Choir. 

Although Geneseo’s quite a distance from Austria, the sounds of music were alive and well on Main Street.