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The 5 Browns This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Sibling piano virtuosos Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody, and Ryan Brown charm audiences worldwide, young and old, bringing fresh energy to the classical music genre. They sat down with two aspiring teen pianists to discuss the challenges of studying music, sibling rivalry, peer pressure, and the thrills and frustrations of fame.



As a teenage pianist, it’s difficult to convince other teens that classical music is much more than “old and boring.” What would you say to them?

Desirae: Classical music is young in that the emotions that are being translated through music are young. They’re current. They’re for everybody, just like they were 300 years ago. It’s all about love and hate and anger and joy, all these things that teenagers experience. And so I think when you listen to classical music or when you perform it, really translate it to your emotions, to your experiences.



Do you have any strange traditions or superstitions you do before a major performance?

Gregory: Everyone looks at me for that one. I have this thing about getting my hands warmed up before a concert. Which is important! So I’ll do all sorts of stretches and flexes, and sometimes I’ll even do little push-ups.

Deondra: We’d much rather him do those weird stretches than what he used to do. He had this lucky pair of socks when he was a kid. And he was afraid to wash ’em because he was afraid the luck would go away. It was not good.

Gregory: So we retired those lucky socks.



A lot of teenagers equate success with money. How do you define success?

Gregory: It’s funny that you mention money. I feel like I could almost do this for free. This is my dream job, and it also happens to be something I get paid for, which is cool. But real success is when I see a bunch of kids come into the lobby afterward to get autographs, and they tell us how we’ve inspired them to go on and practice.



Have you ever, even if only for 10 minutes, decided to give up music? If so, what were you struggling with and what convinced you to keep going?

Desirae: Oh, totally. There were times when we wanted to give up playing music. I think even still there are times when we have to recommit ourselves. I remember being at Juilliard [School of Music] and I was so discouraged because everyone there was so good and I thought I was the worst pianist. I remember thinking maybe I should just quit and go to Columbia and be a lawyer. That would be easier than this! But eventually we each decided it was our thing.



Being homeschooled, did you find it difficult to make friends and date?

Ryan: I don’t think so. Since there are five of us, we’re all together; we were homeschooled together and were always around each other. But we also tried to make time to go to high school football games and dances as well, and then we went off to college. So I don’t think there were any social issues.

Gregory: (laughs) You don’t think.



Do any of you have academic or career goals separate from music, or at least separate from The 5 Browns?

Deondra: Each of us had different areas that we felt were our strong points, that if we didn’t have music we would do. That’s important as a teenager - to have different ideas of what you could do, but then to really focus on one you feel comfortable spending the rest of your life doing.

Melody: Ryan - I’m not even kidding - wanted to be a weatherman.

Ryan: A long time ago!

Deondra: And Desirae seriously thought about law and still has tossed around the idea. Gregory wanted to be a pediatrician; he’s really good with kids. I thought about going into some sort of business. And Melody wanted to be a research scientist.



Drugs, smoking and alcohol are big problems for teens today. How were you able to avoid these pressures?

Deondra: I think a big part of it, at least for us, was our solid family, the support we get there, and from our religion as well. We didn’t drink, we didn’t smoke, or any of those things.

It’s not like we weren’t tempted, even away at college, to do those things. It happens. But you have to be able to stand up for who you are. We actually had friends who were supportive. Even if they were drinking or smoking, they’d said, “Oh, you don’t wanna do that, because that’s the way you are. That’s the person you are.”

Melody: But we also had friends at Juilliard who were really hard-core into drugs, and their lives went on a downward spiral because there was no way of getting out of it. And in the end, a lot of them were kicked out. And to think how talented these musicians were, and how much of a future they could’ve had, but because they got into these substances, their lives were pretty much over in music. They couldn’t get training elsewhere because everybody knew why they had been kicked out. It’s definitely not something to get into if you want a career and you want to work hard.



As teens, we need good role models. Who do you think is a good role model for teens today?

Desirae: Tiger Woods is a pretty good role model. He took a sport that is a lot like classical music and made it young. He worked through barriers that people said, “There’s no way you can do this.” And I don’t know how many times people told us we’re not good enough to go to Juilliard, we’re not good enough to get a record contract. But you just believe in yourself and it makes all the difference.



With so many stories of young people like Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears achieving fame and seeming to fall victim to it, how have you dealt with your fame and how do you keep it positive?

Gregory: Well, first off, I don’t think we’re as famous as Lindsey Lohan or Britney Spears so it probably doesn’t get to us that much. It’s kind of funny because we’re all each others’ best friends, but we also all know each other so well. If someone starts acting a little differently or letting something affect them, the rest of us say, “You know, you’re kind of acting like a bit of a diva right now. You should stop doing that.”

I hope nothing that we ever do, like the concerts or the CDs, ever changes who we are because we’re a happy family.



What is it like to make a music video? What are the cool things? What are the hardest parts?

Ryan: When Sony came to us saying that they wanted to do a music video, we were like, “Are you crazy? Classical music doesn’t have videos like that!” Actually, for our CD “No Boundaries,” they took us on the salt flats and brought five pianos out there and we shot a music video. And it was really uplifting.

Melody: One of the downsides, though, was the hours - being out there forever. Seriously, we were there until 2 and 3 in the morning.

Deondra: You have to be willing to sit in a makeup chair for a while. The guys too! You have to worry about your appearance. And they take all these breaks to reset the lighting and everything, so it takes a long time and you have to be patient.



Since playing can be so solitary and esoteric, what is the biggest contribution teenage musicians can make in their communities?

Gregory: Play for people. Show them how beautiful this music can be. What’s the use of being a musician if you’re not going to share it with other people? Because music really is the universal language, and it is about human emotions that we all have. And if you’re not sharing that with other people, what’s the point?

Melody: But you’ve got to live life outside of music. You’ve got to bring other experiences you have with friends and relationships into your music or else you’ll have nothing to speak of. If you’re always just locking yourself in a music room, what are you expressing exactly?



To pursue music as ardently as you have, you must have made sacrifices.

Melody: I think, actually, our parents have made a lot of sacrifices for us. They had five pianos in our home, and at one point the amount of money going toward the pianos was more than the rent for our house.

For us, I think, it was mainly a sacrifice of time. You’re spending hours in a practice room, and you can’t just go out and have fun all the time. That’s something a lot of young people have to learn: If you want to get good at something, at academics or anything, you have to put a lot of work into it and you have to sacrifice time and fun sometimes.



Is someone born a great pianist, or can this be taught?

Melody: People say, “You guys are so gifted, so talented.” And even though we feel like this is a big gift and there’s possibly something in the genes, a lot of it is work. Probably 90 percent of it is work. You can be born talented, but if you don’t do anything with that talent, if you’re not working constantly at it, you won’t get anywhere.



What would you say is the most difficult part of making a living in music?

Melody: Just getting the opportunities to perform and to be out there is really difficult. We have been so lucky. Of course we’ve seen all along how others work so hard and don’t get the same opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. I’ve seen people through the years who try and try and then something just opens up, and that’s where they get their foot in the door. So, you can’t give up. If you love it that much, who knows? Something will come along.



What advice would you give young musicians before they go on stage?

Deondra: Just be yourself and don’t worry if you hit a few wrong notes along the way. It’s not the end of the world. And don’t be afraid of the audience. They’re there to enjoy the music; they’re not there to pick it all apart like we often think when we’re on stage. So, just try to give them a good time.



A lot of teens find it difficult to stay motivated. How do you stay motivated after so many shows?

Desirae: I don’t know. But each time, even if it’s a night when I’m feeling kind of tired or run down, I get on stage and somehow I come alive again. When you start playing without thinking or feeling, then I can see how it could get really boring. But when you’re throwing yourself into it, somehow you find new things in the music and new things that come up in your mind or how you’re feeling that make you come alive.

Melody: We did a concert in a college town where there were about 4,000 students. We walked out on stage and they were screaming like we were the latest pop band. And that was something that kept us going for a long time, because we were like, “Wow, this is really cool! We’re classical musicians!”



What was your favorite movie as a teen, and what is your favorite now?

Ryan: Probably “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Melody: “Amadeus.” It was a movie that really got us involved in music. You’re seeing Mozart as if he were real.

Deondra: But then we like nutty movies like “The Three Amigos.”

Gregory: “Old School,” “Dumb and Dumber.”

Melody: We love those movies; we have the whole thing memorized.

Ryan: Big “Star Wars” fans.

Desirae: “Billy Elliot” is pretty good.



What books do you think all teenagers should read?

Ryan: I think you guys would probably say Harry Potter.

Desirae: The Catcher in the Rye. It’s just so sweet and so human. It’s about getting past the annoying things you see in humanity and seeing people’s hearts.

Gregory: The Grapes of Wrath. I guess, along the same lines, it’s so human. You know, everyone goes through hardships, but if you work through those you can overcome anything in your life, if you truly want to make something of yourself

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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