Jon is more explicit about his Mormon faith, which convinces him that music is a gift enabling him to “harness and spread God’s influence in the world” through cultivating peace, love, joy, goodness, consolation and other positive emotions. Inspired by other artists and achievers who use their gifts in “a thankful way, an unassuming way that desires to benefit the world”, he and his colleagues aspire to do the same. Their most rewarding moments as performers are when they sense this effect on themselves or listeners, and they get plenty of feedback from the latter confirming that this happens.
But, it’s true, there is nothing overtly pious about their work, and its appeal is broad — crossing both genre and generational boundaries.
Michael Meets Mozart, the mashup that really launched them in May last year, commemorated the then recently deceased Michael Jackson by combining themes from hip-hop and Mozart in an original tune. It is a technical tour de force: 100 of Steve’s cello tracks are layered with Jon’s piano playing to create a full orchestral experience.
Indeed, The Piano Guys spare no effort to wow their audience. The second most popular of all their videos, Cello Wars (Star Wars Parody) Lightsaber Duel, is an amazingly ambitious piece of work that took six months to produce. Videographer Tel Stewart had to edit every one of its 7000 frames in order to show Steve and his phantom alter ego sawing away at their cellos with light sabres. If that doesn’t get a few boys taking up the cello, goodness knows what would.
They have the same sky’s-the-limit approach to settings. In Bourne Vivaldi – based on the “grabby” Bourne Identity soundtrack riff and a Vivaldi cello concerto — the duo start at a mountain cement facility and end up on a goods train, grand piano and all. In Coldplay – Paradise (Peponi) African Style, the grand piano is lifted by helicopter to a mountain top where UK-based African singer Alex Boye performs against rugged red hills and a wide blue sky. The beauty of nature is showcased in many videos, whether through the dramatic mountains of Southern Utah, a beachfront in Hawaii or a wooded spot near a local dam. There seems to be no location too challenging for their trusty pianos and cellos (they have a few) given a hand from their friends and contacts.
The human element seems a more difficult challenge. Given the amount of dark matter emanating from the musical world, are the guys in danger of running out of good originals on which to exercise their genius?
It can be difficult, Steve admits, but they are firm about their criteria.”We have lots of families that watch our stuff and we love creating something on YouTube that parents and children can watch together. If we cover a tune then, arguably, we are endorsing it. We have seen evidence that people will investigate the original song and its YouTube video — when we first release a cover tune the top comments on the original song’s video reference our version.
“In any case we decided long ago that we would not cover songs that we were not comfortable sending people to. If we wouldn’t want our kids watching it or singing it then it is eliminated as a possibility. It doesn’t take a long glance at YouTube’s top 20 charts to see that it is nearly impossible [to use anything there]. This is one of the reasons why we also include original tunes, remixes of classical tunes and arrangements of movie themes.”
Jon is more optimistic. He feels there is so much good material that passes the fit-for-our-kids test that “we feel we will never run out” of originals to make over, while adding their own compositions.
What next for The Piano Guys? One clue is found in Beethoven’s 5 Secrets, based on LVB’s famous fifth symphony plus OneRepublic’s tune “Secrets” and performed by Steve with the American Heritage Lyceum Philharmonic youth orchestra. This great concoction combined two of the things the guys are working to accomplish — inviting people to classical music and inspiring young musicians. They would love to take their musical vision directly to young people “on a more global level” and are inviting their supporters to contribute financially to this mission. (Go to Page 3)