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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Music > Feature Interviews F to J > The 5 Browns

THE 5 BROWNS

BREAKING BOUNDARIES

BY RONALD SKLAR

Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 6, 2006.

Fifty fingers on five keyboards. Three girls, two boys, all from the same womb, digging classical music and – through sheer talent and charm -- making us dig it too.

What is this? Even the most pony-tailed of marketing directors could not dream this up. It is something that is so unlikely that it is simply meant to be.

What it is is everybody’s favorite musical Mormon family from Utah – uh, no, not The Osmonds, but The Five Browns. And if you’re not hooked up with them yet, but if you are in the market for a young, fun intriguing classical musical group to help expand your horizons, then this is your stop.

The Browns were classical before classical was cool. Their parents (Keith and Lisa), manager Joel Diamond and recording label RCA Red Seal unleashed them unto the world in 2005 (with a self-titled debut CD). The world responded favorably.

The media gave them a huge “What? What?” as they climbed the scales to the top of the Billboard charts, just like Nelly or Green Day. Since then, they’ve chatted it up with everyone from Oprah to Jay Leno to those yentahs on The View.

The excitement for the Browns – especially by young people, whose collective knowledge of classical music wouldn’t fill a thimble – revived an art form that was dying of neglect for decades. Now, everyone from kindergartners to collegians are high-fiving them at packed concerts across the country.

Classical music may scare you, but these All-American kids won’t. They have names right out of the shopping mall: Ryan, 20 years old, Melody, 21, Gregory 23, Deondra, 25 and Desirae, 27. And yet, these are not sheltered little suburbanites from the prairie. They may not be exactly street, but they have spent a good amount of time and education on the mean scene of Manhattan, honing their craft at the serious Juilliard School of Music.

Their thing is to play – breathtakingly -- as a complete ensemble as well as in various combinations. They also play videogames, bowl and eat pizza, but the fact that they can make you love something you thought you would hate makes you want to eat them right up.

CD #2 – entitled  No Boundaries – is the logical next phase of their burgeoning career. Their sophomore effort – created by a bunch of well-scrubbed kids who look like sophomores – is making its sound known currently.

What’s with the deep title?

“It’s a documentation of us realizing that boundaries in classical music are being broken down,” Gregory says. “We’re trying to get younger kids involved, as well as people who don’t know very much about classical music. We’re finding that there is a lot that can be done.”

Adds Desirae: “For some reason, people think that classical music is so different from other musical genres out there. Classical music is everything that pop, rock, rap is… the drama, the love, the hate. It’s all in there. If anything, it’s amplified. Sometimes, they just need somebody to guide them through it. That’s what we feel we’re doing. We talk on stage. We give them our personal impressions of the music, and maybe something to listen for. Sometimes they feel that classical is too abstract, but the pieces we pick for our albums we’re really excited about because we feel that people can really connect with it.”

This may or may not be a huge order for a group of siblings who must also adhere to their strict religious beliefs. As Mormons, they can’t exactly live the life of a Van Halen, but devotion to the Lord has its benefits. 

Melody says, “When we’re on the road and it gets kind of stressful, we always feel that it’s not just us and that we’re being led along. We didn’t plan this at all. It just kind of happened. It keeps us grounded in knowing that we can believe in a higher source.”

“I think [our belief system] also influences our music,” Desirae says. “So much of the great classical music has a spiritual element to it. We definitely connect with that, especially with [our rendition of] the Shaker Hymn. It’s a hymn and yet it feels relevant in a way. It adds balance to our lives. If all of this went away, we would still be happy people. When we set out to do this album, we wanted to stay the same people we were then, throughout anything that came along.

“It helps us feel joy through the journey of all of this,” Melody says. “We’re not just stuck up in a destination. We just have a good time when we’re together on the road. It’s more like ‘in the moment.’”

“Deondra and I were the first ones to go off to school in New York,” Desirae recalls. “When people first come to New York City, they either love it or hate it. We loved it the minute we stepped foot in it -- the energy, the culture. In Utah, you totally find inspiration through the peace that that the environment brings. In New York, you find inspiration through the energy of the people. The difference in values is challenging in a way to get used to standing by what we believe while also accepting everybody.

“We take it as a compliment when we hear, ‘oh, you’re not from here, are you?’” Deondra adds. “We feel like we get the best of both.”

Not that it’s all sweetness and light at all times.

“It takes a long time to decide what pieces we’re playing and what parts we’re playing on those pieces,” Ryan says. “We have to set a couple of days aside just to figure that out.”

Deondra adds, “Among the five of us, I don’t think anybody could claim that role. We are all so independent. We have to come to a consensus, but it’s so important for each of us to have our say.”

There always seems to be two camps, but sometimes mom helps with the decisions, and she’s a reliable source. It was mom who sang opera and played piano, while baby #1, Desirae, toddled over and reached up to the keys. From then on, it became a rite of passage at three-years-old for each sibling to follow suit. 

So piano lessons do pay off after all. Those humble beginnings led to quite the rabid following.

Melody says, “It’s incredible. I remember that we were in Idaho, in a small college town there. And we just walked out on stage and there were four thousand screaming college students. We were like, ‘are they expecting someone else?’”

Gregory jokes, “They do know what tickets they bought, right? We thought it was cool. We were down with it. A lot of classical musicians are a little bit stuffy, and they may have had a problem with [wildly enthusiastic crowds]. Most people at a classical concert can’t outwardly show their enthusiasm for what they are hearing. If I am sitting in a classical concert, I would actually like to vocalize my enthusiasm.”

That kind of energy may throw off an older classical musician, but these kids thrive on it.

“We are so lucky to be able to travel together,” Deondra says. “Most people can’t say that they can even travel with their close friends. We feel very blessed. In the classical music world, the soloists travel by themselves. It gets so lonely. You’re out there, struggling to try to figure out who you are. We have each other.”

This new project gives fans and newcomers a particularly close way to see as well as hear them, as it is being marketed as both a CD and a DVD.

Desirae says, “On the DVD side there are three music videos. It enhances the music that you see visually just how the five of us work together. You can see the interaction between us as we play. There is interaction in chamber music anyway, but with five siblings, you can see our eye contact and how much fun we have doing it.”

“We were able to film the videos on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah,” Deondra says. “It was amazing for the five of us to be out in the middle of nowhere, on the flats, performing this great music.”

Melody exclaims, “Oh, my goodness, it was amazing recording ‘Firebird’ as the sun was setting!”

Desirae agrees: “It was amazing to be out there in nature with the sun setting and the music that is so moving on so many levels. It’s just one of those moments that we will never forget.”

The gang is working on creating more unforgettable moments, and their growing fan base is waiting less than patiently. Another album and tour is likely in their near future, as well as some love given to VH1’s good cause, called Save The Music, which works toward strengthening school music programs.

“We’re just taking it day by day,” Gregory says. “We love going on the road together. We love playing together.”

In the meantime, the dual CD and DVD are here to show us that the Browns are without boundaries, and what other way would we really want it? 

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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2006.  Courtesy of RCA/Red Seal Records.  All rights reserved.
#2 © 2006.  Courtesy of RCA/Red Seal Records.  All rights reserved.
#3 © 2006.  Courtesy of RCA/Red Seal Records.  All rights reserved.
#4 © 2006.  Courtesy of RCA/Red Seal Records.  All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 6, 2006.

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Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 6, 2006.