Since 1965, the Hollywood blockbuster The Sound of Music has, rather like Marmite or peanut butter, divided people into two camps: those who love it and those who don’t. For those who love it, the story and its songs have provided a soundtrack of joy for decades and still offers a feel-good factor today.
I remember the first time I watched Maria singing and swirling atop that iconic mountain as the film began. I was utterly transfixed, for it was my first experience of proper cinema, wedged between my mum, aunty and grandma. My generation, the post-baby boomers, then had to wait a very long time for it to be shown on television (Christmas Day 1978). Then another wait for the video, and later the DVD, copies to be released – only then could I watch it on demand and introduce it to the next generation, or two.
Today I still watch it with a smile and a song, albeit a very quiet song, because someone in the house will be moaning, ‘You’re not watching that film again’! So, quite simply, there are, I suggest, few films that have stayed as fresh and wholesome as this one.
The sincerest form of flattery is, they say, to be mimicked, imitated or reproduced, so it’s not surprising that parodies and reminders of The Sound of Music frequently circulate on social media. It has become part of our national shared soundtrack. The title song ‘The Hills are Alive’ was chosen in the UK’s Covid lockdown edition of BBC’s Desert Island Discs in 2020, and ‘Climb Every Mountain’ was one of the showstoppers included in the 2022 concert for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. While visiting London recently, I heard one busker playing ‘Edelweiss’, and another further along sang ‘My Favorite Things’. Proof, if proof is needed, how so many Sound of Music songs are indeed part of our national consciousness.
Even American presidents choose to listen to The Sound of Music. When listening recently to a recording of Barak Obama reading from his book A Promised Land, I was heartened to learn that he would listen to particular songs before a big debate, including John Coltrane’s version of ‘My Favorite Things’. And because the film is based on historical events and set in a real place, visitors still flock to Salzburg to visit Sound of Music locations, thereby keeping alive the songs and story.
So it seems that almost everyone knows about the nun who ran across the hills and became a governess to the von Trapp children. Few of us would fail to recognise the scene of Maria and the children running across the meadows dressed in their refashioned, upscaled curtains, or the prompt to start at the (very) beginning…
Woven throughout the script and songs are subtle prompts that speak of faith. It is not a ‘Christian’ film, or a film with an agenda to proselytise. Yet should we choose to, we can be inspired by Maria’s journey and explore what it is to live life in all its fullness and trust God. My prayer is that, like Maria, we too can all discover God’s will for our life.
Everything I have written is borne out of respect for the show, its characters and songs. I am aware that, whether on stage or screen, it’s a dramatic interpretation of a real family. And although the historical Maria and her captain are now deceased, there are members of the extended von Trapp family who are still very much alive. Their real story didn’t necessarily match the musical interpretation, yet that’s the interpretation we have become familiar with and the inspiration for these musings. My hope is that any members of the von Trapp family can be assured that The Sound of Musings seeks to honour the legacy of The Sound of Music as the film celebrates its sixtieth anniversary in 2025. And if Julie Andrews ever does read this, then I’d love you to know that you truly, utterly nailed Maria’s role!
If you have watched this film before, you may enjoy another viewing before or while reading this book; and if you’re a newbie to The Sound of Music, then why not see what all the fuss is about and watch it! For although I explain each scene as we go along, it may make more sense if you’ve seen the movie; it will also give a context for each chapter.
I’d also suggest this is a book to muse over, to take your time reading and reflecting upon each chapter; but it is your book now, so up to you! However, wherever and whenever you read it – may you too, like Maria, discover the joy and depth of God’s love as you discern His will for your life.
I now invite you to join me and follow Maria’s story from the opening scene and discover something different about this iconic divine and human love story.
The Hills Are Alive
It is almost impossible to actually say those words without the inflection of the melody, so used are we to the majestic overture to one of the most popular films ever made. As the opening credits of the film unfold, the camera soars over beautiful Austrian mountains and valleys before swooping down over villages and meadows.
Like every compelling story, this one is about people; one particular nun and a wealthy but emotionally struggling family. Like every single human story, it has a framework – a space and place that holds the unfolding narrative. The opening credits give us a stunning backdrop, a context for the story that is about to be told.
Those initial sweeping aerial views give us opportunity to marvel at the beauty of hills that are literally alive with the sound of music. Now, as then, cowbells jingle as birds sing and the breeze whispers through trees, while, brooks trickle and splash through flower-filled meadows. All of nature’s sounds, the natural music of creation to reflect and praise the Creator.
The scenery is a major attraction of this film, but also it is an invitation to appreciate God’s incredible handiwork. The geology and ecology, the natural and the humanly shaped world offer evidence that not just Maria, but we too are players in a bigger story.
Beyond this film, there is a book of the ‘big story’ that we are invited to read. It starts with the opening lines of Genesis, revealing God as producer and director, the source of life Himself. In those first verses of the Bible, before even time itself begins, God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – snaps the celestial clapboard and rolls the angelic cameras to create and reveal His eternal blockbuster. He speaks His first line of public dialogue and life and light erupt into being. Then, at the climax of that opening scene, humanity is created to become the pinnacle, the most cherished part of creation: ‘It is very good,’ God says with great satisfaction.
All of us, without exception, are invited through the beauty of creation to marvel at something so incredible yet utterly commonplace, so familiar yet so finely tuned. Into this awe-inspiring wonder, God offers us a playground and workplace, a resting place and life-source so that we can feast upon it to feed our souls and bodies.
However, if we just gaze at creation as an object, then we miss the greatest gift of all. For there is hollow joy in beauty if we merely watch creation without engaging with the author of creation Himself. What we see all around us offers evidence of intelligent creation and a creator offering an invitation to respond, as the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.
Each sunset, each bird that rises from lake to tree, each raindrop on each rose; each different landscape points us to the Holy One who spoke all of this into being. This is no hidden drama, no secret plan; the evidence for and of a creator is offered by every atom of creation itself. All is created by Him for us to relish, to tend and to enjoy; all designed to perfection with supreme artistry and unconditional love; all designed to point us towards the very source of life and love Himself.
Moments for musing
Where do you notice creation bursting with life around you?
How might you develop more of a holy habit of intentionally looking at God’s creation? What might you do to turn that into praise and prayer?
How could you reflect something of God’s creativity by developing your own creativity? It doesn’t need to be ‘perfect’; just creating something new can be surprisingly restorative.
Dear Lord, open my eyes to see how beautifully and tenderly You have created all that sustains us. Help me notice and value all You have made and join the eternal song of praise. Amen
As the overture fades, we see a single figure racing across the hill, a young woman running with arms stretched wide; delighting in the place she calls her own. She twirls and swirls and sings, delighting in being alive and in that place.
Yes, it is a show, a film, but hopefully we too can pinpoint moments and memories when our hearts brimmed over with joy; wanting to, literally or metaphorically, dance and sing in the sunshine and laugh at the joy of being alive.
From the biggest of opening scenes with its expansive vista, we now zoom in to look at one person. We have swooped down from above those soaring mountains to see the face of a one woman. This change of focus reminds us how important each person is; to our shared humanity and to God. For each individual person is known by Him across all of time and within all of creation.
‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16, my italics). So, with His whole being, He loves the whole of His creation – every single micro element. And within that, God loves us all too; every single ‘you’ and every single ‘me’, as if we were the only one alive. We are truly individual and precious to Him among the billions of people who have ever lived, or indeed who will ever live.
Each one of us is created to be utterly unique. Never before has there been another you or me. Never before did anyone, never again will anyone, share the generational history, the genes, the characteristics, experiences, gifts, abilities and foibles that make each one of us exactly who we are. Like Maria alone on that huge, empty Austrian hill, we are reminded that we are each a beloved, individual person in God’s eyes.
This is quite mind-blowing! How can God be big enough to make the whole universe with all His holiness and power, yet bother with the detail of knowing one little person like me? Surely, I am too insignificant, too small to be noticed? Surely, beyond His bothering, especially when so many people in the world appear to need Him more than I do?
Yet perhaps it is His very holiness, power and hugeness that makes it possible for His God-sized heart to love each one of us… as if we were the only one? We read in the unfolding narrative of creation, ‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27).
That we are made in His image suggests we are not merely an addendum to creation, but the pinnacle of it. That is a humbling thought, as Psalm 8 says:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
We can try to reconcile ourselves to the colossal vastness of God’s ability to know and love us, but it is difficult to truly comprehend. Thankfully, Jesus understood that we need help to grasp this vital truth as He explained to His disciples:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
That is the promise and message of God throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. That is the promise and purpose of Jesus, and that is the wonder of being created and loved by our Creator.
Moments for musing
When we accept that God has both the power to create everything and the love to care for everything, that can change how we think of ourselves and our place in His world. How might you reflect upon that?
How might you share that message that with others?
Can you find images and information about our incredible, huge, beautiful world and the billions of people who live in it? Perhaps in books, natural history programmes or other resources? And then remind yourself that you are alive, unique and created ‘for just such a time as this’ (Esther 4:14).
Dear Lord, I find it hard to grasp how intimately I am known and loved by You. Please help me to glimpse more of this and live in that truth. Amen.
1. Barack Obama, A Promised Land (NY: Viking, 2020).
2. See Genesis 1:31.