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Sound of Music rerelease reminds us of the value of a real live voice

Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp, left; Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp, right; couple embracing in gazebo in film The Sound of Music
©1965 20th Century Studios, Inc.
scene from The Sound of Music

I didn’t think I could love Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp any more than I already did. Whose heart doesn’t skip a flag-ripping beat at some point during The Sound of Music?

But a new re-release of the film's soundtrack from Craft Recordings includes Christopher Plummer’s singing voice for the first time. And my heart has stopped all over again.

During filming, Plummer (who wasn’t known for singing the way his costar Julie Andrews was) did record the songs, but the studio was unsatisfied with the result. So, Captain von Trapp’s singing voice was eventually dubbed by voice actor Bill Lee. Of course Lee did a wonderful job, and the voice in the film is as clean and bright as edelweiss. But there is a reason that Christopher Plummer’s cuts are completely swoon worthy, and in today’s age of AI generated musical experiments, I think it’s hitting us even harder than it would have a year ago.

Listen to Christopher Plummer’s recording of Edelweiss and try not to cry.

The emotion of the scene is enough to draw a few tears in its original form. Captain von Trapp has spent too long grieving his wife, allowing music to disappear from his life, and he finally decides to sing with them again. Lee’s rendition is studio-ready, and thus not exactly realistic for someone who has avoided music for a decade.

Plummer does a beautiful job. The fact that he doesn’t sound like he’s coming straight from Broadway is true to the character. But it’s more than that. Plummer acts with his voice. As beautiful as Edelweiss is, this is even more apparent in Something Good. Maria and the Captain have both just realized that not only is their love requited, but they can be together. They’re overwhelmed, and Plummer sounds just a little bit breathless at the thought.

The character of Captain von Trapp begins the film as hard as stone, and it’s when music enters the house that you see precisely how vulnerable he truly is. The imperfection of Plummer’s voice hits that vulnerability much more on the nose than the dubbed original.

I won’t go so far as to make a universal statement about how all music needs that humanity - that imperfection. But when it’s there, it adds something that tugs at our hearts. It’s a quality that cannot be taught, cannot be practiced, and cannot be synthesized.

And yet, lately I’ve been bombarded with messages that the next frontier in music is just that - synthetic. AI technology is still being used to attempt to synthesize the role of the artist. Rather than being used as a tool for a creative person, the technology makes an attempt to replace the person altogether.

The success rate so far is questionable at best. Just look at the generated artist Anna Indiana. (If you’re wondering about the name, consider her initials).

And then check out the reactions.

The immediate skepticism should hopefully send a powerful message to any studio that thinks human performers and composers can be fully replaced with an app.

It’s not just a problem in music. While AI usage was THE issue in the recent Screen Actors and Writers Guild strikes, as agreements were reached Netflix listed a rather high-paying job for an AI product manager. The AI might be learning, but it seems as though production studios of all types still aren’t. They will apparently drop audiences all the way into the uncanny valley if it might one day possibly save a few dollars.

Why?

Circle back to Captain von Trapp. With the whispered “whether or not you should” in Something Good. And the audience reaction.

“Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.” - Oscar Hammerstein in The Sound of Music

Plummer’s Captain von Trapp is the latest voice to give us a timely reminder: in this digital world we all continue to crave a connection to just another human. Smart studios will take note, and get real.

The rerelease of The Sound of Music soundtrack is available now - you’ll catch it in both Flicks at 4 and Voices Carry at 7 on WUOL.

AI can also be used as a tool for live composers, and those programs and applications are still being written. Check out the Louisville Orchestra’s performance last year of Adam Schoenberg’s experimental cello concerto.

Colleen is the Music Director and host for LPM Classical. Email Colleen at colleen@lpm.org.