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Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Meet the Overmans
By Diane Wright
As a child, Marilyn Overman saw the 1965 film "The Sound of Music" and was inspired.
"I thought it seemed very normal to me and very natural that a family would have fun together and sing together. And so I always thought, 'I want to have at least seven children!' "
But Marilyn and her husband, Ken Overman, went one better than the movie's von Trapp family: Instead of seven children, they have eight.
Like the family portrayed onscreen, the Overmans also took an interest in music. Parents and children from Franz, 4, to Karl-Friedrik, 22 are trained musicians. And they sing.
This musical family's hobby led the Overmans to the stage. The Overman Family Musicians, as they're professionally known, are a much-in-demand musical group that is gaining wide attention in the region. Recent performances have been at Snohomish County's Ronald Reagan memorial service, at Seattle's Ballard Locks and in Leavenworth, Chelan County.
Music has not only brought the Arlington family recognition the shared purpose helps keep the family together. That and their faith are the glue that helps keep family members living under one roof.
On a recent morning, as the Overmans were packing for a performance in Leavenworth, their living room became the setting for a quick run-through.
Ken, 49, played the flute. Marilyn, 50, tuned up the violin. The air was filled with the sound of scales, of strings being plucked on violins, violas and cellos.
"Can we just talk it through so we're all on the same track?" Ken asked their children.
"We want to begin this song in the key of D, play it all the way through, to the end of the first ending. At that point the cellos are done, everybody can stand up to sing, find a place for the cellos. The rest of us go back to the top of that line, play it, including the second ending to the modulation. Then we will sing."
And the sonorous tones of violins and cellos filled the living room.
The older sons Karl-Friedrik; Wellington, 19; Sterling, 17; and Royal, 15 joined to sing solos.
Oliver, still the boy soprano of the family at age 12, sang a treble solo.
Music "gets rearranged all the time," Ken said. "It's always a little bit of a struggle for voicing. [Sterling] used to be our real fine soprano soloist; now Oliver handles those."
Apart from the logistics of 10 people living together the bulk foods, the shared bedrooms, the van transportation, the one-room "schoolhouse" for home-schooling the Overman family has another set of logistics, one rooted in the heart of classical music.
Each member of the family plays a stringed instrument. Among them there are six violins, two cellos, a viola and a classical guitar, plus a flute.
Marilyn, whose college degree was in music, taught the entire family the Suzuki method of strings instruction, and the result with the help of other music mentors is a level of musicianship that has put the Overman Family Musicians in demand. Together, family members sing and play classical, traditional and sacred music at about 30 weddings, banquets and other events each year.
In their big blue home of 15 years, the dining room and living room double as a rehearsal hall with a grand piano.
Everybody has chores. "They're apportioned to age, basically," said Sterling, "and what you can do."
In a large family, there are always chores to be done. And, the siblings agree, you're never alone.
"I think when you grow up in a big family, you have to learn how to give and take a lot. You can't always have things your way," 20-year-old Anna-Lisa said.
"Usually, the younger people in the family will try to be like the older people, so you have to set a good example," Oliver added.
Ken is minister of music at the Atonement Free Lutheran Church in Arlington. The church also has a small orchestra predominantly the Overman family, along with some students who take violin and cello, a couple of trumpets and a clarinet.
"It enhances the music here just immeasurably," said Atonement's pastor, Richard Long. "The fact that they provide an orchestral core has given occasion to other people gathering around that."
"I know that most churches don't have this," said Tim Brocato, who attends the church with his wife, Lori.
"So many people that have come to our church have sensed a real lively spirit here."
Ken and Marilyn met in 1973 while performing at a Christmas cantata at Christ Church of Northgate. She was a music major at Seattle Pacific University, and he had been raised in a musical family on the Eastside. Both came from large families. Many of their children's names come from their Swedish, German, Scotch, English and Irish ancestors.
The Overmans have heard the comparisons to the Trapp Family Singers before. They even have a painting of edelweiss by one of Baron von Trapp's daughters, Johanna, who lived in the Northwest at one time and invited them to a showing of her paintings.
Chorally, the Overmans were less influenced by the von Trapps than by the English choral tradition and contemporary choral masters such as John Rutter.
"I don't think we've really fashioned ourselves after anyone," Ken said. "And I admire what the von Trapps have been able to do ... but I don't think we're entirely unique if you look at the families across this nation [who do music]. I would say perhaps one thing that's a little different about us from a lot of people is that we major so much in the classics."
The family knows its days living under one roof soon will change.
Though Karl-Friedrik is living at home while studying law through correspondence, Anna-Lisa is preparing to attend Azusa Pacific University in California in the fall as a music major.
"We're going to miss her so dreadfully," Marilyn said. "She works so hard, helping with the children, schooling and cooking. The boys are really rising up to learning to cook."
Anna-Lisa said: "It's not just a mother-daughter relationship. It's more like friends. She doesn't mind when I air my views with her, but the important part is that I'm always respectful in front of the children and setting a good example."
Despite the family's musical heritage, not everyone wants to grow up to be a full-time musician.
"I'd like to be a paramedic first, then an EMT [emergency medical technician], then get flight training for Airlift Northwest," Sterling said. "And the other dream is welding underwater."
Like all families, this family of 10 has had challenges and blessings.
The family has a low mortgage, a phone bill that's under $40 and a Russian fireplace to heat both their house and their water, with free wood from friends in Oso.
But there have been medical emergencies in the past. Sterling had open-heart surgery at Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center in Seattle several years ago, and Wellington was there for three weeks after an accident.
Ken's salary as a physical therapist, specializing in geriatric care, goes only so far. He works at Bethany of the Northwest in Everett, Warm Beach Health Care Center near Stanwood and Regency Care Center at Arlington.
The family's performances are often given free, though the family did draft a fee schedule last year.
"Ken and I are not really business-minded; that's been part of our trouble," said Marilyn, who is considering taking on the music students that Anna- Lisa will leave behind in the fall.
Believing that it is the parents' responsibility to direct the education of their children, Marilyn and Ken home-schooled their children throughout their lives, with field trips for history, statesmanship and music enrichment.
"When you have a lot of children in the family, you can have good conversations at the dinner table," Anna-Lisa said. "You can get that experience, and that's a really neat thing, especially when you're home-schooled. Sometimes you might feel you have enough of that interaction, but in a big family, you never miss it."
Marilyn said her family is grateful to musicians who have worked with them to develop their skills; a donation was given to Royal and Sterling to go to the Suzuki Institute this summer, for example, and various family members have been involved with the Everett and Seattle youth symphony orchestras.
In return, the siblings understand there are certain sacrifices to be made when you're part of a musical family. It's something they take in stride.
"Sometimes, when you have to set aside things that you really want to do and be ministering to people, that can sometimes be a little bit hard," Anna-Lisa said. "But I realize that the greatest joy is really when you don't get what maybe you want, but you bless other people. And that blessing comes back to you in greater ways than you could even imagine."
Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or email@example.com
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