3 Sisters, 2 Brothers, 5 Pianos, 50 Fingers
Each of the 5 Browns have played piano since age three, and they now combine talents to record and perform together.
Jan. 31, 2006
It's 15 minutes before five siblings perform for a sold-out audience at Jesse Auditorium and Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody and Ryan Brown show no signs of nervousness.
Instead, the members of the classical music quintet, the 5 Browns, are doing what many siblings sometimes do — they're bickering. About skiing.
Melody Brown's brothers and sisters are trying to prove that she absolutely despises skiing. Melody is standing her own, arguing that she is a big fan. The squabble could continue beyond the 15 minutes they have before they take the stage, and the family probably will never reach a consensus, but a disagreement over skiing is hardly enough to break the Browns apart.
The five brothers and sisters have accomplished several great feats unheard of in the classical music world.
After growing up sharing the same passion for music, attending The Julliard School together, memorizing music rescored for five pianos, recording two albums and playing concerts together, the Brown family has a bond unlike that of most other families.
They're young, ages 19 to 25, and the Browns are gaining popularity for classical music performance. They have appeared on several television shows, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and 60 Minutes. Their story has been told in newspapers and magazines across the country.
Individuals within the group
Each of the Browns started taking piano lessons at age three. Although they now perform together, the siblings developed a passion for music separately. Their parents, Keith and Lisa Brown, enrolled each child in private lessons and supported their children as individuals.
Ryan Brown, the youngest of the five at 19 years old, said he never felt pressured to learn piano just because his brothers and sisters did the same. He said he saw his siblings as role models and learned from them.
"What kept me going was that my other siblings were playing the piano," Ryan Brown said. "I looked up to (them)."
Melody Brown, 20, said her parents always gave her and her siblings the option of quitting piano, but each decided to stick with the instrument.
"For each of us, it seemed to fall to us in our teenage years where we realized that we couldn't live without the music," Desirae Brown, 25, said. "It was too hard to give it up."
The group's claim to fame might be its five-sibling act, but each sibling can stand on his or her own as individuals, too. Just as different painters, writers and dancers have their own way of interpreting art, each of the Browns has developed his or her own sense of style.
"If each of us had the same piece, we would play it five different ways," Desirae Brown said.
When the five siblings sit down together in the practice room, each demonstrates his or her strengths, an experience Melody Brown described the as a melting pot of ideas.
The Browns make a point to demonstrate individual abilities in front of audiences. They can play as a group of five, but the group's performances also feature various combinations of solos, duets and trios.
Any way they play, it sounds good. Listeners don't have to understand adagio, allegro or arpeggio to appreciate the talent the Browns have. Yet no matter how much talent a musician has, Gregory Brown, 22, said there is no room for any arrogant attitudes.
"You have to sacrifice some of your pride and your self-esteem," Gregory Brown said. "You will always have people telling you that you aren't good enough. You can't have an ego in this business."
As with any musical group, the Browns aspire to be the best they can be. But the group also has a message it tries to convey to their audience — classical music doesn't have to be boring. The 5 Browns want to show its audiences that classical music can be animated, emotional, fun and uplifting, just like other types of music.
Making classical music cool
As the Browns grew to love playing music, they realized something was missing from the classical music scene. They noticed they were the only young people in audiences of classical performances. They didn't see very many young people playing classical music on stage, either.
So when the Browns came together to perform as a quintet, they decided to change the classical music scene and give it a more youthful atmosphere.
Desirae Brown said her brothers and sisters believe classical music has the same elements that people love from pop, rock and rap music, but she thinks the elements are stronger in classical music.
"It's intensified," Desirae Brown said. "It's just taking what the other genres of music (have), more amplified."
The Browns said they try to eliminate all stuffiness from their concerts so audiences can enjoy a classical performance.
Gregory Brown said the way the group dresses on stage and the way they talk to the audience brings a more youthful atmosphere to the music they play. The Browns include a question-and-answer session as part of the show and hang around afterward to meet the audience and sign autographs.
Desirae Brown said the group tries to pattern its concerts after pop concerts by keeping its music personal so people can relate to it.
"There are so many kids studying (classical) music," Desirae Brown said. "It is already a part of their life, but they don't feel they have anyone to relate to."
The Browns said they think audiences react well to their music.
Gregory Brown said one-third of the group's audiences are college-aged. The group's first album, The 5 Browns, reached the No. 2 spot for a classical album on Billboard. The group also recorded another album, No Boundaries. Their latest album, which features more music scored for five pianos, will be released April 4.
Just as the Browns are pleased with audience response, some members of the audience said they appreciate the fresh flavor the 5 Browns bring to classical music.
Andrew Hillard, a 16-year-old who attended the 5 Brown performance on Friday, said he was impressed by the turnout, but as a pianist, he was more impressed with what he could take away from the performance.
"It's nice to see role models," Hillard said. "If you're thinking about pursuing music, it brings it to life."