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The Sound of Music: One of My Favorite Things

By Keith Mason, Ph.D.

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The Sound of Music is one of the most popular musical films of all time and the sixth highest grossing film when inflation is considered. Released on March 2, 1965, the nearly three-hour film has appeared all over the globe in English and numerous dubbed languages. The Sound of Music is a classic Hollywood musical film based on the original Broadway stage musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II that opened on November 16, 1959 starring Mary Martin. 

My absolutely favorite album of all time is the first one my parents gave me: the soundtrack to The Sound of Music. It is truly one of my favorite things. And I am in good company because it is the second best-charting album according to the Billboard 200, after Adele’s album 21. It appeared on the charts for 238 weeks and was in the top ten for 109 weeks. In the United Kingdom, the soundtrack was the best-selling album in 1965, 1966, and 1968, and the second-best selling of the decade, remaining at number one for 70 weeks on the UK Album Charts. RCA Victor also released four other versions of the soundtrack in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. This article provides a rationale for using the Sound of Music soundtrack in music instruction and includes learning scenarios. In her book Tune Your Brain: Using Music to Manage Your Mind, Body and Mood, Elizabeth Miles (1997) suggests using the Sound of Music soundtrack for uplifting the spirits.

Background

Julie Andrews first appeared in the Broadway stage musicals The Boy Friend, My Fair Lady, and Camelot, and also appeared in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s TV musical Cinderella. She then appeared in the film musical Mary Poppins, for which she received an Academy Award and Golden Globe. The Sound of Music came next, in which she played Maria von Trapp, who had written a 1949 book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers about her singing family.  Andrews appeared in other films, including Thoroughly Modern Millie and Victor/Victoria. At the Kennedy Honors induction of Julie Andrews in 2001, Carol Burnett stated in her opening remarks how Julie Andrews has had “more hours of singalongs than any songstress in history.”

Regarding Andrews’ appearance in the film version of The Sound of Music, Burnett stated “When a big Broadway musical came to the screen, only one voice would do it.”

The original Sound of Music soundtrack release contains 16 tracks. In 1998, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2018, the soundtrack was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or artistically significant.”

The long playing (LP) album format could fit only so much music, so the initial release had only a selection of the main songs. After its 1965 original release, the album has been re-released with additional tracks not found on the original album. I, like other fans, longed to have the music tracks that we could only hear while watching the film; now, the isolated tracks without dialog or sound effects are available, especially instrumentals heard in the background score and extended versions of vocal songs as they are heard in the film.

The background score, especially on the gold 30th anniversary and 50th anniversary CDs, and alternate tracks of the 30th anniversary laserdisc and subsequent anniversary DVDs, can be heard in isolation revealing the intricacies of Irwin Kostal’s adaptation. Additionally, the 30th anniversary laserdisc and subsequent DVD and Blu-Ray releases have the orchestrations of the film without vocals on alternate audio tracks allowing for karaoke renditions. How were these extra isolated tracks accomplished?

Nick Redman and Michael Matessino, producers of the deluxe 30th anniversary soundtrack, rescued additional Sound of Music tracks from badly damaged film reels on which they were stored. In an interview, Redman was asked which was his favorite album restoration. His answer was the Sound of Music soundtrack because he loved the film and music since childhood.

The soundtrack’s success is owed greatly to the brilliance of its musical arranger, conductor and orchestrator Irwin Kostal. While Kostal was working in live TV in the 1950s, he began to orchestrate for Broadway. He worked on 52 plays. He did orchestrations for the original Broadway West Side Story with Sid Ramin and Leonard Bernstein and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum also with Ramin. Kostal won a Grammy for his work on the West Side Story soundtrack album and an Academy Award for musical scoring of West Side Story.

The Sherman Brothers Richard and Robert, Disney songwriters, liked Kostal’s orchestrations for the Broadway musical Fiorello! and recommended him to Walt Disney. Kostal became the orchestrator for Mary Poppins. He also arranged and conducted the music for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Half a Sixpence, Charlotte’s Web, and the 1982 scoring of Fantasia. Kostal won an Academy Award for his musical adaptation of The Sound of Music.

Robert Tucker had the task of coaching the Sound of Music actors in their singing skills. Tucker, sometimes referred to as Bobby, was famous for his vocal supervision and arrangements in a number of musical films including My Fair Lady, Billy Rose’s Jumbo, West Side Story, Can-Can, Gigi, Kismet, Brigadoon, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate, and Meet Me in St. Louis.

Soundtrack Highlights

The songs in the score were created by Rodgers and Hammerstein within a six-month period in 1959. Classic songs in the score include “The Sound of Music,” “Dixit Dominus,” “Morning Hymn,” “Alleluia,” “Maria,” “I Have Confidence,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do Re Mi,” “The Lonely Goatherd,” “Edelweiss,” “So Long, Farewell,” “Processional: Maria,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” and “Something Good.” Vocal performances were prerecorded with the orchestra so that the actors could act out their scenes and lip sync along with the playback during filming.

The original soundtrack version of the song “The Sound of Music” is an abridged version recorded especially for the soundtrack. The 30th anniversary gold CD/cassette soundtrack released in 1994 includes the extended version with the “wisps of wind” introduction as heard in the film.

After principal photography of The Sound of Music ended on September 1, 1964, Kostal devoted his attention to the background music for every scene. He was obligated to create variations of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original songs because Rodgers insisted on preserving the integrity of the original work. The melodies of songs with vocals inspired a substantial portion of the instrumentals and background score in the film. The later soundtrack releases, especially the instrumental tracks, make this even more obvious as beautifully crafted gems.

Irwin Kostal used church bells in the orchestrations of “The Sound of Music,” “Overture” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” The guitar, used often in folk music, is prominent in both reprises of “The Sound of Music,” both renditions of “Edelweiss” and “Do Re Mi.” The majority of the orchestrations are traditional ones heard in most film and stage musicals.

The “Overture” is a new composition created for the film because the original Broadway musical did not include an overture. It has an opening then goes into the melodies of “The Sound of Music,” “Do Re Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “Something Good” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”  “Salzburg Montage” is an orchestral rendition of “My Favorite Things.”

The original Broadway underscore by Robert Russell Bennett, which added a Viennese feel to Rodgers’ melodies, went unused except for “The Party Crossover: My Favorite Things/Grand Waltz” and “Laendler” music at the party. The latter features a variation of “The Lonely Goatherd.” These waltzes were originally arranged by Trude Rittman. Kostal capitalized on this by integrating several other instrumental waltzes.

The “Processional Waltz” is used in the underscore and then this melody is used with a reprise of “Maria” sung by the nuns’ chorus in counterpoint at the Captain and Maria’s wedding. It exhibits a perfect melding of the music and lyrics. 

In “Goodbye Maria/How Can Love Survive Waltz,” we first hear the “Edelweiss” melody and then the “How Can Love Survive” melody. The latter was a song cut from the film but featured in the original Broadway version. “Edelweiss Waltz” ends Act I.

The “Entr’Acte” features “Do Re Mi,” “Something Good,” and “The Sound of Music”  melodies. Underscore music entitled “Nuns and Nazis” features “So Long, Farewell” and snippets of “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss,” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” melodies. The “Exit Music” is a brief orchestral version of “The Sound of Music.”

Learning Scenarios   

The Sound of Music offers so much both vocally and instrumentally. Traditional and technological lessons can be utilized. Consider the following learning scenarios that can be completed online.

  • The Score   Students can work with the classic song lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II focusing on main messages, character development, historical references and comparisons to poetry. Students can also identify the melodies they hear in the overture. Songs can be analyzed for time signature, character development, poetic lyrics and main messages including reprises.
  • Do Re Mi and the Musical Scale Students explore the origins of the musical scale including the Italian monk Guido D’Arezzo who developed one musical scale in Italy. 
  • Instrumentally Yours Richard Rodgers’ original score and Irwin Kostal’s adaptation provide much for the instrumental music student. Students can explore a specific song and how it is utilized instrumentally in the film.
  • Julie Andrews Students can learn about the life and career of Julie Andrews. She appeared in stage, film, television and on albums.  For what songs is she famous? In what musical genres?
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein Students can learn about the eleven works of Rodgers and Hammerstein including their last musical The Sound of Music.
  • Irwin Kostal The orchestrator and arranger of the music for The Sound of Music also played the same role for stage and other film musicals. Students can learn about Kostal’s other works and musical background.
  • Robert Tucker Students research Robert Tucker and his work on musical films as a vocal coach. On which musicals did he work?
  • YouTube Songs from The Sound of Music are on YouTube and the Internet including renditions in languages other than English. Students can analyze these videos. Lyrics in languages that students know or study could be ideal.
  • Singalong Sound of Music/Karaoke Students can find Singalong Sound of Music on YouTube. Students can then be assigned or choose one song from the score and perform the song to a YouTube karaoke track or on the DVD/Blu-Ray isolated score.

Finale Ultimo

The Sound of Music soundtrack provides the classic vocals and background instrumentals that help make the film the phenomenon that it is. Students can enjoy and learn via the soundtrack album. This article’s content reveals why the Sound of Music soundtrack is one of my favorite things.

Keith Mason, Ph.D. received eight Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards for educational impact for integrating musicals into the high school curriculum. He is currently working on study guides for musicals in general and for specific musicals.

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