They are all musicians; all new-age piano men extraordinaire who have delighted listeners around the region and the country for years.
But they are also fathers, which, as Paul Cardall says, "is one of the greatest things God has given to us."
"Nothing gets in the way of being a dad," Jon Schmidt notes. "That is more important to me than anything."
"Being the father of four children has brought me the greatest joy in my life," David Tolk adds. "No amount of musical success can compare with the happiness that comes through my relationship with my children."
Because they see themselves as fathers who are also musicians, Michael R. Hicks says, they know the power that music can have in the lives of their children. "Music can create emotions that last a long time," he says. "We have always utilized it as a unifying force for the family. It creates wonderful bonding moments."
So, it is natural that the men look for opportunities to combine love of family and love of music, which is exactly what they have done in creating a new CD of piano lullabies.
The four produced another CD called "Piano Portraits" several years ago. "That was a lot of fun," says Hicks, who was the instigators of the project." Shortly after that, the Hickses had their first baby, and as the child got older, "it was my wife's idea to come us with a CD that would help everyone wind down and relax at the end of the day. I ran it by the others, and they were all excited."
"Piano Portraits Lullaby" was born. "This," Hicks says, "is music that is soft and peaceful and beautiful, and it's supposed to put you to sleep," he adds with a grin.
The musicians all have somewhat similar styles and, as masters of the same instrument, might seem like competitors, but "we are all really good friends," Schmidt says. "We have a great chemistry."
The men each chose a popular lullaby to arrange and then added a couple of their other songs that fit with the mood and style of the CD.
Hicks chose "Rock-a-Bye-Baby." "We have two children now, and that's one of their favorites." He also did an arrangement of "All Through the Night," a song "that my grandmother sang to my mother when she was first born. I have a mental image of them with my grandmother holding her baby and singing that song."
He also wrote an original song, "Her Mother's Eyes." "I've always thought my wife had beautiful eyes; Leah, our firstborn, has those same beautiful brown eyes. She's 5 now, and she understands that when she blinks those eyes, she melts her father's heart."
Cardall did an arrangement of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," which is one of the songs his daughter loves. He also chose "Jenna's Dance," from his "Christmas Box" CD, "because I always see a little girl dancing to that," and "Embraced," another song that expresses his gratitude for family.
Schmidt arranged "Long, Long Ago." "My parents were German immigrants, and I grew up with that song." His other songs are "Solace" and "Cherished Moments," which also seemed to fit the spirit of the CD, he says.
Tolk did an arrangement of "Brahms' Lullaby," because, "to me, that's the most famous, magical one of all. We had to have it on the CD." His "Whose Woods These Are" is a tribute to the Robert Frost poem and is "peaceful, reflective music." "For Lisa" is a tribute to the mother of his children "and has a nice lullaby feel as far as meter and instrumentation."
Although Tolk's four children are now getting older — the youngest is 5 — "some of my best memories of my kids are of bedtime, with them in their pajamas, with the lights down low, telling stories, listening to music and bonding. They spent a lot of nights going to sleep to music, some mine, some from others. When I was arranging the Brahms on our grand piano at home one evening, Julia, 8, and Jeffrey, 5, came into the room with their special blankets and curled up on the couch to listen to me play. I took that as a sign I was on the right track."
Schmidt's five kids are also getting older, ranging in age from 7 to 16. "Now, I've been teaching them the piano. I've invented a way that gets them going fast. They are all very musical."
From the very beginning, his family has been a top priority, Schmidt says. "Before I even got married, the career decisions I made were all done thinking ahead to having a family. Before I was even a father, I looked forward to the days of tucking my own sleeping child in, turning off the light and sneaking out the door."
So, he says, "I love how this has all turned out."
In addition to the lullaby CD, the men have all been busy with other projects. Schmidt, for example, has been in the studio, recording his next CD, "Bonus Tracks," which will be released later this summer. A song from that CD, however, "Love Story meets Viva la Vida," has been rated the No. 1 music video on YouTube. "It has had 1.5 million hits so far. It's dedicated to little Sarah, who's 7, because it's her favorite."
Tolk's most recent CD is called "Grace." Tolk's music was picked up by NPR's "Hearts of Space" program, and his arrangement of "Amazing Grace" will be part of a "Hearts of Space" CD collection later this year.
But the thing Tolk is working on now is a book of sheet-music arrangements of his songs. "I love composing and arranging and recording so much that I don't make time for sheet music. But I've been getting so many requests and e-mails, and I've promised my fans that I would. I think I'd better before their patience wears out." He hopes to have the book out in the next few months.
Hicks, too, has been working on sheet music arrangements and also with Especially For Youth programs.
For Cardall, the last few months have been a time of waiting. Due to a deteriorating heart condition, he is now on the list for a heart transplant. Music has been a tremendous help and comfort to his family at this time, he says, and he hopes that his music might help others get through challenging times.
His last CD, "Remembering Eden," was meant to "sum up my feelings about life, my gratitude and to let my daughter know I love her. It was only a couple of months after that was finished that I found out I needed a transplant. So, it's bittersweet. But I'm in a situation that makes me appreciate my family, my daughter, so much. I know the importance of making every moment count. We're looking forward with faith and hope."
Music does that for you, Hicks says. Whatever your situation, he says, music can bring comfort. And that's what he hopes for "Piano Portraits Lullaby." "This CD is dedicated to the special times we have had with our children and the respect we have for the mothers of our children. We hope it will bring others bonding moments, shared quality time, as well as relaxation and peace."