The Brophy Sisters: Schooled for Music 

The Brophy Sisters are a testimony to what can be accomplished when a family embraces music deeply. Though there's a nine-year gap between them, the culture of discipline and creativity cultivated through many years of homeschooling has forged a bond that flowers every time they play together. If that didn't happen for too long while they were in different parts of the country, look for more of their concerts around town, now that they've both moved closer to home. In fact, they're helping to kick off the new year at Crosstown Arts' live performance series on January 15th at the Green Room. That's just par for the course at one of the most eclectic venues in this or any other city. I spoke to sisters Maeve (piano) and Linnaea (violin) recently about a lifetime lived with the love of music, and the family support that helped make it happen.

click to enlarge The Brophy Sisters
  • The Brophy Sisters

Memphis Flyer: I take it you two grew up playing together?

Maeve Brophy: Yeah, pretty much. We were both child musical prodigies, and we took music very seriously in our home. My family has lived in the same house in Bartlett since 1992, which was the year Linnaea was born. Our mom, Nancy, plays flute and sings. Our dad is a scientist and owns a small environmental consulting company in Bartlett.

Both parents have a love of the arts?

MB: Yeah, actually, when they first met, they bonded over the love they both had for classical music. It's not that popular among young people, so when they met and fell in love, that was a part of that. And then we became a musical family.

My mom drove me to Huntsville for my piano lessons when I was growing up. My teacher, who got the silver medal in the 1997 Van Cliburn Competition, is Russian, and the Russian school of pedagogy is very strict and holds you to a very high standard. Then when I was already off to college, Linnaea found a teacher in Nashville who was a perfect fit. And our mom drove Linnaea to Nashville for her violin lessons.

Linnaea Brophy: I studied at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt. I didn't just take violin lessons; I also participated in a youth choir, played chamber music, took theory classes, and studied the Alexander Technique for posture. My teacher cared very much about how you use your body to play. She helped me to be more relaxed, because I was only like, 10, and trying to practice four hours a day, so it was a lot of work. I still don't see how we did all that in one day.

You both have distinguished yourselves as students and teachers. Maeve, you taught at the Blair School of Music and Belmont University in Nashville. And Linnaea, you've just joined the Arkansas Symphony and the Rockefeller String Quartet in Little Rock, after many years as a student and concertmaster at the New England Conservatory. Your concerts together must be pretty rare.

MB: We are far apart in age, but we've been playing as a duo ever since Linnaea started taking violin lessons, and I would accompany her on piano. We have traveled, but for the most part we've always performed when we were both back home in Memphis, which is how we maintained our duo. We've been doing that for years.

I see that your program this month has a lot of names that more casual classical music lovers might not recognize.

MB: For the past couple years, the Brophy Sisters have been making an intentional effort to include non-white and women composers in our programs. These composers are not performed as much as they should be, and the music is fantastic. William Grant Still's name should be up there with Copland and Bernstein. That also goes for the composer Amy Beach. Clara Schumann, the wife of Robert Schumann, was more famous as a concert pianist. In her time, women were discouraged from composing, and most of Clara's work was done in private. But it was her 200th birthday recently, which was widely recognized. We're not the only ones drawing attention to marginalized composers. This is part of a movement in this country, right now. We've gotta get these names on the map where they belong.

The Brophy Sisters play The Green Room at Crosstown Arts on January 15th, 7:30 p.m., $10. Maeve Brophy will perform as a solo artist on February 23rd at Buntyn Presbyterian Church.

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