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The 5 Browns: Blending Pop And Classical

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The 5 Browns: Blending Pop And Classical

The 5 Browns: Blending Pop And Classical

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

About seven years ago, the 5 Browns, siblings from Utah who play piano together, were the media darlings of classical music.

Unidentified Man #1: My next guests are five brothers and sisters are all piano virtuosos. Theyll perform in San Francisco...

Unidentified Woman #1: Juilliard is also home to our next prodigies. They're brothers and sisters, the Brown kids.

Unidentified Woman #2: The Brown family from Alpine, Utah is extraordinary because not one, not two, not three, not four, but all five of their kids are among the chosen few.

BLOCK: It was the kind of mainstream media coverage most young musicians could only dream of.

Well, as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, the 5 Browns: Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody and Ryan, are no longer the next big thing. And as far as they're concerned, thats a good thing.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Columbus, Ohio...

(Soundbite of music and conversation)

BLAIR: The Palace Theater, an early stop on the 5 Brown's current concert tour. It's around 1 P.M. and they're rehearsing. Watching them is like watching five brothers and sisters.

Ms. DEONDRA BROWN (Musician): Oh, yeah. There's a spot that we need to drill.

BLAIR: Deondra Brown is stuck on something...

Ms. BROWN: Yeah, everything was pretty good actually until...

(Soundbite of piano notes)

Ms. BROWN: ...this spot.

BLAIR: ...which annoys her brother Gregory.

Mr. GREGORY BROWN (Musician): Well, you always think that part doesnt sound good.

Ms. BROWN: Yeah.

Mr. BROWN: And it sounds just fine to me.

BLAIR: The youngest brother, Ryan, also thinks it's no big deal.

Mr. RYAN BROWN (Musician): I heard something like a couple of cracks...

(Soundbite of conversation)

Ms. BROWN: Then thats what it is. I didnt know what it was.

(Soundbite of piano notes)

BLAIR: The 5 Browns move with impressive efficiency through this rehearsal, talking to each other in a kind of shorthand that could only come from being siblings whove played piano since they were toddlers.

In the classical world they're seen as a pop group, playing warhorses and show tunes, but they aren't really pop playing Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff.

(Soundbite of music)

BLAIR: When the media were all over the 5 Browns some years ago, they went from the cloistered world of Juilliard to being treated like rock stars: a major recording contract, international concert tours, a book deal. Desirae and Greg Brown.

Ms. DESIRAE BROWN (Musician): It was a little bit like we kind of got thrust onto the scene, and there was a lot of pressure.

Mr. GREGORY BROWN: I think everyone was so stressed out in the early days that we were much more likely to sort of jump on one another, but we kind of know the drill now. So everything doesn't seem quite like such an epic disaster anymore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLAIR: And there was one epic disaster a few years ago that taught the 5 Browns a lot about discipline on the road. Here's what happened. Greg Brown was playing a lot of Tetris on his cell phone, stacking all those falling bricks.

Mr. GREGORY BROWN: I had been doing so well at it that - I had been playing it all day without dying - and by the time that the concert came around, I was still going. And by - you know, we went out onstage and all I could see were the stupid bricks falling in my head. And instead of concentrating on the notes, I ended up, you know, messing up.

BLAIR: And causing what Greg Brown calls a five-piano pileup in the middle of a piece.

Unidentified Woman #1: I was irritated.

Unidentified Woman #2: All day long, we had been saying, dude, you better stop playing Tetris. Dude, you better rehearse more. Dude, you better take a nap, like, and he didn't do any of his preparation. You know, the crazy thing is that he had this glaze in his eyes, and so we almost knew it was going to happen before it happened.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLAIR: A 5 Browns concert is pretty dazzling and not just because it's unusual to see five Steinways interlocked on one stage. It's something about watching five brothers and sisters, only one year apart, playing this challenging music together, taking solos, playing duets and having a blast in the process.

(Soundbite of music)

BLAIR: Playing vigorous, emotional pieces for young people who've never heard it before is what the 5 Browns say they love doing most. Gregory Brown says they want to take classical music out of the ivory tower, or what he calls the bubble.

Mr. GREGORY BROWN: We find this music has stuck around for so long because it's so relatable and because it can reach every person at their core and at a very personal level. You don't have to really be classically educated to understand this music. So that's what we're trying to do is kind of break out of the bubble and play this music for people who haven't heard it before.

BLAIR: The 5 Browns might not be media darlings anymore, but they were treated like pop stars in Columbus, Ohio. At the end of the concert, they spent well over an hour in the lobby, signing autographs and talking to young fans.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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