The Piano Guys began their quest to perform at all of the Seven Wonders of the World two years ago when they played on the Great Wall of China. Pianist Jon Schmidt described it as a surreal experience that had him thinking, “Wow, I’m glad my mom made me practice the piano.”
The group got one step closer to achieving its goal when it played in front of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro the following year.
Although the end of 2015 still has them five wonders shy of fulfilling their goal, this year has been far from disappointing for the musicians.
“This year has really surprised us — in a good way,” Schmidt said in an interview with the Deseret News. “It went way beyond our expectations.”
This year, The Piano Guys filmed a video in Scotland, performed at Carnegie Hall, played a sold-out concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and even performed a sold-out show in Hungary. A live album of their Carnegie Hall and Red Rocks performances was recently released.
“We never thought that we would be able to play these venues that you hear about growing up, (venues that) the acts we really respect have played,” Schmidt said.
In fact, they never thought they would draw so much attention even within their home state of Utah. They laughed at their manager when he arranged for them to play at the Vivint Arena last year, thinking there was no possible way they were going to fill the venue. After all, as Schmidt put it, a lot of what they do is centered on a piano and a cello.
“I would say that’s the biggest surprise, that it’s caught on as a public performance the way it has,” Schmidt said. “It has blown us away how performing has struck a chord with people. But I do actually think it’s a super entertaining show.”
Out of all the different places The Piano Guys traveled to this year, Scotland was one of Schmidt’s favorites. It was there the musicians performed their medley of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” and “Amazing Grace.”
The idea for that arrangement came unexpectedly, Schmidt said.
“We were so amazed with (the medley) and the whole concept that as we fight, that the power comes from God,” Schmidt said. “That just hit us out of the blue.”
The success of the video they produced was just as unexpected. Everything the musicians attempted to put together for the project fell through, Schmidt said, but they decided to still travel to Scotland since their tickets were already booked.
They were overwhelmed by the country’s beauty and the kindness of the locals when they arrived. Schmidt described it as a “red-carpet experience.”
“It really should have been a train wreck, and somehow in two days it all came together,” Schmidt said. “We just feel like it was a complete miracle. What should have been a train wreck was perfect. We couldn’t believe it.”
Playing their “Fight Song/Amazing Grace” medley was what The Piano Guys call a “chills up” moment. “Chills up” is their abbreviated version of “chills up the spine” and is a phrase they use to determine whether the music they’re playing is uplifting.
“We don’t really get excited about music or a concept until we feel like it kind of has some inspiration to it,” Schmidt said. “We’ve thrown a lot of ideas away because they feel totally uninspired.”
That philosophy is at the core of their music. Some of the group’s most rewarding performances have taken place at Christmastime. Schmidt pointed to last year, when The Piano Guys were able to participate in a live Nativity music video with more than 1,000 people. He also mentioned how blessed they were to have the opportunity to perform “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on the Jerusalem movie set of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“These moments were so incredible, and the feedback we’ve gotten on both videos is overwhelming,” Schmidt said. “That’s what makes it special for us, when we feel like we were able to create something that inspires people.”
With 2015 being their biggest year yet as far as performing goes, The Piano Guys have been able to expand their mission of making a positive impact in the lives of people, Schmidt said.
The Piano Guys anticipate having an even bigger performing year in 2016, and they have also committed to producing another album. They plan on doing concerts in 10-day runs next year so they don’t have to be away from their families for too long.
“Last year, we were doing up to three-week runs, and we said, ‘This is out of balance. We’re compromising families,’” Schmidt said. “We’re all dads, and family is No. 1 for all of us.”
Touring in 10-day runs will give the musicians breaks so they can come home and “really be dads,” Schmidt said.
The Piano Guys will also return to their home state for a performance at the USANA Amphitheatre in July 2016, and they expect to come closer to reaching their Seven Wonders of the World goal.
With a successful year coming to an end, and even more exciting things to look forward to in 2016, The Piano Guys have a lot to be grateful for, Schmidt said.
“We really feel a gratitude to Utah,” Schmidt said. “(Our success) wouldn’t have happened without Utah.”