FRED DE SAM LAZARO, guest anchor: Remember the Osmonds? Our next story takes us to another Mormon family of musical prodigies. In the case of the Browns, the music is very different, but faith is the enduring cornerstone. Bob Faw of NBC News has our profile.
BOB FAW: The sound they create is inspired: lush, dramatic, intensely personal. But for The 5 Browns, playing Gershwin or anyone else is more than an exercise in making music. It is their keyboard testimonial.
GREGORY BROWN: When I get up on stage, it’s sort of the same feeling that I feel, like say when I’m saying a prayer or something. It feels like I’m communicating with something inside me and also a higher source at the same time
DESIRAE BROWN: Art in general is expressing something great or grander than life. So we are a conduit for expressing that.
FAW: Ages 22 to 28, they are devout Mormons. Every performance begins with prayer.
KEITH BROWN (Father, praying with his children): Please help us to have thy spirit with us as we play, that we will perform well as one.
FAW: Their prayer, like their performance, both an expression of their faith.
DESIRAE: To bring that music alive, we’re expressing it through our spirituality a lot of times. And even if you’re not spiritual, I think people feel a grandness of the universe, you know. Sometimes they can relate to it on a different level, but through us it’s through spirituality.
FAW: They started learning the piano when just three years old. The constant lessons, the home-schooling, all of it directed by their mother, Lisa.
LISA BROWN: We didn’t take this seriously for a long time because it was just part of the balance that I wanted — exposure to lots of different arts.
FAW: As the children became more proficient, money was tight. Their piano lessons cost more than the mortgage payments. Later, to get a second piano, the house had to be sold.
KEITH: And that was a struggle, I have to say.
FAW: But all the sacrifice, all the practice paid off when the Julliard School in New York, the nation’s foremost conservatory, accepted all five Browns. Musically, it was exciting. But in the Big Apple their beliefs were challenged, even shaken.
KEITH: We taught them how to think and taught them to not take our religious beliefs at face value.
LISA: And to question.
KEITH: And to question. Looking back, that could have been a recipe for disaster. What we thought was a firm foundation suddenly became not so firm. And, yes, there was a time that we thought that we had potentially destroyed our children. But the real happy ending, I guess if you have to say, is they actually did find themselves as young adults.
LISA: Now the philosophies they were raised with, they find purpose in it. And so it has more meaning, and there’s depth in them, and they’re able to interpret that in their music.
FAW: Tested, their faith was strengthened, their piano skills honed, and their careers soared.
KEITH (speaking on stage): We have known that there is a power greater than record labels or managers or agents that seems to have pushed our family down a path that we didn’t plan.
FAW: Their subsequent fame, all the concert and recording success they see as the unfolding of a divine plan.
(to the Brown siblings): Do you ever allow yourself to say to yourself how gifted you really are, and if so, where it comes from?
MELODY BROWN: I think we definitely all realize that we’ve been given gifts from our Heavenly Father. I mean, I don’t want to preach or anything, but like the parable of the talents, you know, it’s what you do with what the Heavenly Father gives you. I want to give everything that I can so that the audience is getting the most worthy of my talents. You know, I don’t want to fall short for them or for my God.
FAW: Their styles vary: Deondra, introspective, even brooding; Melody, romantic; Gregory is often playful, even athletic. But when they rehearse egos are set aside. Here, every Brown is an equal. Off stage they’re tight-knit as well, relishing each other’s company.
DEONDRA: The family and our relationships are more important than anything else. I think that’s kept us really well-grounded.
FAW: Well-grounded, yes — even squeaky-clean. But they’re no goody two-shoes. The 5 Browns enjoy doing what other 20-somethings do.
GREGORY (talking to audience onstage): My brother and I play a lot of sports. I was pretty much baseball and piano growing up, and my sisters — sometimes they shop. We watch a lot of movies, hang out with our friends. Ryan here likes to play a lot of video games.
FAW: Despite a grueling schedule — 120 concerts in one year alone — they refuse to perform on Sunday, reserving that time for church and, whenever possible, for what Mormons call “firesides.”
GREGORY (speaking at Sunday evening discussion): I do believe that God can speak to us and he can direct our lives. That is my testimony, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
FAW: Like their music, the words are heartfelt and personal.
MELODY (speaking at Sunday evening discussion): Just last night I was having a hard time, and all of a sudden there was a sense of peace and that everything would be all right, and that I had these words come into my head that said, “I will be where you will be if you will let me come.”
FAW: Often they conclude these “firesides” with a hymn arranged by Lisa.
BROWN FAMILY (singing): “There is joy in every sound when there’s love at home.”
FAW: But it is on the concert stage where the true calling of the 5 Browns is manifest.
MELODY: Ministry or not, we’re helping people feel good. You know, we’re helping them find joy in their lives and think that’s what it’s all about.
FAW: Here where it is not just notes and technique; here where the 5 Browns are making a joyful noise — and more.
For RELIGION& ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Bob Faw in Richardson, Texas.
DE SAM LAZARO: Incidentally, the youngest Brown, Ryan, will be married later this year. The three Brown sisters are married.