I know I’ve posted links to videos by The Piano Guys before. This weekend I picked up a few of their mp3s. Let me just tell you that YouTube sound quality (or more likely my PCs speaker quality) just doesn’t do them justice. The sound is so much clearer, the depth so much more evident. To quote Number Five: “Moooore innnput!!”
Most groups, when they cover a popular song, either tend to try and sound like the original or mutate it so much it’s no longer worth listening to. Perhaps some people feel that’s the case with the Piano Guys’ covers. Perhaps I only like them so much because I didn’t have an emotional attachment to the original. But I have developed strong emotional attachments to their versions.
I don’t know how the work breaks down when this talented team decides to take on a piece. Perhaps the two front-men, Jon Schmidt and Steven Sharp Nelson, are the main creative drive, but there is evidently a very strong collaboration between the two performers and Al Van Der Beek, their arranger and studio guy. Paul Anderson and Tel Stewart handle the videography and business side of things, but they have a measure of musical talent of their own, and likely some input and influence as well.
All I can say is that they have a way to getting to the heart of a piece. They can pare a tune down to its most basic elements and reveal the stark beauty that often gets lost in the over-production of pop music. And yet they can just easily take that same core and go the opposite direction with complex layers and driving energy, revealing the power and majesty of that same simplicity.
I often wonder if they haven’t found depth to songs that the original artists never even knew was there. Or it just could be that The Piano Guys’ speak the musical language I best understand. Whatever the reason, their take on songs move me where the originals usually don’t. There have been some of their songs I’ve been reluctant to listen to simply because my opinion of the original was negative. They don’t always manage to overcome that, either, but much of the time I come away thinking, “Oh, so that’s why people like that song!”
I don’t mean to diminish the efforts of the videographers in this collaboration, either. It’s the videos that first got my attention. They’re high-quality, imaginative, and reveal some absolutely gorgeous settings. It’s the videos that got me to finally pick up their music by itself. I was afraid it would lose something without the visuals, frankly, and I’m relieved to have worried for nothing.
I could be wrong, but what I see in this unique group of talents is a bunch of guys whose dreams and talents overlap in some amazing ways, having a lot of fun. Nelson always looks like he’s having the time of his life, certainly, and may be being doing even more than Yo Yo Ma to make cello cool (’bout time, too. Cello rules, and I don’t just say that because my mom plays cello, or because Virginia Madsen’s character played one in “Electric Dreams”).
It takes more than just enthusiasm and fun to make a venture successful, but when the participants are also highly talented the results can be phenomenal. The Piano Guys deserve every bit of fame they’re garnering, and even some of my money. I hope they keep going for a long time.
What’s more, I find myself hoping I someday find my way into a collaboration as rewarding as this one appears to be.
Here’s a parting example of a “Meh” original that they turned into something I just love: