SALT LAKE CITY — How do people move forward after the dark secrets of their past are publicly brought to light? Deondra and Melody Brown say, for them, it's through artistic expression.
The sisters, who are part of the acclaimed classical piano quintet The 5 Browns, say diving into their music has helped them to heal from years of sexual abuse.
In 2011, the sisters revealed sexual abuse allegations against their father. Police and prosecutors in Utah County said the abuse of Deondra, Melody and their sister Desirae occurred when all of the girls were 13 or younger, and that the abuse was ongoing between 1990 and 1998.
The 5 Browns' newest album, "The Rite of Spring" based on the music of Igor Stravinsky, was released in August.
“'The Rite of Spring' is just the marking of a new era for us,” said Melody, who was also the artistic director for the video. “It’s the first thing that we've been able to just jump out and say 'Hey, we're not kids anymore.'”
“To have this as our first big CD after all that we’ve gone through in our personal lives was very much a triumph for the five of us to record,” Deondra said.
It was a triumph, Melody said, because they managed to find beauty in the midst of all the garbage going on in their lives.
“As a group we were like, 'This is kind of dark (the album).' But it sort of is a reflection of where we have been,” she said.
The album is something the siblings have wanted to do for a long time. It took 10 years to bring it to life, and it’s “one of the most complicated pieces to play,” Melody said.
“Just recording the piece was a dream for the five of us,” Deondra said, "and we’ve always talked about doing it as a quintet.”
The backdrop of the video is a landfill — filled with images of a discarded baby doll, broken music CDs, mangled vinyl window blinds and other old memories.
“There’s so much history there of people’s lives,” Melody said, “and so it almost felt like our memories, too, were in some of that garbage pile.”
While the video may be a reflection of where the Brown siblings have been, they’re using the experience of their childhood abuse as a way to propel forward. As they continue to dig through the raw emotions of their past, they’ve come to accept those tough times.
“Memory is never really forgotten. It comes back in flashes. It can be a perfect memory, and that can be bothersome,” Melody said. “The video was just sort of an extension of that — where I was able to sort of purge my pain and some of my hurt through art.”
For Deondra, purging the pain of abuse is also about leaving a different legacy for her own family.
Memory is never really forgotten. It comes back in flashes. It can be a perfect memory, and that can be bothersome. The video was just sort of an extension of that — where I was able to sort of purge my pain and some of my hurt through art.
–Melody Brown, The 5 Browns
“Then I turn around and look at my own daughter and think: if I can give it to her, if I can allow her to have that happiness that I maybe missed out on, then it's OK,” Deondra said.
She recommends to all survivors of child sex abuse find constructive things that help them purge the pain in their own way.
“It’s so troubling to go back there, but I think at some point your mind is going to go there on its own anyway,” she said. “So the healthiest way to go about it is to allow yourself to go back there and feel the pain, feel the sorrow.”
The sisters said the "The Rite of Spring," as conceived in their own video interpretation, isn’t just their story; rather, it's the universal journey of the human experience.
“Everyone can kind of understand these dark parts of our lives that we're working through, and digging through, and trying to find meaning and where we go from there,” Deondra.
Stravinsky’s "The Rite of Spring" is full of dissonance — a harshness seems to echo the complicated relationship The 5 Browns have with their now estranged parents.
The siblings continue performing together, calling each other on the phone, and spending holidays together — adjusting to life without their parents.
“I felt like my family had been sacrificed, or what we thought our family was at the time,” Melody said. “The family dynamic has sort of changed, but we've all changed with it. And we'll help each other get to where we need to be.”