The Joy of Music: Meet The Piano Guys

They are a breath of fresh air, an explosion of creativity, a feast of fun, a delightful diversion from mundane tasks. They are The Piano Guys, five fellows from a town in Utah who have become — if the cliché fits, why not wear it? — an internet music sensation. The top videos on their YouTube channel have clocked up up five, six and seven million hits apiece and countless raves from a growing number of fans, amongst whom I count myself. These guys are so cool.

If you have not yet met them in MercatorNet’s video spot, they are: Jon Schmidt, piano maestro; Steven Sharp Nelson, cellist extraordinaire; and behind the scenes, videographer Tel Stewart, sound engineer/musical arranger Al Van Der Beek, and entrepreneur Paul Anderson — all experts in their field. Somehow they all got together in their hometown of St. George and began producing some of the nicest music videos you are likely to meet in cyberspace.

But it’s not all serendipity. The Piano Guys have a vision. They want to inspire, uplift, make a difference to the world“Whatever we do, we put our heart and souls into every note and frame,” they say on their website, and they really do.

They have so many strengths: the familiarity of their musical themes; the exciting originality of their arrangements, or “covers”; amazing and beautiful locations; a relaxed mastery of their instruments; awesome technical skills behind them; and, above all, a joy in performance that puts a smile on the faces not only of Steve and Jon but of their audience too.

The desire to give people a lift is what drives them, says Jon in answer to an email. “It is our passion for what we do. We cannot take any credit for it.”

For a quick taste (most videos are around four minutes) of the guys in their trademark happy-go-lucky mood try their rest-home gig — a Charlie Brown Medley with Jon hamming it up at the piano, Steve drumming the rhythm on his cello (the things he does with that instrument!) and the old folks getting with it from their chairs, if not up and dancing. A blast. Or Steve having a day off with his best pal in Me and My Cello, a cover for The Turtles’ number, Happy Together. Or Rockebel’s Canon, with four Steves on four cellos producing a switched-on version of Pachelbel’s very famous number for a (staged) wedding.

Great fun. And yet, when there is so much in the world of art and entertainment that is dark and cynical, it comes almost as a surprise that a group would set out to make happiness their brand.

“Who doesn’t love being happy?” Steve replies to my question about the sources of their joy. “The best way I’ve found to be happy is to love others more than yourself, cherish relationships, pray often, and be grateful for what you have. It’s not always easy, but it’s lot easier for me when I fill my life with good music. The music we create is simply a ‘soundtrack’ of the joy we feel when we’re with our families, when we’re serving others, soaking in Earth’s beauty, or even just having a good laugh.”

The guys, you see, are religious and that explains a lot about the way they approach the music market. While their music itself is not religious, says Steve, it is very spiritual. It’s a question of “stitching” into their pieces the shapes and moods that accompany happy and uplifting experiences in life — whether it’s reading a good book or setting a world record — and good values. “We hope that when people watch our videos and listen to our music that it conjures up values that everyone generally understands contribute to a happy life, such as gratitude, self-sacrifice, clean humour and service.”

The wedding rings he and Jon wear, and that the cameras often feature, suggest a major focus of those values. (Go to Page 2)

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Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.

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