This story begins in a tall house that rises straight and proud out of a Montana field, rimmed with hollyhocks and hugged by massive boulders. I open the screen door into a large room bordered by a long kitchen counter, towering bookcases, an upright piano, and a woodstove in the corner. A long kitchen table lies at its heart, where countless goodies, meals, and homework have been staged. A row of windows frames the Swan Mountains.
Scents of coffee, pie, and wood smoke and a chorus of greetings wrap around me as I gather the sunlight from the smiles of Stefan and Annie and their children: Sofia, Melanie, Amanda, and Justin. They match their setting—fresh, wholesome, and beautiful—the storybook family for this storybook home.
It sounds too good to be true, but you’ll believe it when you hear their story—and learn that they are the von Trapp family, descendants of Captain and Maria von Trapp who were made famous worldwide when they were portrayed in the musical and movie, The Sound of Music.
Stefan von Trapp is the grandson of Captain von Trapp and the son of Werner, who was portrayed as Kurt in the movie, The Sound of Music. Stefan’s quiet reserve and yearning for a simple life led him from Vermont to Montana where he began to write a new story for his family. He worked as a stonemason, creating beautiful and functional things out of stone. He and his wife, Annie, built a simple, but handsome house and homeschooled their four children. Days were filled with studies, chores, soccer, church, time with friends, and wandering in the woods, fields, and mountains of Montana.
Even though Annie and Stefan did not consider themselves musical, the children’s natural talent and affinity to music emerged as they sang through their days—at that immense dining table, in the cozy sleeping loft at bedtime, in the car on their way to soccer, and out in the field under the big, blue Montana sky.
The children also had a natural talent for performing and began to sing at church and local concerts. People smiled and sometimes cried at the children’s beautiful blending and the way their faces glowed and eyes sparkled when they sang. Stefan and Annie watched quietly and thoughtfully as something powerful and mysterious began to take hold.
It began to take shape when Stefan’s father Werner, could not make his annual visit to Montana after suffering a stroke. The family decided to record a CD for the children’s grandfather, or “Opa” as they fondly call him. Everyone who heard the CD knew it was special. Requests for appearances began to flood into their lives and they found themselves at a turning point.
They loved their simple Montana life, but whispering in the background were the words of their grandfather, who had shared his music in the first generation of von Trapp Family Singers, “When one has gifts, he also has a responsibility to share those gifts.”
They had a family meeting and made a life-changing decision to begin sharing their music as the von Trapp Children. They handed their destiny over to God—and as it turned out—to a worldwide audience who was eager to experience the hopefulness, the integrity, and the family values of another generation of von Trapps.
Curious coincidences, wove into their unfolding musical career. For instance, when they traveled to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for their first major performance, they discovered that it was the same town where their ancestors, the Trapp Family Singers, also gave their first major American performance.
Another booking took them to Ground Zero where the grim task of body retrieval weighed down the firemen’s spirits like the heavy protective gear they wore. The children began singing and made the weary firemen smile and even laugh when the mischievous Justin made faces behind his sister’s backs.
Sofia says they know the warm acceptance they receive is often because The Sound of Music encapsulates a happy childhood memory for people. She notes, “Its quite a phenomena.” This may have opened doors for them, but once they hit the stage and begin singing, audiences fall in love all over again. The von Trapps sing many of the old favorites that even include wearing some of Maria’s dirndls, but also have a full repertoire that includes folk, pop, and gospel music while dressed in contemporary outfits.
The von Trapp Children have grown up in front of audiences across the globe since they began touring in 2002 and the world became their classroom. Annie makes sure that bookings include enough time for them to experience people and place. They often end up putting a lot of their earnings back into this effort, but for them it was never about the money. It was about the music, the family learning together, and about reaching out to others. They sing at local hospitals and take field trips to view the area’s highlights and to interact with the community. Sofia says, “I think it has made us more enlightened and more accepting.
The children recently spent two months teaching music in a Rwandan orphanage and presented a keyboard to the school. They also sang their own arrangement of the country’s new national anthem to Rwandan President Kagame, who was so moved by their singing that he gave Justin a cow from the royal herd. The children say that witnessing the Rwandan’s tremendous resiliency and willingness to forgive was one of the most potent of all their experiences. Amanda says, “It shaped me in a way I didn’t expect.”
Annie loves that through it all, the children have not lost themselves. She says, “I think it is because we went through it as a family.”
The four children are away at different schools now, finding their own voices. Annie says, “It is important that they go to college where they can soak up knowledge and have the freedom to be themselves.”
The von Trapp Children still sing together once or twice a month in the U.S. and across the world and are in the process of recording their sixth CD. They have sung at the Grand Old Opry, the Sydney Opera House, with the Boston Pops, and numerous other American symphonies, and at dozens of locations worldwide. They have been featured in television programs, newspapers and magazines across the globe, and recently taped a show with Oprah, which broadcast on October 29.
But they all agree, there’s no place like home —the place where everything seems so real, honest, and free.
They arrived home after a six-month tour and Sofia found herself so full of emotion that she rushed through the door and went straight to the piano. All the love, the longing, and appreciation for home poured out of her in a beautiful song, “Montana Home.”
I have seen the faces of the different worlds
I have seen the castles with their flags unfurled
I have seen the jungles I always have dreamed of
But now I am finally going home....
The mountains are welcoming back my soul
My heart will finally rest in peace—in my own Montana home...
~ Kay Bjork shares the dream with the von Trapps of growing with our families in the wide, open magnificence of Montana where ideas and spirits soar. Kay lives and plays with her husband on Swan Lake while waiting for their two grown daughters to return home (even if for just a visit.)