Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody, and Ryan, also known as The 5 Browns have stunned the world with the refreshing but precise take on classic music. The group of five siblings have released numerous albums and performed across the world in exciting venues as far as Beijing and Paris.We recently were able to sit down with two of the 5 Browns, Deondra and Melody, and chat with them about music, faith, and family.
What’s your perspective on music in the Church?
Deondra: LDS members put a strong focus on having music in their families. Whether members play or not, there is always appreciation and respect for musicians and the art we create. Good music can lead us to a powerful realization of a loving Heavenly Father and the beauty of all His creations. Music allows us to feel the Spirit in a personal way that is unique to each of us.
Melody: I wish we could go slightly deeper into the arts as a religion. There is a quote by Spencer W. Kimball that states, "If we strive for perfection—the best and greatest—and are never satisfied with mediocrity, we can excel. In the field of both composition and performance, why cannot someone write a greater oratorio than Handel’s Messiah? The best has not yet been composed nor produced."
I think about this quote constantly. In music, theater, dance and visual art, [the Church] should be in the Renaissance with all we feel towards our God and our Christ and all of the further knowledge we have gained. I feel like there is so much more greatness to come, and I hope I can be a part of it all.
How has music drawn you closer to Christ?
Melody: I've realized that the creation of art is so akin to God and Christ's creation of the world. Every time I see an amazing sunset I think God just created the most beautiful live installation! But really, I think He wants me and all of us to create like He has. He also doesn't want us to be hindered by the ugly, gross madness and sins of the world, so he made sure there was a way beauty and goodness could survive..And obviously, that is through a beautiful being named Jesus. And when I realize this, I really do want to pronounce in awe, "how great thou art."
What is your favorite hymn? Primary song?
Melody: I know it's somewhat trite to say “Be Still My Soul” as a classical musician, but you truly can't go wrong with a Sibelius melody and such poignant words.
One of our arrangers composed a piece for us based on two of our favorite hymns . . . this one, and the melody from “If You Could Hie to Kolob” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. As the composer reached the climax of the piece, he wanted it to abruptly cut off, and through silence introduce the beauty of “Be Still My Soul.” Our non-LDS composer was moved when he wrote this and wanted it to feel like a prayer in the midst of angst and chaos.
I once was playing this part of the piece on stage in the midst of a chaotic time in my own life. I started playing the Sibelius hymn looking up at the bright stage lights shining down on me. I immediately was moved to tears as if God was exuding peace through those rays of light. There are very few times I have performed on stage while crying, but this was one of them. And yet, I thought the experience was just for me. I was wrong.
After we finished we went back to our dressing rooms. There was a quiet knock on the door. It was the stage manager. In tears, he said he had never been so moved by a performance before and that it lifted him to another sphere. I realized in that moment, THIS is what good music can do to all of us, the composer, the performer, and the listener.
When in your life has music touched or influenced you the most?
Deondra: As I think back on memories from different parts of my life, there will always be a soundtrack of music that is intertwined. This “soundtrack” is a mixture of pieces I was working on at the time, as well as music that evokes the emotions felt in that moment. In some of the most difficult times of my life, music has been a way to express my deepest emotions —sadness, anger, peace, and love. In these moments, music becomes an extension of myself; a way of communicating in a way words cannot.
Melody: Right after a lot of drama went down in our family and I found myself becoming down and depressed, I heard a commercial playing Bach's first prelude in C Major. For some reason, it moved me. I thought, you know, I should learn this piece. Immediately I realized I was emotionally purging through it. I would play it over and over again, hearing the areas where it would become dissonant in its harmonies and then it would resolve itself. I would cry every time one note would make an otherwise beautiful chord, sound wrong, but within the context deepen its meaning, its love. For some reason, this would give me immense peace when I realized it was this dissonance that made the music so much more beautiful. And the resolution! Don't forget the resolution! If you don't have dissonance, a resolution doesn't exist. And truthfully that is the most beautiful thing. When after the storm, comes rebuilding and eventually peace. I learned a lot through Bach at that time in my life and the deeper meaning of 2 Nephi 2:23-25.
What’s your favorite calling you’ve ever held?
Deondra: When I was called as a teacher in the Relief Society, I was both intimidated and afraid. I’m not sure it was my favorite calling, but it was the one that I grew from the most. It challenged me in ways I couldn’t imagine.
Melody: I really enjoyed teaching Relief Society lessons. There's a depth and spirit there that can be so poignant.
What hidden talents do you have?
Deondra: I used to feel like music was the only thing I was good at. But the older I get, I realize there is much more to me. I teach piano lessons to children and have been told I have a gift for explaining things. I do my best to reflect the musical mentors I discovered in my time at The Juilliard School, and will forever be grateful to them. I have also been told I have a knack for public speaking. I was such a shy child that the speaking thing will never be easy, but I hope I get better at hiding it.
Melody: I'm a closeted interior designer. I work on all of my husband's building projects and act as lead designer.
Who do you dream of performing with?
Deondra: A collaboration with Coldplay’s Chris Martin! We could add a sixth piano, right?
Melody: Oh my goodness. I would love to perform with cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a solo performance, but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. Also as a group, we've been dying to figure out a way to have the “Hallelujah Chorus” arranged for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and us. We have a feeling it would be epic.
How has touring and performing made it easier or more difficult to live your LDS beliefs?
Deondra: One of the tricky parts of traveling is finding a sense of peace amidst the stress, and not forgetting to do the important things—reading my scriptures and praying. It can get challenging to be away from home, play music for audiences night after night, and still find the stamina to focus your life on Christ. I am still working on finding that balance. But I know that if I make a point to do the important things, I can find a sense of “home” wherever I am.
Melody: I think the hardest thing is just being around the artist mentality and ways of thinking. Artists are generally incredibly deep thinkers and emotionally in tune with nature and humanity.
I think because of this we have lots of questions and doubts thrown our way constantly and anything that is hard to answer impacts us deeply. So with every doubt thrown, I internalize it, think it through, and have to reevaluate my belief system. Although this is difficult to do, I truly understand my beliefs, and why I believe. I hold strong to faith because it sees me through everything I can't explain, and I hope that maybe one day it will be explained. The basics of this gospel are beautiful. If we stick to these pillars it is harder to get inundated by all of the appendages.
What missionary opportunities if any have come because of your music?
Melody: Although we've given many firesides throughout the world, there was one in Istanbul, Turkey, that stands out. The PR missionaries out there couldn't officially announce a "fireside" because of proselytizing restrictions in the country, but they could invite those interested through word of mouth to a meeting in a hotel where we would perform and speak a bit. I didn't know what to speak about that evening and had been struggling with it all week leading up to the event. Right before I got up I completely changed my topic and felt I should speak on the First Vision. I was so incredibly moved recounting those scriptures. But I thought in the end, maybe, after all, it was just for me.
About a month or two later, I received an email from one of the PR missionaries. They said one of the hotel staff members who was working on the event happened to come in while I was speaking. He was so moved by the story that he asked afterward how he could learn more. That email was incredibly meaningful. So many times we do these things not knowing the effects. It was humbling to hear the aftermath.
You’ve been working together as siblings for a lot of years now and through many stages of life. What has it been like?
Deondra: We continue to grow as people and artists, and I feel so grateful we get to share so much together. The five of us have lived through a lot and have grown closer through it all. I know they have my back, and I will always have theirs. Even with three of my siblings living on the east coast, I love that we can meet up on tour and pick up right where we left off. It makes having them far away much easier.
Melody: Obviously it's hard, but we've had a lot of fun along the way. We all were incredibly sad when we started leaving Utah as our home base. We cried at the airport as a sibling would move away. And yet our husbands or wives would be like, "Why are you crying? You're seeing them next week on tour."
Who gets to see their best friends so often and get to play amazing music with them? We would guess not many.
Where’s your favorite place to perform?
Deondra: Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium will forever be the top! But the Grand National Theatre in Beijing is right up there too. But honestly, give me a Steinway (or five!), my siblings, and a hall with good acoustics anywhere and I’m in love.
Melody: Carnegie Hall's Isaac Stern Auditorium was an amazing achievement for us. We had grown up listening to the most iconic artists there while at school in NYC, and to grace that stage was seriously overwhelming in the moment. After the concert finished we all ran off stage hugging and crying that we did it! I'll never forget that moment.
What's your favorite part of being a mother and wife?
Deondra: My little daughter is a daily reminder of what is most important in life. She and my husband are my everything and bring me so much joy. One of my favorite things is experiencing new things with her for the first time. Last year, we took her to Disneyland. I will never forget the pure joy in her eyes as she took it all in. I felt like I was experiencing it for the first time as I saw it through her eyes. I will never forget these times with her and the unconditional love she expresses daily. She has my heart forever.
Melody: Sometimes I can be headstrong. The weirdest concept to grasp when I got married was that I wasn't just making decisions for myself anymore. Around this time someone told me that God wants us to marry and have children because there are certain things he can teach us through people so close to us. I understand this now. He didn't need to send a bolt of lighting because he sent a sweet man to tell me "um, I don't think that's a good idea."
You’ve been working on a documentary, Digging Through the Darkness, about the abuse you suffered as children at the hands of your father and the road to recovery. What encouraged you to do this and what role has your faith and religion played in your healing process?
Deondra: It was a difficult decision to allow someone in to document our lives. The five of us and our spouses all had to agree in order to move forward. We knew if we agreed to let the documentarian into our homes and lives, we needed to be honest and open. Our lives involve music, but there is much more to our story. We needed to openly discuss the process of coming to terms with the abuse from our past otherwise we would do other survivors a great disservice. Our faith saw us through a lot and continues to. It keeps me grounded and focused on the things that are most important and helps provide clarity when life gets overwhelming.
Melody: Our Documentarian, Ben Niles, has spent endless amounts of time, energy, and resources on this film. Not to mention we have given hours and hours of interviews. And obviously, not all of our more spiritual stories make it through. But there was a definite turning point I refer to in the documentary. Even though he is unable to go into depth in the film, my faith was so important in the way my life was led during this time.
The point I refer to was when I had to decide whether I wanted to do advocacy work with my sisters. I was so conflicted because advocacy just made me more depressed, where it empowered them. And yet I didn't want to let them down. I needed an answer, but I was getting nothing. So I felt I should go to the temple grounds. There I sat under this weeping pine tree on a beautiful September day. A slight breeze was in the air and blew as I was sitting under this tree praying. I was there for a while but still received nothing. I decided to give up.
Right as I was getting up to leave I took my hand to brush off the pine needles that had blown all over me. All of the sudden I stopped my hand. Something in my mind told me to truly look down. I was covered in pine needles.
It hit me—what is the purpose of pine needles? I looked it up on my phone right there. When they fall, they lock together like a carpet. This happens in the autumn before winter sets in. As this "carpet" forms it creates a water, ice, and cold barrier through the winter. Without the pine needles falling no evergreen would truly be able to remain green.
I knew and felt so strongly that this was finally my answer. God was trying to protect me, he needed me to remain evergreen and healthy. I couldn't do this if I went forward being an advocate. So I decided then and there to choose my own route of healing. My faith impacted life in a huge way in that moment. I am forever grateful for that experience and so many others that have contributed to my health, sanity, and happiness.
What's the best advice you ever received?
Deondra: After I decided to advocate for other victims of sexual abuse, I received some advice I will never forget. “Always take care of yourself first. If you don’t, you will have nothing. If for no other reason, take care of yourself so that you are able to continue helping others!” There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about these words.
Melody: From Elder Hales (I will never forget it): "There will be times in your life where you will have to put everything, and I mean everything, on the altar. But in sacrificing everything, you put your will in the hands of the Lord and He will be able to truly guide you."
What does the future hold for your career(s)?
Deondra: We will continue to perform as long as audiences want to hear us! We continue to adjust our performing schedule as needed to permit us time for our families and personal lives. Balance is very important to us, and we must all be happy if we are to keep performing. We have some exciting projects on the horizon and look forward to what lies ahead!
Melody: It's so weird that we have been performing for over 13 years now! We've done so much, that it's hard to think about the future sometimes! But there are of course things we still hope to accomplish—venues we'd like to play, countries we'd like to visit, orchestras we'd like to perform with. We have another album almost completed in correlation with a children's book, and we're already in talks about the next album (potentially a Christmas album). We have six music videos waiting to release (if we could just find the time to get them finished!) and concerts being booked through 2018. We really couldn't ask for too much more! But ultimately, I think we just hope to continue spreading our joy of classical music and our love of family along the way.