The Piano Guys - pianist Jon Schmidt, cellist Steven Sharp Nelson, producer Paul Anderson, and songwriter Al van der Beek - are self-described goofballs with a knack for mashing classical music with the hottest pop songs. They've mixed Let It Go with Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Winter), OneRepublic's Secrets with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, and David Guetta's Titanium with Gabriel Faure's Pavane. The videos for these songs each have more than 30 million views on YouTube.
"We get emails from classical purists saying Beethoven would roll over in his grave if he heard what we did with his music," Van der Beek tells Young Post by phone. "If they really listened to all our music they would see that it is heavily influenced by classical music. But for us, the setting of an orchestra is really serious, and we're not serious guys. We're dorks. We just like to have fun."
The Utah-based group's latest work is I Want You Bach, a funky mash-up of several well-known Bach melodies with the catchy riffs of Jackson 5's I Want You Back. A fan of 70s funk, Van der Beek was intrigued by the talkbox, a device that directs the sound of an instrument to the musician's mouth with a plastic tube. The musician can then shape the sounds into words with his mouth, vocalising the instrument.
The talkbox has been used by artists such as Prince, Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton, but rarely with the electric cello. The group bought one and played with it; as they were playing I Want You Back, Schmidt and Nelson began randomly mixing in Bach tunes.
"It was a match made in heaven," Van der Beek says.
Because of the group's classical training, they tend to hear classic melodies when they listen to pop songs. "Classical music is the ancestor of all the music you hear today," says Van der Beek. "We can introduce [young people] to classical music through what we're doing and it's easier for them to digest."
The quartet makes good use of the 16 children they have between them. Van der Beek tests out his music on his three, aged 11, eight and five. "If I see them bobbing their heads up and down, closing their eyes and really getting into it, then I know that it's a cool song, because they're a lot cooler than any of us," he says.
Their children are their main source of inspiration. Two weeks before they were due to shoot a video on the Great Wall, they had no idea what to play. The kids suggested they did a song from animated film Kung Fu Panda. They ended up mixing the melody of Oogway Ascends with Chopin to form Kung Fu Piano: Cello Ascends, in which Nelson mimics the erhu and guqin on his electric cello (which he calls Bruce Lee).
Devout Mormons, The Piano Guys hope to bring families closer by combining musical tastes. "Even though we're really religious, we want to make music that's not religious, but spiritual," he says.
"We feel like God has given us opportunities to use talents that he's blessed us with to bring families together by making something that they can enjoy together."
The Piano Guys will perform at AsiaWorld-Expo on April 18.