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A quintessential quintet

The 5 Browns have all played classical piano since childhood.
The 5 Browns have all played classical piano since childhood. PHOTO BY ANDREW SOUTHAM

There never was much quiet time in the Brown household. After all, there were five pianos in the house, and usually at least one or two was in use during the day.

“It was definitely a noisy house growing up,” said Ryan Brown, one of the siblings in The 5 Browns. “My parents would have to go outside to talk on the phone just because there was so much noise going on. And our neighbors would actually be able to hear our piano playing two houses down.”

That the Browns, who perform at Cal Poly on Wednesday, had five pianos was impressive enough. But even more remarkable was the fact that five kids managed to learn piano and stick with it.

Playing classical music, nonetheless.

“There was no peer pressure among the five of us,” Ryan Brown said. “There just comes a point somewhere in your teenage years where you have to decide what you want to do, and we all chose the piano.”

Eldest sibling Desirae, now 31, was the first, taking lessons at age 3.

“My mom found a teacher who taught children that young,” she said in a teleconference interview. “I was having a good time, so Deondra thought it was fun, and she started.”

And it went on from there: Gregory, Melody and Ryan would also take up piano. And amazingly, they would all wind up at the Julliard School, a prestigious music conservatory in New York, where they quickly earned the distinction of being the only five siblings to attend Julliard at the same time.

After college, the siblings from Utah signed a five-CD deal with BMG/RCA Red Seal. And soon, the siblings found themselves in a place few classical musicians ever wind up: In the national spotlight.

Appearances on “Oprah,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and “60 Minutes” were accompanied by print pieces in Entertainment Weekly, Parade and People.

“It was amazing to be on some really cool TV shows,” said Ryan Brown. “Like Jay Leno, with our opening CD. That was a show that we grew up with.”

In concert, individual players will have solos or duets. But mostly, The 5 Browns play at the same time. And it’s always classical.

“We enjoy listening to other music,” Ryan Brown said. “All of us are really big fans of Coldplay, so every once in a while during a rehearsal, we’ll mess around and play some Coldplay or something like that. But we stick strictly to classical in our concerts.”

That loyalty to classical music — and their casual attire and personable approach— has attracted lots of younger fans.

“We want them to relax and have a good time,” Desirae Brown said. “I think there’s this impression that you should be super-educated or know a lot about music to really enjoy classical music, and that’s just not the case.”

Their mother, the catalyst of their musical careers, was a vocal performance major in college. But none of the Browns sing onstage.

“We do it in the privacy of our own homes,” said sibling Deondra Brown. “We won’t subject anyone to that.”

No longer college kids, the Brown siblings — all married now — live about 30 minutes apart, in different homes in Utah.

“My mother-in-law is actually giving up her basement, where she’s allowing us to keep five pianos so we can rehearse together,” Ryan Brown said.

While Mormon men usually take two years to performmission work, the two in the Brown family chose not to. Still, Ryan Brown said, the siblings feel indebted to their church.

“Music can be spiritual, and we definitely all five feel that when we play,” he said. “We hope to reach people in different ways, music being one of them.”

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.

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