Five brains, 50 fingers, one mighty sound

BY LAWRENCE TOPPMAN

 

You’re onstage with four siblings, blazing through an adaptation of “The Rite of Spring,” rocking 440 piano keys with Stravinsky’s ever-shifting rhythms. What does that sound like? To tell the truth, Desirae Brown isn’t sure.

“We work quite a bit on our own before we get together to rehearse,” explains the eldest of The 5 Browns, who’ll play a concert Jan. 18 at Halton Theater. “What I hear in my practice room is super different from what I hear onstage. It’s probably similar to playing in an orchestra, except we have no conductor.

“Because we don’t, only a couple of us have hard starts and hard stops. We take turns taking the lead. Whoever gets the melody – or maybe whoever has the driving rhythm in an orchestral piece we’ve arranged – sets the tempo. Even if we can’t trust our ears, we know each other’s body language so well that the tiniest change on a face gives us a visual cue.”

The family has two rules when preparing a piece: The majority decides every disputed point, and nobody gripes once an agreement is reached. (“We have to remind people about that one.”) They came to “Rite of Spring” after listening to favorite orchestral recordings and had five different ideas about the ending. “That got pretty heated, but everybody’s ideas are valid, so we worked things out,” she says.

Amazingly, this close-knit family can easily sub in a pal from their Juilliard days when one of them has to step out, as Desirae Brown did with the first of her two children.

“He expected it to be super-difficult to come in, but it was surprising,” she says. “He told us, ‘It’s clear what the musical intention is, you get caught up in the rush onstage, and you can almost ride the wave!’ “

Charlotte Concerts presents The 5 Browns at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at Halton Theater, 1206 Elizabeth Ave. To read more about the concert or buy tickets, go here.

To learn more about The 5 Browns, go here.

To get the flavor of The 5 Browns playing “The Rite of Spring,” go here.

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