Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
"We genuinely like each other — I think that's the easiest way of putting it. I think if we didn't get along so well, it would have been a lot more difficult for us to stay together this long."
Greg Brown is one of five siblings, all of whom are professional pianists and have been performing together for the past 15 years as the 5 Browns. I recently talked with Greg, his younger brother, Ryan, and their older sister, Desirae, about their latest release, Christmas with the 5 Browns. It's their first Christmas recording, and it conjures up lots of childhood memories for them.
How does the music on this recording reflect your memories of the Christmas season?
Ryan: "Growing up, The Nutcracker was one of my favorites. It just had to be on our album. And playing it is also a lot of fun. Not just listening to it, but playing it on five pianos is a blast."
And that is one of the pieces that features all five of the siblings. How do you make that decision, whether all five of you are gonna be part of a piece?
Greg: "We really make sure that nobody is stuck playing a piece they don't really feel like playing. Everything that we play on five pianos is something that we've all agreed we want to play. On this particular album, we have a lot of more introspective solos and duo pieces on there, because one of our favorite elements of the holidays is the quietude of being with family at night by the Christmas tree. Those beautiful moments, I think they were reflected best on our album through solo piano."
There's some gorgeous solo piano pieces. Desiree, do you want to add anything to that about how the music on this recording reflects some of your memories of Christmas?
Desiree: "There's also a bit of The Messiah on there, 'For Unto Us a Child is Born.' I think we were either singing in or were an audience member to The Messiah almost every year growing up."
And that features all three sisters. Was there a special reason for that?
Desiree: "Ten or twelve years ago, the three of us found a Rachmaninonff six-hand piece. And we learned to coordinate that, where Deondra's always the lowest member, playing the lower register, and she does the pedal for the group. Then I sit in the center, and Melody is the highest treble. It's very complicated to choreograph how to play around each other. Once we got that set, we always sit in those places."
Ryan: "You guys got a system down. I'm not messing with that."
I notice that you chose an arrangement by Greg Anderson of the duo Anderson and Roe for "Sleigh Ride." Do you know Greg?
Greg: "Melody and I went to school with Greg and Liz. They were in our same year at Juilliard, and we did almost everything together. Greg Anderson is a brilliant arranger. We asked him to put together 'Sleigh Ride' for the five of us. There are just so many clever and silly and fun and even sweet moments in the piece. Honestly, I think it's one of the best things that Greg Anderson has put together for our group."
I also love the arrangement of "Skaters Waltz," which features all five of you. Tell me a little bit about how this piece came together.
Greg: "This one, by Waldteufel, always reminds us of skating as a kid. We didn't do a ton of ice skating per se, but we roller skated all the time. I remember one year for Christmas, we got a bunch of roller skates, and we just threw them on immediately in our pajamas and went out onto the driveway, fell a few times, but it just really, really fun. And this particular arrangement sounds a little bit like one of those old Victorian crank music boxes. It just really sparkles in the upper register."
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.