There was a surreal moment for the young von Trapp family group when they were recording their new album, Dream a Little Dream.
For joining them on their rendition of Edelweiss was Charmian Carr, the woman who had played their great aunt as a 16 going on 17-year-old, in the film the Sound of Music.
Far from distancing themselves from the popular musical, the four singing siblings that go to make up the new generation of von Trapp performers have instead embraced their heritage.
“The Sound of Music and the von Trapp story is very much who we are. We would never leave that,” says Melanie von Trapp.
“But to have Charmian Carr, who played Liesl (in reality the oldest von Trapp daughter was called Agathe) come and record it with us in the studio was totally surreal.”
Melanie, 24, her sisters Sofi, 25, Amanda, 22, and their brother August, 19, grew up with the tale of how their great grandfather and his second wife Maria defied the Nazis and fled their Austrian homeland with their children for a new life in the United States at the start of the Second World War.
“It was really amazing. It wasn’t exactly how they portrayed it in the film but it was difficult,” says Melanie.
“It’s still incredible to know that the Captain (Georg von Trapp) stood up to the Nazi regime and said ‘I don’t want a part of this’ and took his whole family to the US. They had no money and they didn’t have any skill or occupation that they could jump into except sing.”
The family had started singing professionally in 1935 to make money after the Captain’s wealth was lost in a bank failure.
They became a popular touring act. After the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany and the call for the Captain, a hero of the Austro-Hungarian Navy during the First World War, to serve in the German Navy, they abandoned their home and took a train to Italy – somewhat easier than walking over the Alps – eventually making their way to Pennsylvania to perform concerts there.
“They were really only able to escape because they had a contract for a tour and then they just stayed,” says Melanie
“After the Sound of Music ends there is two decades of them touring and travelling, and those stories are amazing as well.”
The family established themselves in Vermont where they had a farm and ran a music camp there.
Werner von Trapp, who was renamed Kurt for the film, was Melanie’s grandfather or “Opa”. It was he who sparked a desire to perform in his grandchildren.
“When we were young our grandfather would come to Montana where we lived and teach us Austrian folk songs.
“He inspired a love of that old traditional music. That was really our start.”
Werner died in 2007, aged 91. Maria Franziska, the last member of the Trapp Family singers and the child that the postulant Maria actually came to tutor before coming to care for all seven of the widowed Captain’s children, died this February, aged 99.
After making an album to cheer up their Opa when he suffered a stroke, the Melanie and her sisters and brother “kind of fell into” singing publicly when August, was just seven.
“There was absolutely no pressure within the family to pick up that (von Trapp) torch and keep running with it,” says Melanie.
“Even our parents were like ‘Are you guys sure you want to go and sing. You want to go and travel?’
“We were just so thrilled to sing together. We were all completely green at the whole thing. We didn’t know what we were doing. It was more like an adventure.
“Both our parents came with us in the beginning and that was really amazing.
“I don’t think it could have worked had all of us not been in it together, even our dad which was really awesome.
“He put his job on hold for a while and travelled with us. He would iron dresses back stage and get us coffee and sandwiches.”
And while they may not have been expected to perform in outfits made from their own curtains, the von Trapps recognised that their fans in those early years wanted some of those familiar songs.
“I don’t think we ever tried to fight it,” says Melanie.
“What was interesting was we would travel to places like Rwanda or Korea. Australia or New Zealand and everybody would know the Sound of Music.
“It was a blessing for us because people were so warm and accepting of what we were doing right away.
“Of course the audience will want to hear Edelweiss and Lonely Goat Herd. Thankfully those are really great songs so we don’t mind singing them.
The new von Trapps latest album, Dream a Little Dream, which they will be performing at Birmingham Town Hall tomorrow (Friday), is a collaboration with Pink Martini, a genre straddling orchestra founded by pianist Thomas Lauderdale.
They met him when they were at something of a career crossroads, putting their music on hold to attend college. They decided they would only continue singing together if “we could find a new sound that would help us grow and not keep us in the same musical box we were in as kids,” explains Melanie.
“We came to Portland for a show with the Symphony and met Thomas Lauderdale and he really kind of opened up these whole new worlds of creativity, these wells of personality that we were able to let out.”
They moved to Portland for two weeks to record the album and have ended up staying for two years, working with acts like Rufus Wainwright, The Chieftains and Vegas legend Wayne Newton.
Dream a Little Dream is a multicultural mash up with songs in French and Swedish (a cover of the Abba hit Fernando), a Japanese tango and the Rwandan national anthem.
The von Trapps had learnt it during a visit to the country where they met the president.
“We walked into this board meeting still trying to memorise these four incredibly long verses,” recalls Melanie.
The president was so moved he gave the then 13-year-old August a cow.
“It is still there but it belongs to August. If only they could ship the milk over for us...”
The baby of the group and the only boy, August is starting to establish himself as a songwriter with three tracks on the album.
“He definitely pulls his weight,” says Melanie. “I feel terrible for him sometimes. It is like having three mothers.
“But he’s going to be really great when he has a girlfriend. He will know exactly what to say to make her happy. He’ll be a pro.”
* Pink Martini presents The von Trapps at Birmingham Town Hall on Friday, May 9. Info: 0121 345 0600 or www.thsh.co.uk