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The Norseman

Unlocking music genres for masses: Piano Guys use 88 keys to create musical masterpieces

As I scroll down the web page full of music I am supposed to listen to in my lab time for piano, I come across one video that looks like it could be interesting and click it. After a few seconds of watching it, I quickly become fascinated in the music and the skill of the people performing. What’s more, I vaguely recognize the pop song these people are playing but soon quickly realize that there is classical music blended into it. When the video is finished playing, a name pops up across the top of the screen: The Piano Guys. My only thought is this is so different than anything else I’ve ever watched or listened to before. I wasn’t the only one with this fascination. All over the world, millions of people have felt the same way I did, leading the group to receive invitations to prestigious places and events such as Carnegie Hall and the presidential inauguration.

With all of their success, one might think that The Piano Guys is a typical music group: a band with a lead singer whose songs mostly consist of potential and failed relationships. While I won’t say The Piano Guys are the exact opposite of this, they certainly do not follow this stereotype. The majority of their songs have virtually no lyrics, and only two people really play any of the music: Jon Schmidt (who plays the piano) and Steven Sharp Nelson (who plays the cello, despite their name being The Piano Guys). Their music producer, Al van der Beek, will sometimes step in for vocalization or singing, but since the majority of their songs do not involve singing, this is rare. The final “piano guy”, Paul Anderson, is the videographer. The four of them often take turns at writing the songs.

Even though some people might think writing music without lyrics is quite difficult, The Piano Guys pull this off masterfully. One of the most common things they do is blend two songs together, frequently a classical and contemporary song. I appreciate this because almost always classical music gets lumped together and is often perceived by the public as boring. While I will admit there is some classical music that can really put one to sleep, there is a whole lot that is upbeat and exciting, including one piece in particular that involves a cannon. The Piano Guys pay homage to some of the greatest classical pieces while also acknowledging the musicality of modern music. Some of these compositions include “Titanium/Pavane”, “Hello/Lacrimosa”, and “Fight Song/Amazing Grace”.

Along with this, they also rearrange well-known songs with their own twist. Their song Peponi is basically the Coldplay song “Paradise” but with an African twist. Their rendition of Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” is one of their most popular arrangements as well as “The Cello Song”. “The Cello Song” is unique in that it takes J.S. Bach’s “Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1: Prelude” (far more commonly known as “The Cello Song” and one of the most famous songs among cello players) and adds seven more parts, spicing up this classic piece.

The Piano Guys don’t limit themselves to mixing music together, however. They also compose original music which is often technically complex and takes much skill to play, a distinction from most modern music in which the chorus can easily be tapped out one note at a time. As a piano player, I can appreciate the time it must have taken to compose the music. The thought of playing their “Tour de France” is daunting both because of the piece’s speed and complexity. Though I can’t play the cello, I know that it likely took a lot of work to compose “Celloopa” due to the multiple cello parts and there only being one person. One of my favorite original pieces, “Arwen’s Vigil”, makes up for any easy parts by the sheer beauty of the music.

Some of The Piano Guys’ songs don’t seem to fit any of these categories, such as “Cello Wars”, a mix of the most well-known portions of Star Wars music. As a major Star Wars fan, this persists as one of my favorites. Their “Themes from Pirates of the Caribbean” tops it out as they combine the major themes from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies into a six-minute-long masterpiece. Their song “Okay” is different for them since it is lyrical, but the words have true meaning and are not just filler words to match the beat.

On top of their music, The Piano Guys are known for filming their videos in very dramatic locations. When people click on the video “Kung Fu Piano”, they are not expecting to see a person playing a grand piano on top of the Great Wall of China. In the video for “The Mission/How Great Thou Art”, The Piano Guys managed to haul a piano in front of the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro and film in the middle of the surrounding jungle. Even the ones that are not in dramatic locations have interesting backgrounds. In their “Mission: Impossible” video, The Piano Guys paired up with another internet sensation, violinist Lindsey Stirling, to create a secret-agent-themed video in which Steven Sharp Nelson and Lindsey Stirling pull off a “heist” to steal some music from Jon Schmidt.

There is no doubt that The Piano Guys have revolutionized modern-day music. So far, they have released 7 albums and have millions of views on their YouTube videos. I highly recommend checking them out and listening to their unique music.

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