A Family That Plays Together

Suburban Family Moves To Rural Maine

On a late fall afternoon, in the quiet backwoods of Maine, a mother and four children eagerly await the arrival of their dad from work, to be once more reunited by their love of music.

Sixteen-year-old Nick plays the viola; 13-year-old Zack is on the cello, and 12-year-old Bryanna plays the violin. Their mom, Whitney, runs the show, and dad Shawn is the teacher, conductor and arranger.

But the star of the Cabey-Gray Ensemble is the youngest member of the group, 6-year-old Noah, reports 48 Hours Correspondent Harold Dow. Noah has been playing the piano since he was 4, and he can't read music yet.

"I kept on going through this whole thing until finally it's so in my mind that I can go or something like that," he explains.

Shawn is proud of his children's abilities, but he says most children can do this. "I firmly believe that the vast majority of kids out there have the same core abilities in them that our kids, including Noah, have within them."

Shawn has good reason to believe that. Four years ago, none of these kids played music. Back then, the family was living in a nice suburb outside Chicago, well off but far from happy.

"We would sit down to have dinner with them, and the conversation was just agonizing," recalls Whitney. "We'd hear ad nauseam each level of whatever video game was, and we talked about taking that stuff out of their lives. But what do you replace it with?"

Shawn and Whitney decided it was time for a radical change. They sold their house, left the video games behind and headed out to the woods of Maine.

They bought a piece of land, moved into a trailer home while plans were made to build a house and replaced video games with musical instruments, even managing to crowd a grand piano into their tiny living room. Shawn began giving music lessons to their children.

"That was when they really started taking off as musicians," says Whitney. "So the instruments have become that thing that answers, you know, boredom. You go out, ride bikes for a while, play in the woods, build, swim and then come in and play."

Music had transformed their children's lives, but Shawn and Whitney decided there was still one more change they had to make.

"My oldest came home with a D minus in math," remebers Whitney. "and he just couldn't understand why I was upset."

Shawn adds, "His quote was 'Hey, Mom, it's not like its an F' "

They took her children out of public school, and began home schooling them.

"The biggest reason why I home school is because I feel like we, as a nation, don't expect enough out of our kids," she says.

Nick's math grade is now 92, and his other grades are up as well. Not only did the grades of all the children improve, but they ended up with more free time.

So, Shawn and Whitney made another change. Plans fr the new house were put aside, and the money was spent on additional music lessons. In two years, the children went from playing video games to playing Bach.

Shawn recalls the other day when Noah was playing Bach. "I said, 'Wow, Noah, you play that almost as well as Dad does.' And I got on the piano and about 10 seconds in, I realized he had actually just played it a little better."

The children will have to wait a while to get more lessons. Since September, Shawn hasn't been around much. He's been been working in New York – at Ground Zero.

"I got a call-- the Sunday after the attack, that we needed to basically come on site and start assessing damage, " says Shawn, a computer specialist helping to clear the World Trade Center site. "And of course, I was needed so that we could get that damage into a computer so it could get analyzed, and-- so that basically, we could start the rebuilding effort."

Shawn says he feels honored to get the call. The kids are proud of their dad: "I think it's really awesome," says Bryann. But it has a darker side, too. " He can go down there, and something could happen.," says Zach. " And he could get killed or something.'

Shawn did manage to get home for Thanksgiving to cut down the family's Christmas tree and to prepare for a charity concert to raise money for the children of Afghanistan.

For Shawn and Whitney, concerts like this make all the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile. For the last two years, the family has performed at benefit events around the world.

"Last year, we raised money for an orphanage in Harari, Zimbabwe," says Whitney. "Then we raised money for a hospital in Jamaica."

This year, they played in Australia, including a performance with a full orchestra at the prestigious Sydney Opera House.

"Why is it [music] so important," Whitney asks. "I guess it is our thing. It's something that brings so much joy to so many people and it's something we can do together, right in our living room as a family. It has brought us together."

Shawn and Whitney believe the family that plays together stays together. Music has brought them peace and happiness, something they are eager to share with others in these troubled times.

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  • David Kohn

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