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Originally published Friday, April 15, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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The Browns, five piano-playing siblings, are musicians on a mission

They never fight. They never argue about who borrowed whose silk shirt and didn't give it back. They never disagree about whose tempo to...

Seattle Times music critic

They never fight.

They never argue about who borrowed whose silk shirt and didn't give it back.

They never disagree about whose tempo to take in "The Flight of the Bumble Bee."

And all five of these sisters and brothers, once simultaneously enrolled in the prestigious Juilliard School, now perform together on an all-classical recording that has spent seven weeks at the top of the Billboard classical charts.

Yes, it's the Browns, that five-sibling piano-playing quintet consisting of Desirae, 25; Deondra, 24; Gregory, 22; Melody, 20; and Ryan, 19. They're so perky they make Sally Field seem like Morticia Addams. And they're taking their music on a tour that will bring them to the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m. (206-292-ARTS).

How did all five of them get to Juilliard, and then to the concert stage?

The Browns

The five pianists will perform at 8 p.m. tomorrow in the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall (206-292-ARTS).

It didn't hurt that they all started piano lessons at age 3. Their parents, Keith and Lisa Brown, were both interested in music and quick to spot early talent.

In a five-way interview last month via speakerphone, Desirae explained: "Mom was trained in voice and would accompany herself on the piano at home, and I would try to reach up and play the keys. Finally she decided to find a teacher, and I started lessons. Then Deondra wanted lessons when she was 3, and it went on down the line. Mom and Dad wanted to get our minds working before we went off to school."

As they grew older and more proficient, the five Browns found themselves media magnets, with "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "60 Minutes," The New York Times, "The Tonight Show," "Good Morning America," Entertainment Weekly and many others eager to tell their story.

When an agent signed them, the five siblings agreed they didn't want to put a pop spin on their music or try to become crossover artists. Instead, they've decided to commission multiple-piano arrangements of familiar classical standards, plus several solo pieces — none of them lasting very long, because today's nonspecialist audiences have short attention spans.

Their new CD, "The 5 Browns," is in the DualDisc format, with a DVD side providing such multimedia features as music videos, documentary footage, photo galleries and Web links. The music videos include the Browns performing Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee" and Bernstein's "Scenes from West Side Story," plus interviews with the artists.

Touring is just a natural outgrowth of family togetherness; the Browns (born in Houston, raised in Alpine, Utah) have always been close. The two oldest girls are married, and they live with their husbands in one house next door to all the other Browns. Desirae married a violinist; Deondra's husband, in pre-law school, proposed to her onstage during one of her Juilliard recitals.

Their Mormon faith has "played a big role" in their lives, according to Melody: "It's been hard sometimes, going to school and doing this [the performing and touring], but we don't just lean on our own arm. This is not just about us; we have had so many miraculous experiences along the way."

Gregory, who is still in school, says it can "get a little tough during school to go out and do concerts. But it's also really fun. Juilliard is pretty understanding about our touring; maybe it's a little good for Juilliard too."

Ryan says, "It makes it fun when we can travel together," and Gregory adds, "That's because we all grew up as each other's best friends. When somebody has a bad day or a bad lesson, we can totally relate and respect each other."

"There's no real fighting," says Desirae, "although sometimes there are minor disagreements in rehearsals. But if we disagree, we just take a vote, a show of hands, and it's over."

Deondra concurs: "Any disagreement is done by the time we leave the stage."

And what about that traditional bugaboo of sisters, those raids on each other's closets?

Deondra laughs.

"We just share clothes. We're all the same sizes, anyway."

The Browns take very seriously their mission to demystify classical music, especially for young people.

"I would really like to see a lot of kids at the [Seattle] concert," says Desirae. "So many kids are in bands, taking lessons, etc., they could really relate to our music."

Melody adds, "We are trying to make our concerts really fun, constantly changing. The pieces of music last about 5-10 minutes, and we are always changing outfits and talking to audiences. We want to show them that this music doesn't have to be stuffy."

Besides, there are some nice perquisites for the Browns who are still in school.

"Spring break just ended," says Gregory, "and I'm supposed to be back in school now, but we're in Florida!"

Even the best-behaved kids enjoy playing a little hooky now and then, especially in the service of great music.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

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