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Steve Eaton: Jon Schmidt releases his inner child, gives us reason to play

Published: Friday, Feb. 8 2013 3:00 p.m. MST

Jon Schmidt demonstrates his playful style.

www.jonschmidt.com

I saw pianist Jon Schmidt perform recently for the first time. It changed me.

I had heard people speak in glowing terms about his music and performances and I was skeptical, but curious. I’ve sort of always had an aversion to whatever is drawing the crowds.

I discovered, however, Schmidt is a gifted and talented pianist, and that alone makes him worth taking in. The event I attended was billed as a lecture. It was part of the Entrepreneur Leadership Series put on by the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, where I work. They asked him to talk about how he and a friend, Steven Sharp, who go by the name “The Piano Guys,” have managed to get more than 200 million hits on YouTube. He just happened to play a few songs to illustrate his points.

It was really more like a talk over pizza. I was taken aback at how humble and approachable he seemed. There didn’t seem to be a hint of ego to him. I liked that.

The thing that really impacted me, however, was the way he played with such reckless abandon — he was happy. Imagine a gifted 12-year-old being instructed under the guidance of a strict and stern teacher with a strong bias for the scales and the basics. She leaves the room. He locks her out, and as she shouts and pounds on the door demanding to be let back in, he laughs, turns to you and starts jamming — letting loose with all the music he loves to play most. He’s finally free to let his real music out.

Jon Schmidt plays with his elbows. He stands. He even plays upside down and backward. Every note gets a chance to be heard when he’s running the keyboard. He plays like he may never have a chance to perform again, swaying back and forth and bobbing his head to the tunes he is unleashing. He nods to the audience when he comes to his favorite parts of his music. It’s a celebration. It’s like this unbridled joy. It’s immaturity that is infectious, and I am sure the audience aged in reverse the night that we saw him play.

How come we lose the part of us that shoots rubber bands at each other?

Here’s a test for you: Next time you are in a grocery store, look for a couple shopping that is more than 40 years old. How many appear really happy? Be honest, most of them just look hammered. Life is hard and it shows. How many laugh out loud? When was the last time you laughed out loud?

It’s easy to see how we gain more inhibitions than Legos. When I was a real journalist working in a newsroom hundreds of years ago, cheerful people were told to go home and sleep it off. Life works us into rows, the traffic backs up and then soon it’s just one smog-filled day after the other. We couldn’t dance about outside even if we wanted to. We might breathe the air.

When I watched Jon Schmidt for a moment, all those dark, heavy clouds went away. It was summer and I was young again.

I think it’s time I get out my remote-controlled golf ball again. I need to bring my Rockem Sockem Robots back to work. I should wear my Groucho Marx disguise more often. I need to start using my propeller pen again.

I have a cool Star Trek communicator my wife gave me. And while mine is only pretend — it would be expensive and probably illegal to get one that could really reach the ship — mine looks and sounds real. It beeps, and when you open it, you hear one of several recorded voices. “Captain, shall I beam down an armed party?” Spock asks, for example. It’s been a long time since I stopped a meeting to pop open my communicator and take a call from the Enterprise. I don’t get invited to many meetings anymore. (Now everyone’s going to want a communicator.)

Will all this help me recapture my childhood? Probably not; I’m really old now. But it might be fun to try. Do you think they still sell Pixy Stix? Has New York City outlawed those yet? I should go buy a giant one. It would go well with my half-gallon flask full of water I keep next to my desk. I think I’m just getting started.

Thanks for the inspiration, Jon. Don’t ever let that grouchy teacher back in the room.

Steve Eaton lives and works in Logan. He can be reached at Eatonnews@gmail.com

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