Alumni Profile: Elisabeth von Trapp
When Elisabeth von Trapp reflects upon her undergraduate and graduate years at Johnson State College, she notes a difference in the two experiences. "I often think that during the first four years, I attained practical skills and a college degree, but when I returned, I connected to my inner dream." That connection has remained strong ever since.
For Elisabeth von Trapp, the "sounds of music" are a part of her earliest memories. Born and raised in Vermont, Elisabeth is the granddaughter of the legendary Maria and Barron von Trapp, whose story inspired The Sound of Music.
Inspired by her father Werner von Trapp's guitar playing and singing, Elisabeth has carried on the legacy of the internationally renowned Trapp Family Singers. She began taking piano lessons when she was eight and by the age of sixteen she was playing guitar and traveling the back roads of New England performing with her siblings at weddings, gospel meetings and town halls.
"Music has given me a place to be. I remember cold winter nights. . . sitting on my bed in the dark, picking out a Scottish ballad on my guitar as the sounds of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto on the phonograph would float up the stairs from the living room below where my mother sat knitting. Some of my earliest memories are of music. It has had an impact on me and continues to guide me."
Building on her famed family's passion for music, Elisabeth has created her own artistic style, at once ethereal and earthy, delicate and powerful.
Since graduating from JSC in 1978, Elisabeth's voice has been heard from the subway platforms of New York City and small folk clubs and theaters to the White House and the Kennedy Center. She has released five self-produced albums and has performed in concert across the United States as well as in Canada, Austria, Israel and Russia. Her music has been featured on BBC-Radio, Japanese National Radio and CNN Spanish Radio. She has appeared on CBS's Eye on People, ABC's Good Morning America and BBC-TV.
In the spring of 2001, Elisabeth scored a nearly unprecedented coup: winning permission from Robert Frost's publisher, Henry Holt & Co., to sing parts of the poet's oeuvre. The resulting Poetic License, released in June 2004, features the musical settings of poems by Frost, Shakespeare and others.
On her summer 2005 release, Love Never Ends/Sacred Sounds, Elisabeth has collected, arranged and recorded some of her favorite hymns, psalms and chants incorporating the sounds of jazz, contemporary and classical music styles.
Looking back to her college years studying music, Elisabeth recalls that JSC had everything she was looking for: incredible facilities, a world-class faculty and private practice rooms with spectacular views. She says, "On my first visit at Johnson, I remember looking out of the picture windows of Dibden's classrooms overlooking the campus and I remember feeling so welcome. It was like I had come home ... here I had the freedom to find out who I could become."
Elisabeth majored in elementary education and graduated in 1978. The following year she spent eight months in Israel working with a musical group and compiled a collection of 22 original songs. Completing this project, she returned to the Mad River Valley to begin a teaching career at the elementary school in Warren, Vt.
In the spring of 1981, she resigned her teaching position and returned to JSC to work with her vocal coach and participate in the graduate program. Her studies included voice, piano, composition with an emphasis on drama and theater for children and classroom curriculum. The director of the graduate program helped me to design a course of study which allowed me to pursue my musical goals. . . to follow my muse," she says.
Elisabeth has continued to follow her dream, leading a highly successful career as an internationally known musician, singer, and songwriter. Along with a busy concert schedule, she has a number of projects lined up for the future including scoring her compositions for performance with orchestras and Chorale and Chamber Singerss, new recording projects, two books and a theater show.
Despite this remarkably busy schedule, Elisabeth and her husband continue to find time to do volunteer and fundraising work for a number of organizations. They have collaborated with Habitat for Humanity, Lutheran Social Services, Episcopal Relief and Development, the Vermont Women's Fund and the Vermont Food Shelf. In October 2006, Elisabeth spent time traveling along the Gulf Coast, working with relief agencies and singing for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
This commitment to following dreams and serving the community is one that Johnson State College seeks to inspire in all of its students. Elisabeth feels that her life has indeed been enriched because of her years at JSC.