Most classical concerts begin with the performers walking out in a stiff and serious manner and quietly arriving at their instruments without speaking a word.
Not The 5 Browns. The Utah-raised brothers and sisters—Desirae, 28, Deondra, 27, Gregory, 24, Melody, 23, and Ryan, 21—stroll out with big smiles. They’re dressed in colorfully patterned dresses and casual suits, looking more like their audience members on a Friday-night date than classical musicians about to present a concert on a major performing-arts stage.
That difference is crucial. The five talented, highly trained siblings strive to bring an informal air to a style of music usually presented in a much more formal fashion.
“One of our goals is to take the stuffiness out of classical music,” Ryan says. “We don’t want people to think the music is above their heads, because it’s not.”
That all five play piano is another trait that sets The 5 Browns apart. “It’s seen as unusual, at least in this day and age,” Deondra concedes. “There’s some precedent for it: Liszt and Chopin used to organize five-piano events that they called ‘monster concerts.’ But it’s not something that’s been seen very often.”
The Browns have become a sensation in the classical world, achieving sales usually reserved for pop acts. Their debut CD was No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s sales-based Top Classical Albums chart for eight weeks in 2005 and sold more than 100,000 copies; their second, No Boundaries, released in April 2006, remained at No. 1 for 20 weeks. Browns in Blue, the group’s latest CD, is scheduled for release Oct. 2.
Greg Anderson, a classical composer and conductor who writes arrangements for the group, sings their praises. “They have a unique concept—five Steinway pianos playing all at once—that draws people in,” Anderson says. “But once people hear them perform, they’re blown away.”
The first five siblings ever to simultaneously attend the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York, The 5 Browns present a show that attracts an unusually mixed audience, with teens and younger kids joining the older crowd typical of classical performances.
“One of our biggest goals is to inspire children and young people,” Melody says. “When we were growing up, we looked for young musicians who played the music we loved, and that helped push us to keep going. It was so exciting to see someone who wasn’t that much older than you perform. So we take that role seriously.”
For concerts, each member must travel to perform with the others. Desirae and Deondra are married and live in Utah near Alpine, a Salt Lake City suburb where they were raised. Gregory lives in the area as well, while Melody and Ryan still share an apartment in New York City near the Juilliard campus. Their father, Keith Brown, a financial planner by trade, usually accompanies them. Mother Lisa, a homemaker, occasionally joins the family on the road.
“We never pushed them to become musicians,” Keith says. “But once they started, we didn’t discourage them, either. We saw that they had natural talent, and we made sure they got to their lessons and made time to practice.”
Each took to the piano by age 3. Keith and Lisa offered their children other instruments, but each gravitated to the piano and eventually made it their main instrument. The siblings didn’t consider performing as a group until veteran music industry executive Joe Diamond, now their manager, heard about the five talented family members and suggested three years ago that they form a group.
“We all know we’re getting to do something we love and getting time together most families our age don’t have,” Desirae says.
“We’re very serious about what we play and how we present this music that we love,” Gregory adds. “We just try to let people know that the music can also be entertaining and fun.”