With the re-opening post pandemic, more artists are finally having their physical concerts in various parts of the world. Recently, I have the good fortunes to be able to enjoy a night of entertainment by American youtuber duo of Piano Guys in Singapore’s Star Theatre. Helmed by the cellist Steven Nelson and pianist Jon Schmidt.
The duo starts off the concert with exciting theme songs from Iron Man and Pirates of the Caribbean, very much pulling in the crowd almost with the excitement of going to a cinema for a show.
Throughout the whole concert, Steve and Jon treat it almost like a conversation with the audience, giving a different vibes compared to traditional concerts & recitals. And I really like the little snippets of information that the duo throws in. As humble as the duo can be, they introduced themselves and their background, even making fun of their “original venture”, including:
- Steve has ADHD since young, and is able to harness its “super-power” for creativity in music.
- Their original venture is to use social media (Youtube) to improve the sales of piano in the physical stores (cue, this is more than a decade ago when influencers in social media has not reached the shore yet.
- Their original venture goes slightly off-tangent with spin off to the current Piano Guys channel.
- The duo & their behind-the-scene partners hail from Utah, with very strong family bonds. In fact, they pay tribute to their children for inspirations for their videos & music.
- The inspirations to blend contemporary music with classical music to get the attention of younger audiences.
When the duo shares about their intention to complete recordings & cover the 7 wonders of the world, it is such an inspiring (not to mention extremely difficult task) piece. Combining the love of music, assembling these musical creations within the nature & wonders of the world. Almost surreal. In fact, most of the Piano Guys’ videos are well-choreographed with beautiful sceneries accompanied by wonderful blend of classical and contemporary music. The duo mentioned that they have yet to complete the 7 wonders, now only up to their 4th as listed below:
1st Wonder @ Great Wall of China rendition of Kung Fu Piano : Cello Ascends (2013)
2nd Wonder @ Iguazu Fall & Christ the Redeemer of Brazil rendition of The Mission/ How Great Thou Art (2014)
3rd Wonder @ Chichen Itza Mayan of Mexico rendition of The Jungle Book/ Sarabande (2016)
4th Wonder @ Petra of Jordan rendition of Indiana Jones Rocks Petra (2016)
In actual fact, the duo first caught my attention with the rendition of Kung Fu Panda’s theme song (yes, the animation movie with Po the very lazy panda) when I saw snippets of Jon playing the grand piano on Great Wall! Being the first of the ventures to play their instruments in the wonders of the world, challenges are aplenty – approval from authority, setting up the grand piano from scratch (let me assure you that the hike up the Great Wall is not easy at all – uneven pavements, steep stairs, the sheer distance to hike up), finding the right song to do justice to the trip. Back then, I marvel at how cool it was to play the grand piano on the Great Wall. I am equally transfixed with the cool “skeletal” cello that Steve is playing. When Steve explained about how he uses the electrical cello to imitate the sound of er-hu (a Chinese two-stringed instrument tracing its history to thousands of years ago) for the piece, it strikes me that music really transcends time and culture.
Steve also shared their challenges & encounters at Iguazu Falls which provides indication on the difficulties in shooting videos in these wonders, but concluding miracles do happen before performing the beautiful piece with Jon during the concert.
The remaining wonders listed are Machu Picchu, Coloseum & Taj Mahal, but I really wonder when is their next ones and their challenges ahead. I will be looking forward to their next adventure in the Wonders. No matter the situations, their other videos are equally stunning and beautiful, capturing the beauty of nature with relaxing music at its core.
During the concert which lasted about 2.5 hours with a 20 minutes intermission, the duo performs many great pieces. They started early with U2’s With or Without You. I wasn’t so familiar with their version as I have always loved New Airs’ cover.
In contrast to U2’s, the duo performed Sweet Child o’ Mine of Guns N’ Roses to rapturous applauses. Steve & Jon also asks the audience whether they have used their romantic rendition for their wedding vows. I was hoping it would be their rendition of Perfect, but it is actually Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years.
Steve made me laugh with his theory of how Pachelbel wrote only 8 notes for the cello before passing on, and grudgingly agreed to the duet for a “bored” rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Steve also performs what he calls as The Cello song – Bach in Suite 1, which he uses his electrical cello for loop effects to imitate the full 8 cellos playing at the same time. Such creativity…
Steve also shares his ardent love for his many cellos, starting with one at the beginning but over time has cumulated up to 39 cellos! Each of which he describes as his “wives”. He brought 3 of them on stage – his classical cello, the “kungfu” cello and another electrical cello he uses to experiment on various sound effects. I also like the “imitation” of the sound effects with Steve’s cello, starting with seagulls to speeding bikes, leading to their next song.
I also love the fact that they brought in local violinists and Scottish bagpipers who are mostly young musicians for two of their pieces. Steve’s sharing on his understanding of the journey of young musicians is very relatable, especially on the pain of practising. It is such a motivating feedback from real life musicians, as he implores them to persevere and play to soar & fly above the sky. The duo who call themselves as dorky dads actually inspire learning music in a fun and relatable way. I would really encourage parents to bring their children to attend their concerts! During the 1-day only concert in Singapore, I saw mostly younger crowd but very few children.
The concert actually seems so short and time passes so fast with the engaging duo. I am really very sad to leave by the end of the concert. My impression of the Piano Guys also changes quite significantly after the concert. The duo knows their stuff to be relatable to the mass public, and they know how to tell a great story. Their musical creativity is enhanced via visual effects (their videos are truly wonders of their own, showcasing beautiful natural sceneries). In the past, they were selling the Yamaha brand but in recent years I am not too sure as I saw some of their videos showcasing other brands of piano as well.
When your brand name is Piano Guys – inevitably this will bring the public to think of piano. But it was Steve who shines the most with his snippets of information and creativity on his cello. The cellist who lead the Piano Guys, and as they reckoned that they can’t afford to change their brand name now, they are stuck with Piano Guys. 😀
Venue-wise, the Star Theatre is a great hall. On the day of the concert, the queue and signboards are very visible and easy to find. The crowd management is great, concert-goers are disciplined especially when leaving. I do not feel crowded at any point of time. My only grouse is I had selected to be seated on the right side facing the stage, and unfortunately for me the grand piano is facing me resulting in difficulty in seeing Jon’s performances. The spotlights located on the sides are also very blinding at specific point of time. Hence centre seats are definitely better.
I would definitely go again if they are performing nearby! And looking forward to their next musical adventure to the next wonders of the world.