Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010-11 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

The Sound of Music, the 1965 movie based on the lives of Austria’s von Trapp family, is perhaps the best-loved family film ever made. Themes of patriotism, devotion to God, and love of family pervade the movie from opening scenes in the Alps to closing notes of  “Climb Every Mountain.”

An overlooked aspect of The Sound of Music is the Von Trapp family’s homeschooling tradition. So far, no lists of renowned homeschoolers include the singing siblings. No printed T-shirts at homeschool conferences bear the von Trapp name, along with those of Lincoln, Edison, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Nevertheless, generations of Von Trapps have been taught at home, and it’s an ongoing process for current family members.

The Original Von Trapps

In The Sound of Music, the Von Trapp children met Maria when she arrived at their Salzburg home as a governess. In reality, the real Maria Augusta Kutschera made a similar entrance into the lives of Captain Georg von Trapp’s family in 1926. However, Maria actually instructed only one of the seven children. The Captain’s second daughter, also named Maria, was temporarily too weak to walk to school. Therefore, young Maria was homeschooled by the aspiring nun from Nonnberg Abbey. The other siblings, Rupert, Agathe, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna, and Martina, were not Maria’s responsibility, although her guitar and songs brought all seven children together to sing.

Even before their mother died in 1922, the von Trapp children experienced home education. While the Captain was commanding an Austrian submarine in World War I, his wife and children lived in a lakeside home at Zell-am-See. School was reachable only by boat, so the children were taught at home. Agathe von Trapp, who was 98 years old on March 12, 2011, recounts her experiences as a homeschooler in her autobiography, Memories Before and After the Sound of Music.

“There was music in our house all the time,” says Agathe’s sister Maria, now 96. Their parents taught them violin, piano, guitar, and accordion. Early music sung by the siblings appears in My Favorite Songs: Maria Von Trapp’s Childhood Folk Songs.

The Captain and Maria married in 1927. Maria was delighted that her new family was musically inclined. A passionate singer herself, she taught the children all the folk songs she knew. Maria’s book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, was the basis for the film titled The Sound of Music.

The Trapp Family Singers

Two daughters, Rosmarie and Eleonore, were born to the Captain and Maria. The older brothers and sisters sang constantly. They learned sacred music, classics, and more Austrian folk tunes. A musician and choirmaster, Dr. Franz Wasner, agreed to coach them. He transformed them from amateurs to professionals, with a repertoire of two hundred songs. A concert tour made them singing sensations through Europe in 1937. While the family sang of joy and peace, Nazi Germany prepared for war. In 1938 Germany invaded Austria. The von Trapps were at risk, being thoroughly anti-Nazi.

Captain von Trapp drew his family together to decide their future. Opening the Bible, he randomly settled on Genesis 12:1-9 exhorting Abraham to leave his country and go to the land that God showed. For the von Trapps, the offer of an American concert tour was God’s providence: a ticket to freedom.

After a stealthy escape from Austria, the family arrived in New York. The first U.S. tour launched the Trapp Family Singers as concert favorites. Maria cleverly concealed her pregnancy from audiences with evolving costumes, and soon after the tour’s end, Johannes was born, the tenth and final child.

As a tightly knit, self-sufficient family, the von Trapps sang, prayed, and worked together. Cross-country concert tours continued each season. In 1942 the family bought a farm near Stowe, Vermont, where the Green Mountains reminded them of Austria, and a spacious Austrian-style house became their American home.

During World War II, Rupert and Werner von Trapp served in the U.S. Army. Rosmarie and Eleonore joined the singing group when their brothers left, and the girls were homeschooled during tours. “Our bus was a one-room rolling school house,” said their mother. When Johannes joined the group, he was similarly educated. Until he died in 1947, Captain von Trapp supported his children’s education and career.

When the Trapp Family Singers disbanded in 1956, some of the children did mission work in New Guinea. In fact, daughter Maria stayed there for thirty years. Rupert became a doctor; Werner farmed. Hedwig, Agathe, and Rosmarie became schoolteachers. Johannes manages the Trapp Family Lodge, an outgrowth of the family home. Johanna had seven children. Martina died in childbirth. Eleonore had seven daughters; several of them homeschool. She and her husband are passionate supporters of home education.

When The Sound of Music debuted, it brought the von Trapps unexpected new fame. They accepted their renown with good nature but disliked the film’s portrayal of their nurturing father, because the play and movie inaccurately portrayed their loving father as a stern martinet.

For Maria von Trapp, The Sound of Music created a limelight that she could never escape. She wrote books, lectured, and was a presence at the Trapp Family Lodge until her death in 1987. She interacted with guests, sharing stories of her remarkable life. “If God can do so much for the Trapp Family,” she often said, “He can do the same for you.”

The Von Trapp Children

The Sound of Music still captivates generations. Now in its forty-fifth year, the movie is periodically shown on the ABC Family network. The actors who portrayed the movie children reunited with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer on a recent Oprah show, where the current generation of singing von Trapps joined them. The Von Trapp Children—Melanie, Sophia, Justin, and Amanda, now teens—are Werner’s grandchildren. They have toured the world as a singing group since 2002. 

The kids started harmonizing in their Montana home. Their parents, Stefan and Annie, encouraged them. Invitations arrived to sing at church, homeschool events, and at Ground Zero, after 9/11. Their repertoire is a mix of gospel, folk, classical, and spirituals. Songs from The Sound of Music are audience pleasers. The von Trapps regularly fill large concert venues and sing with symphonies.

The children have always been homeschooled. “I cannot tell you how well homeschooling worked for us,” says Annie von Trapp. “Stefan and I supported the kids’ performing, and it’s been a success, right along with their home education. There’s a lot of uninterrupted study time on a flight to Seoul, Korea, for example!”

Stefan von Trapp agrees. “Performing and homeschooling united us as a family,” he says. “Our children want to learn. They realize how fun it is.” Stefan shouldered most of the teaching responsibilities.

Sophia says that singing and learning merged into a family style. “We discovered that music is more a part of us than we ever knew,” she says. Justin, Melanie, Amanda, and Sophia each have non-musical career plans. Even so, Melanie is certain that  “we’ll be singing the rest of our lives, just like the original Trapp Family Singers.” And homeschooling, as it has past and present, will harmonize right along with the von Trapps’ own sound of music!

Author and educator William Anderson has written or edited more than twenty books, including V Is for Von Trapp: A Musical Family Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press) and The World of the Trapp Family (www.TrappFamily.com). Some of his other titles for children include M Is for Mount Rushmore (Sleeping Bear), River Boy: The Story of Mark Twain, Laura Ingalls Wilder Country, A Little House Guidebook, and Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography (all published by Harper Collins). He is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, historical events, and homeschool conferences. Visit his website at www.WilliamAndersonBooks.com.

Publication date: July 23, 2012