Redefining classical music: the enigma of The Five Browns |

Redefining classical music: the enigma of The Five Browns

Laura A. Ball

BEAVER CREEK – Classical music, an art long lost amid pop culture, is not often associated with words like young, refreshing, fun, cool. Albeit, such are the traits of The Five Browns, five classically trained piano virtuosos who have taken it upon themselves to reshape the image of classical music in the 21st century. Adding even more enigma to the stage, the powerful quintet of pianists are also siblings – three girls and two boys: Desirae, 25, and Deondra, 24, are the oldest followed by Gregory, 22, Melody, 20, and Ryan, 19. Friday afternoon, the five gathered around a speaker phone in a hotel room in Columbus to talk about their sophomore album, “No Boundaries,” due out April 4.”It’s titled ‘No Boundaries’ because we’re in this classical musical world that’s stuck in a little bubble,” Gregory said. A classical music bubble The Five Browns, who own iPods, go out to clubs and admittedly belong to the MTV generation, are trying to escape from. “I think we’re going about it in the way that we present ourselves, the way we dress, the way we talk to the audience,” Melody said.”We try to choose classical music we feel really can connect with modern audiences,” Desirae added. “We also try to create relaxed atmosphere and step beyond the etiquette of classical music. Audiences don’t know to act, how to dress. People are afraid of that and they just don’t go.””They get intimidated,” Melody agreed.The young classical musicians do not sit rigidly at their benches befitted in black and white tuxedo suits without regard to the audience that exists just beyond their keyboards. In fact, quite the contrary, they are known for their expressive and extroverted style of performing, they talk to the audience, sharing history and relating personal impressions of each piece, much like any performer, not to mention the rather radical sense of five grand pianos being played on stage simultaneously. Case in point, during “The Superstar Etud No. 1,” a pop, jazz infused homage to Jerry Lee Lewis, Greg even ends up playing with his foot at some point.Since debuting in the spring of 2004 at a festival in Houston, the quintet has appeared on “Oprah,” “60 Minutes,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and graced the pages of The New York Times, People Magazine and Los Angeles Times. Wednesday, they perform at The Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek.All in the familyKeith and Lisa Brown never intended to raise five piano virtuosos. The couple brought up their five children in devout Mormon faith first in Houston and then in Utah where they now reside. Lisa, an accomplished lyric soprano with a degree in vocal music, and her husband wanted to give their children a background in music and expose them to the joy of music through piano. And so, at age 3, each child started formal lessons.”One of my very first memories, if not my very first, and it must have been when I was 2, was seeing my older sisters playing the piano.” Gregory said. “I remember turning 3 and being really excited.”When the children hit adolescence, they didn’t stop playing like most children do. Keith encouraged an 18-year-old Desirae and 17-year-old Deondra to audition at the famed New York Julliard School of Music, as well as five other top conservatories, with hopes that one school would accept both girls. To their astonishment, all six schools offered both girls scholarships.All five went on to hone their talents at Julliard, from where Desirae and Deondra received their master’s degrees and where Gregory and Melody will receive their master’s degrees in the spring. Ryan now attends the Manhattan School of Music and will receive his bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2007.The youngest BrownWhen veteran pop music producer/writer Joel Diamond saw Ryan on a PBS documentary, Diamond thought the young pianist would be perfect for a boy band. Diamond called every Brown in the Utah phonebook until he found Ryan. But when Diamond reached him, Ryan communicated he had no interest in such a thing. When Diamond learned there were five, he saw even more potential. “He would approach us every few years with different ideas but we never liked them,” Gregory said. “He finally came to us in 2003 and asked us what we wanted to do. We told him all of our wildest dreams of how we’d love to bring classical music to younger audiences.”The rest is history and Diamond has been managing The Five Browns ever since, facilitating their mission every step of the way.Desirae and Deondra now live in Utah, while the youngest are in school in Manhattan. They travel back and forth to practice, often meeting in Steinway dealerships, the only place they can find five pianos in the same room, or in the basement of their parents’ home where they have five Bostons on loan. Typically they practice four hours in the morning and spend the afternoons practicing individually. In their spare time, Desirae and Deondra teach lessons to children. What will the future bring for The Five Browns?”I think some of us have always toyed with the idea of other careers,” Desirae said. “But so far, nothing has been a strong enough pull to take us away from music. The interesting thing is even though we all started playing piano at the age of 3, each of us have come to that choice on our own.”The Five BrownsVilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek6:30 p.m. WednesdayTickets are $45 for children and $55 for adultsTo purchase tickets or for more information, call 845-TIXS (8497) or visit http://www.vilarcenter.orgSTARSThe Vilar Center for the Arts and the Support The Arts Reaching Students program presents a free student performance and lecture with The Five Browns Wednesday at 4 p.m. for music teachers and their students. Reservations are required for the student lecture, and space is limited.Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14641, or, Colorado

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