By Rachelle Hughes
Iron County Today
There was no piano lowered from the rafters, no ancient far away buildings or beaches at the Piano Guys concert in Cedar City on February 8.
It didn’t matter. The Piano Guys still inspired and moved their audience as they played
their unique blend of classical and contemporary music mashups on the piano and cello. They had a full audience enthralled at the America First Event Center at Southern Utah University.
The Piano Guys may be an international musical and Internet sensation, but their roots run deep in Southern Utah. Their journey began in a St. George piano store with store owner Paul Anderson (now The Piano Guys Producer and Videographer) trying to market his piano store “The Piano Guys” in a fresh unique way by creating viral music videos. One day, concert pianist and songwriter Jon Schmidt walked into the St. George store and asked to practice on one of the pianos in preparation for a concert. Anderson saw an opportunity to promote his store and Schmidt’s music and proposed his video idea. Steven Sharp Nelson, songwriter and cellist and long-time collaborator with Schmidt, joined in on the idea bringing his unique approach to the cello and songwriting. Finally, when Nelson moved down the street from music producer and songwriter Al van der Beek they discovered a mutual love of music and he brought his sound engineering and songwriting to The Piano Guys.
The Piano Guys did not sell a lot of pianos, but they did create viral videos changing the way the world listened and appreciated instrumental music. While the visual accompaniment to their arrangements is stunning and awe inspiring in their music videos, the concert in Cedar City this past week proves their popularity is more than just the dramatic cinematography of their youtube phenomena. They all have an absolute passion for what they do, and they love sharing how that happens. Nelson took moments to share his obsession with cellos. He has 28 and they all have names. Concert goers only met a few last Thursday night, but he also spent time educating everyone on some of his cello gadgets and techniques that create the layers of their pieces.
Inspiring pieces, like their arrangement of “The Mission/How Great Thou Art with a backdrop video of Rio De Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue and the Iguazu Falls left the audience with a collective sense of wonder. Spirituality often inspires The Piano Guys and they are never afraid to share that. “Music and spirituality are close cousins,” Nelson said as his commentary for this deeply spiritual song.
The Piano Guys paired that song with more personal inspirational moments like when they invited a teenage pianist and actress who had lost her hand in an accident the past year to join Jon at the piano for an impromptu jam session. A standing ovation, an ebullient teenager and a giddy Jon ended that performance.
The concert continued to have appeal to the audience on a personal level (and perhaps that is the real magic of The Piano Guys). Eight youth of the local Suzuki Strings group joined Nelson at one point and emphasized the four men’s strong advocacy for musical education. “If you stick with it, it gets better and better and better . . . someday you will feel like you are flying,” Nelson pleaded with the youth in the audience before.
There were plenty of humorous antics on the stage as Nelson and Schmidt teased each other and especially as they introduced their performance “I want you Bach” a mashup highlighting their favorite instruments of the 1700’s era and the 1970s era, a harpsichord and a talk box. or when they used the arena’s sports electric scoreboard to keep a tally of who was winning — cello or piano.
All four men in The Piano Guys have mastered the art of showmanship but they have stayed true to their message of showcasing the true joy of music. Their performance said It can be fun, it can inspire, it can move, it can be fearless. The rousing arrangement of Fight Song and Amazing Grace ended the night (before the encore), honoring all the heroes in life.