Sweet voices like angels. An on-stage demeanor that takes audiences back to an age of innocence and courage. A series of accolades from reviewers, for performances with the likes of Peter, Paul and Mary and the Boston Pops. This is the story of the singing von Trapp children.
Homeschooled by mother Annie and father Stefan (a grandson of the Captain and Maria von Trapp whose story was immortalized in The Sound of Music), the four singing siblings call Kalispell, MT, home and the rest of the world their stage... and classroom.
From humble beginnings over eight years ago - singing around the house, starting a local choir, putting together a CD for their grandfather, and performing at a local benefit concert - the children now perform live, on radio, and on TV. They have appeared on such shows as ABC's Good Morning America, CBS Sunday Morning, The Grand Ole Opry, and numerous local shows.
Their music is just what you'd expect if you fast-forwarded the original Trapp Family Singers fifty years: a sweet variety of classical, sacred, folk songs, and pieces from The Sound of Music.
I can't recall the last time I played a CD and found it both soothing enough to leave on while I wrote an article and toe-tapping enough in parts that I found myself singing along! This is one act you just have to catch, folks, and we've provided a schedule through the end of 2005 at the end of this article so you can do just that.
Naturally, as a fervent Sound of Music fan and a fan of Maria von Trapp's books, I just had to try to interview this family. After a lengthy set of emails and phone calls, I caught up with Annie von Trapp, the children's mother, and asked her some of the questions we all must have about her family's homeschool and life.
Mary Pride: What made you decide to homeschool and when did you decide to do it?
Annie von Trapp: It happened years ago, and it wasn't me, it was my husband Stefan. When we first moved from Vermont to Kalispell, MT, my husband worked for a garage door company, and the man he worked for homeschooled. His children worked with my husband. Stefan was sick and tired of the attitude of teens he had met. This boy who was homeschooled all his life impressed Stefan so much that he said, "This is something we should look into!"
When Stefan came home and suggested the idea, I said, "No way!" The only homeschoolers I had known were a little strange. They lived out in the woods in Vermont and were really liberal. The whole thought was scary for me.
At that point, we went to a meeting and were so impressed by the parents and the children: their discipline, their point of view, and that most of the homeschoolers were Christian. From that point on, we never looked back. Sophie was still only four. We've been homeschooling all our children ever since!
Do you have any particular method you follow?
We pick and choose from different curricula: Saxon for math, A Beka for science for the younger two, Bob Jones, Apologia, and a variety of writing and spelling books from the Christian bookstore.
Where did you turn for help to learn about homeschooling?
We went to a local Christian bookstore. We also met people who had homeschooled for many years, and they gave us advice.
You joined your local support group?
Yes, and also the homeschool choir. We were the majority of the homeschool choir. I started it by hiring a music teacher for the children, because they were always walking around the house singing, and I thought it would be fun for them. Then people would ask me what curriculum we were doing outside the home, and I mentioned the music teacher. Now the choir is huge... over 100 students are in it here in Kalispell, MT.
How do you do it all? How do you fit in the performances and rehearsing?
There's a real advantage to being on the road. While we're traveling, in the airplane or the car, that's when the children do their homework. There's nothing else to do! The phone's not ringing and we're all together. So it's actually easier to get schoolwork done "on the road."
I take it you don't use a lot of software, video, or online resources.
We're just starting to. I need help at this point, now that Sophie and Melanie are in high school. I have a friend, a certified teacher, who homeschools her children. Sophie and Melanie email back and forth with her on their laptops. When we get to a hotel, they hook up to the Internet and email her all their work.
So even while you're on the road, the children are still keeping up with their homeschooling?
Oh, definitely. We have been on the road nine months a year, but this year, we cut it back to six months. That's when we get most of our homework done! They're not sitting there bored; they're getting their homework done.
What is your husband's work? It would be pretty hard to tour if he had an office job!
Stefan owns a rock mason business. It's seasonal; in Montana you can't get outside much in cold weather. So it's easy for us to take advantage of the touring opportunities. My husband is with us all the time on the road and he actually does a lot of the homeschooling, which is really nice.
How exactly did the kids get started touring?
They've always sung for fun. We have a neighbor who got into an accident, broke her neck, and became paralyzed. She is a friend of George Winston, the famous classical pianist. He came and did a benefit concert for her. Our children put together an opening act to run before his performance. His booking agent found out and listened to the CD we made for their "Opa," their grandfather Werner, who had a stroke. (He always visited us in September, but couldn't because of the stroke, so we made a little CD and sent it to him.) Now they've been touring professionally for three years.
One of their first performances was singing at Ground Zero. The children didn't even have an agent at that point. We were invited by a church to go to New York to do this.
When Stefan and I sat down and looked at the pros and cons of touring, we asked these questions: Are they good enough? Do we want to expose them publicly? What message should they bring? We decided to put it in God's hands. If the door was open, we'd go through it, with the understanding that this is a part of their homeschool education. Since then they've gone to New York, New Orleans, Canada, Japan, and Korea... they've been all over the world. They've learned things we never would have had the opportunity to teach them here in Montana.
If we weren't homeschooling, we never would have taken our children out of school to do this.
We heard that if we could put a two-hour show together and tell part of our family's history in between the songs, we could get the children their first "official" engagement at one of the largest festivals in America, in Bethlehem, PA. After they booked us, we found out later it was also the very first place the von Trapps sang after they escaped from the Nazis.
That would send shivers up my spine!
Our show tells the story of how the von Trapp family really left Austria - a little bit of the difference between the Sound of Music and what really happened.
At homeschool conventions, my husband and I also join the kids on stage to answer questions and tell stories about the Trapp Family Singers and what they believed. They sang for the Lord, to honor Him.
What are your future plans and ambitions?
We're devoting until the end of 2006 to touring, as long as the doors are open. It's the children's choice.
Any final thoughts for our readers?
From a musical point of view, it's been amazing how our manager has been able to take us from singing in a benefit outside our backyard with a piano in a horse trailer to singing with the Boston Pops. Just the fact that we're in front of so many people who have never heard the word of God or have been in a church for 30 years is such an amazing way to be used of God.
Opa [the children's Grandpa Werner von Trapp, who was portrayed as "Kurt" in the movie] used to say, "When God gives you a gift, you have a responsibility to use that gift." I believe everyone out there has a gift they are supposed to find and use - even if it's just staying home and praying for others or caring for your Down's Syndrome child.
So often we aren't able to share the ministry side of this, so thank you.
Meet The von Trapp Children
Sophia von Trapp is sixteen. She has been singing since she was four. She is an avid soccer player. In fact, her team won the Montana State Championship and advanced to regionals. Sofie, as her friends and family call her, has been homeschooled her entire life. Her favorite subject is biology, but she loves to read and write.
Melanie von Trapp just turned fifteen. Like her older sister, she is a soccer player, but she also loves trampolining and gymnastics. She became a bungee jumping fan after trying it in New Zealand. Melanie's favorite subjects in her homeschool curriculum are math and science. She is a voracious reader; her favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo.
Amanda von Trapp is thirteen. She too loves to play soccer, but she also likes skateboarding and hiking in nearby Glacier National Park. Her favorite subject is history and her favorite reading includes Sherlock Holmes and Lemony Snickett. Amanda plans to major in criminal justice in college and to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Justin von Trapp will be eleven in September. Justin is a real outdoorsman. His interests include baseball, wrestling, archery, bow hunting, and fishing. He reads everything he can about new technologies, as well as every book in the Artemis Fowl series that he can find. He is also very interested in zoology and loves animals. He has taken two flying lessons and hopes to be a pilot when he grows up.
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