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December 10, 2004

Music still connects von Trapps

From: Richmond Times Dispatch, VA - Dec 10, 2004

Friday, December 10, 2004


7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Bon Air United Methodist Church, 1645 Buford Road

$15; proceeds benefit United Methodist Commission on Disabilities

(804) 272-2042, ext. 215, today, Monday or Tuesday; (804) 363-8152 tomorrow or Saturday

This is a tale of two cousins.

They might not walk alike, they might not talk alike . . . but what a talented pair. And what a heritage, one that - for better or worse - they'll never escape.

Their grandparents were Maria and Georg von Trapp, whose love story was immortalized in "The Sound of Music."

In many ways, their lives have run parallel. Elisabeth von Trapp grew up in Vermont, the daughter of Werner von Trapp, whose character was renamed Kurt in the film. Elizabeth von Trapp grew up in Rhode Island, the daughter of Rupert von Trapp, whose character was called Friedrich.

Elisabeth, now 50, lives in Waitsfield, Vt., with her husband, Ed Hall. Elizabeth, 51, lives in Sedley, Va., with her husband, Vern Walker.

The cousins will reunite next week at Bon Air United Methodist Church. Elisabeth von Trapp, a singer and songwriter, will perform a concert there on Tuesday. Elizabeth "Tizzy" von Trapp Walker, a minister, will sign the words to "Silent Night" while her cousin Elisabeth sings.

Walker has had severe to profound hearing loss since she was a small child. Proceeds from the concert will go to establish scholarships for the first Deaf Camp at Camp Overlook in Massanutten next summer.

Walker and Steve Deavers of Fishersville are co-directors of the Deaf Visioning Team, a subcommittee of the Virginia United Methodist Conference's Commission on Disabilities.

Von Trapp, via phone from Vermont, said she plans to sing a number of Austrian carols and other Christmas carols she has collected over the years, ranging from Gregorian to contemporary, on Tuesday. Several numbers will be from her "Christmas Song" CD, with others from a new album she's working on.

She will be accompanied by cellist Erich Kory, with whom she has been working since the mid-'90s.

By the time von Trapp was born, her father and uncles and aunts and grandparents rarely sang in public. But music was always around, at every family celebration or holiday.

Her father would sing to her and her sister and four brothers every night. In fact, it was her dad's guitar playing and singing that inspired her to begin taking piano lessons at age 8.

Werner von Trapp, who will turn 89 on Dec. 21, "still will start to sing if you get people around him," she said.

Walker's father, Rupert von Trapp, died in 1992, about 10 years after retiring as a general practitioner.

Though the cousins grew up in different states, Walker viewed Vermont as a second home. Von Trapp recalled a time when her cousin was visiting her grandmother, who lived near a convent.

"Two nuns, dressed alike, were coming our way. We were wearing bloomers . . . and looked like the Bobbsey Twins! They said, 'What is your name?'

"We said, 'Elisabeth von Trapp.'

"And 'Elizabeth von Trapp.'

"That was one of our first experiences sharing names," von Trapp said, laughing. (More of her family recollections can be found at

For the first several years of her life, von Trapp lived on the grounds of the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt. Walker worked there when she was in college and in the early'80s.

Von Trapp earned her master's degree, studying theater, education and music. Walker earned a master's degree in education and another in divinity.

Von Trapp worked in the clothing business, she said, "as a way to support my music habit" until she realized it was time to focus on her music. Her husband took a year off from his job as a lawyer, and the couple created the Von Trapp Music company.

"We've been working together ever since," she said.

In the last 10 years, von Trapp has released four CDs. This year she's been more involved in recording projects, but in a busier year - as she intends next year to be - she might perform anywhere from 80 to 90 concerts across the country.

Walker and her husband, whom she met in Stowe, moved to Virginia in 1991. Vern Walker worked in various dairy operations and as a herdsman until his wife's new job as a minister brought them to the Portsmouth area. Now he does row-crop farming in Wakefield.

Since 2000, Elizabeth Walker has served as pastor of Grace Memorial United Methodist Church in Sedley and Sebrell United Methodist Church in Sebrell.

You wouldn't know to hear her speak that Walker has any trouble hearing. "I am very articulate," she said, "which my audiologists cannot explain, especially since I have never had any speech therapy. With my hearing loss, I should not have the clarity of speech that I do."

Now she is learning American Sign Language, which is what she will use at next week's concert . . . even if von Trapp does sing "Silent Night" in German, Walker acknowledged with a laugh.

Though the cousins' paths eventually diverged, their lives reflect and have been enriched by the legacy they share.

When the cousins von Trapp come to sing and to sign, the result - with apologies to Maria and Georg and Rodgers & Hammerstein - is sure to be "Something Good"

Contact Cynthia McMullen at (804) 649-6361 or

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