Have you ever heard of 2,500 teens and pre-teens dancing and screaming in the aisles at a classical music concert? We hadn't either, until we began researching the "5 Browns." This family group of five young homeschool graduates is very good at what they do - playing classical piano in perfect timing on five pianos at once.
Just how popular are the 5 Browns? In 2005 their debut CD, named The 5 Browns, stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Classical chart for eight weeks. In its first week, it even made its way onto the overall Top 200 list. On April 4 they released their newest album, No Boundaries. As this magazine goes to press, No Boundaries has been No. 1 on the Billboard Classical chart for four weeks. However you look at it, that spells s-u-c-c-e-s-s!
Their background is very different from most young musicians. Not only were all 5 Brown siblings homeschooled through high school, they all attended New York's famous Juilliard School of musical instruction. Having even one family member accepted at Juilliard is a major achievement; never before in Juilliard's history had five siblings attended and graduated at once.
So what creates the appeal of the 5 Browns: Desirae, 27, Deondra, 25, Gregory, 23, Melody, 21, and Ryan, age 20? First, each one is a virtuoso performer in his or her own right. In their widespread media coverage - including "Oprah," "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," People magazine, The New York Times, and Entertainment Weekly - reporters always make much of their individuality. Desirae and Deondra perform eloquent duets, while all five have distinctive styles of their own.
Yet it is their teamwork, all five playing at once on their five Steinway grand pianos, that really amazes their audiences. It's rare to find five gifted performers who trust each other well enough to practice together for the many hours necessary to accomplish difficult classical pieces with perfect timing and teamwork. It's unusual when they all play the same instrument. It's amazing when they're all related! Perhaps it is the appeal of family that draws their fans, as much as the 5 Browns' virtuosity.
Homeschooling through high school gave the Brown family the required closeness and flexibility to develop their unusually seamless blend of teamwork and skill. While most homeschoolers choose to do so for religious or academic reasons, in their case, homeschooling was the natural choice because of the need for daily three-hour practices.
We managed to catch up with the amazingly busy Brown siblings and their father, Keith, to chat a bit more about their homeschool experience and how it helped them become such accomplished musicians.
PHS: What curriculum did you use?
KEITH BROWN: We chose Calvert School out of Baltimore because they had a complete, thorough education package with a day-by-day lesson plan.
PHS: How many hours a day were spent on piano and academics?
KEITH: We began school with Scripture study first thing in the morning, followed by watching CNN News at breakfast so that the kids could keep up with what was going on in the world. Then they would study for three or four hours and practice piano for about three hours, or as long as it took them to complete the assignment from their piano teacher. The kids were always finished around 3 P.M. with both school and practicing. This allowed them to spend time with other kids and to enjoy outdoor activities and to have fun. If they had been in public school, they would have had to come home to practice, resulting in very little free time.
PHS: What is your fondest memory about growing up?
DESIRAE: Going out into the back yard and reading a book. Because homeschool didn't take that long, I was able to do other things away from my official studies, like reading Jane Eyre at age 10.
GREGORY: Starting school early in the morning, because during breakfast we actually got to watch TV. For our dad it was part of our education, but it was fun for us.
MELODY: Whenever I started a new math project, I got to sit down with my dad and spend what seemed like extra-special time with him. My dad explained it so well and really made a difference to my understanding.
PHS: Did you feel your life was very different from that of kids in public school?
DEONDRA: We as a family were able to become much closer, to see each other as equals rather than competing with each other. We never had any of that.
RYAN: I don't feel that I missed out on anything. I still had friends who were in public school, who had different lifestyles. I got to hang out with them on weekends, go to school dances - all the normal "kid stuff."
PHS: Would you homeschool?
DESIRAE: If I have children, I will consider it.
GREGORY: First I have to find a girlfriend, and then a wife! Let's take first things first!
MELODY: I think about that quite a lot. I see it was a lot of work for my parents. I'll really have to put that decision off for a while.
Whether or not they continue to homeschool future generations of Juilliard students, the 5 Browns have definitely thrived during their own experience... and shown us what can be accomplished with determination, hard work, musical talent, and a house crammed with pianos!