It feels like it’s just happened for a reason higher than ourselves. We don’t feel like it’s about the four of us, or even about our families. We feel like there’s something bigger or it wouldn’t be happening like this. —Steven Sharp Nelson
Fun, inspiring, miraculous, "piano-licious," "cello-licious" — these are just a few of the words The Piano Guys use to describe their journey over the past couple of years.
The Utah-based group of Mormon artists, including pianist Jon Schmidt, cellist Steven Sharp Nelson, producer-videographer Paul Anderson and music producer-songwriter Al Van Der Beek, has seen rapid success. About two years ago, they were busy garnering attention on YouTube and were about to sign with Sony Music Entertainment.
They’ve since seen television appearances, multiple album releases and an international tour. They’re particularly excited about their “Home for Christmas” concert on Dec. 21 at EnergySolutions Arena, loving the opportunity to return to their roots in the middle of an incredible ride.
And they credit the entire experience to God.
“It feels like it’s just happened for a reason higher than ourselves,” Nelson said. “We don’t feel like it’s about the four of us, or even about our families. We feel like there’s something bigger or it wouldn’t be happening like this.”
Because of that, they said, they’re careful.
“With the success and everything comes a deep responsibility for using those talents that God has blessed us with in the right way,” Van Der Beek said.
The Piano Guys have always been open about their religious beliefs and the spiritual significance of what they do. But as they’ve increased in popularity, their opportunities to share the gospel have increased as well. They partnered with MormonChannel.org for a Christmas video last year titled "O Come, Emmanuel," and have a link to Mormon.org on their website.
“I don’t know if it was so much our comfort level as it was maybe our fans’ comfort level,” Nelson said, explaining how they waited to see how open they could be about being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They wanted their fans to understand that they weren’t at all intending to pressure anyone. Their number one goal, basically, is to create music that helps people feel happy.
”People will come to the shows and talk to us (after concerts) and share just incredible experiences,” Schmidt said. One of their fans connected with her birth mother over The Piano Guys’ music online, and they took a leap of faith to meet at the concert.
As the men talked about their fans, there was a definite sense of love and admiration.
“I’ve had several people after shows come up and say, ‘Can we just have a prayer with you?’ ” Schmidt said. “And I love that. That is so cool.”
“It’s a great reminder that we as Mormons do not have the corner on the market in spirituality,” Nelson said. “There are so many wonderful, amazing, spiritual people that are fulfillment of the scripture that they’re true seekers of God. It’s been wonderful to meet them.”
They feel so honored to see their music bridging gaps between faiths and improving peoples’ lives.
“We all agree that we’re on a mission,” Van Der Beek said. “We feel like we’re companions.”
As companions, they constantly keep each other in check, making sure that they are always right with God.
“I think our missions prepared us big time for this,” Anderson said.
Anderson served a full-time mission in Washington state, Schmidt in Norway and Van Der Beek and Nelson in separate Korean missions.
Anderson discussed the pressure of the music and performance industry.
“They’re trying to make it all about us, and we know that’s not true, and we know it’s about sharing your talents for other people and serving others,” he said. “And that’s something we learned on the mission.”
The group’s connection spiritually has helped them stay like-minded, Schmidt explained.
“I think it would’ve broken up,” he said about the group. “We’ve had really hard things — we wouldn’t have been able to do in two years what we’ve done if we wouldn’t have been totally united. There’s just no way.”
The Piano Guys have always made God a part of their process, praying before every recording session, every video shoot and any songwriting they do. They pray before concerts, too, and always invite everyone around them to participate.
"That’s been a real eye-opener for me, just to see how people love what we sometimes take so for-granted, that we’re afraid to share,” Schmidt said.
The group feels particularly blessed to have been assigned a manager who respects their beliefs. David Simone has never pushed them to “go light” on their values or promotion of family. When they were invited to the ECHO (the German equivalent of a Grammy) Awards show, which would broadcast on a Sunday, they respectfully declined, and Simone had no problem with it.
“By and large, we’ve met respect and appreciation and understanding as we’ve been out in the world,” Nelson said.
And they’ve done some great missionary work, too, sending copies of the Book of Mormon to the likes of Jay Leno and Katie Couric. One of their favorite things to do is share the gospel with their drivers during taxi rides:
“We’re from Salt Lake City! Ever heard of Mormons before? Have any Mormon friends? Now you do!”
While attending an LDS stake conference during their tour in Germany, a man approached the group and related his story. He’d been raised atheist. He stumbled across some Piano Guys videos, and the music made him feel something he never had before. He found out the group members were Mormon, so he dug a little deeper. He’s since been baptized.
They don’t know how many similar stories there are, Van Der Beek said, but he feels they’re doing a lot to spread the message of the gospel without being too overt about it. They’re just trying to be good examples, be good husbands and fathers, and make good music — music that they can’t even take credit for.
“Our primary objective is to get people to feel God’s love and feel the Spirit, even if they don’t necessarily recognize it right-off," Nelson said.
“If the music can help people feel the Spirit, that’s where the Lord and the Spirit take over, and that’s what we want. We don’t think our music is converting people to God. We don’t think our music is doing anything necessarily directly, but it’s the Spirit that is felt during it that is really doing the work.”
When asked what’s up next for them, all sorts of replies came:
“Olympic underwater basket weaving team.”
After stops in Boise and Salt Lake City for Christmas concerts, next will be another album, a booked tour schedule for the next year and a goal to film at all seven wonders of the world. Those movies will be a follow-up to their recent "Kung Fu Panda" homage on the Great Wall of China. That was another production held together by miraculous happenings, they said.
”My faith has definitely been increased because of all of the tender mercies and miracles that we’ve seen,” Van Der Beek said.
If you go ...
What: "Home for Christmas" concert with The Piano Guys
When: Saturday, Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m.
Where: EnergySolutions Arena
Ticket prices:Floor, $175-$75; Lower bowl, $175-$55.50; Upper bowl, $55.50-$27
'O Come, Emmanuel' by The Piano Guys
'Angels We Have Heard On High' from the Piano Guys