February 1, 2019
Writer: Virginia Henry
The 5 Browns are a stellar sibling pianist quintet. The oldest, Desirae, started playing the piano at 3 years old. After that example was set, all of the siblings followed suit.
“We actually didn’t start playing together really until our college years,” said Gregory Brown. “We started talking and realizing we had a lot of similar ideas of how we would like to present classical music to everybody, not just typical classical concert-goers.”
The rest is history! They’re starting their 15th year playing together as a quintet.
Creating an arrangement for five pianos is quite the feat. The 5 Browns don’t do it themselves. They rely on the skills of Jeffery Shumway and Greg Anderson. A special effort is made to make sure the arrangements are equal in difficulty for each of the five pianists. The melody is also spread around to each sibling throughout the piece.
As far as personal compositions go, the group said they don’t really do any of that. The only one who has toyed around with composing is the youngest, Ryan. He’ll play two of his own pieces tonight at the performance on the campus of BYU-Idaho. They are solo pieces. He has yet to try anything for more than one piano.
With all of them being very accomplished musicians and close in age they were sometimes pitted against each other in competitions.
“It was tough growing up with all five of us being really good musicians in our own right,” said Melody, the second to youngest.
But, she went on to clarify, they truly wanted each other to succeed. Now that their careers are tied together that’s an absolute must. However, when it comes to board games or sports they still get competitive and “the claws come out.”
One thing almost every musician has in common is the struggle to practice.
Gregory, the middle sibling, said, “To some degree we all had our moments struggling with practicing. We still do even as adults. … As adults we have to constantly recommit ourselves to it… Part of our job is the practicing! It is work.”
With life as performers, many challenges come. One of them is, of course, balancing family or personal life with work.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever find that balance,” Desirae said. “I think that as parents and just humans in general finding that work – life balance is always a struggle.”
“We still check in with each other all time if somebody is feeling like the schedule is too busy and we’re not at home and able to have personal lives enough then we’ll adjust,” said Deondra.
Although they started playing piano at such young ages, not all of them always thought it was the career for them.
“I never imagined, growing up and learning music that, you know, I was going to be a performing pianist,” said Ryan. “All of us have our individual passions and things we like to do with our families and as a group as well… we definitely have things that we’re interested in besides music.”
Teaching is something a lot of them do on the side. Gregory is on the faculty for a school in Washington, D.C. Melody says she considers herself a closeted interior designer. She also works with her husband who is a contractor and developer. Desirae has two children which keeps her busy. She also works with Deondra on a foundation of advocacy work they started together. Ryan enjoys doing trading on the side.
The foundation Desirae and Deondra started is called The Foundation for Survivors of Abuse. They started it in response to their own experiences with abuse at the hands of their father.
“We realized very early on the need for victims to feel protected under the laws and to have people out there speaking on their behalf,” Deondra said.
Their website is survivingabuse.org.
There is also a documentary film about their lives. It was made over several years of filming and interviewing. It is titled, “Digging Through the Darkness” and it focuses on the journey the siblings had to go through to overcome the abuse that the sisters suffered. You can learn more about it at the5brownsmovie.com.
The 5 siblings agreed that in the end, “We just want to spread our love of beautiful wonderful music.”