"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
June 5, 2013
Give a Listen: Masterful Piano by LDS Artists
by Laurie Williams Sowby

The Piano Guys just released their second CD, named simply The Piano Guys 2, on the Sony label; the first one (reviewed here) was The Piano Guys. No mystery there.

Curiously, though, they are actually just one piano guy — longtime performer Jon Schmidt; one cello guy — facially expressive Steven Sharp Nelson; and three multi-functional cohorts in making the videos whose YouTube popularity catapulted the five Utah dads to national fame. (You can catch them on talk shows and PBS specials from Red Butte Gardens.)

In case anyone’s wondering, the other three guys are arranger/percussionist Al van der Beek and videographers Tel Stewart and Paul Andersen. Regardless of what they’re called, they’ve successfully bridged the gap between classical and cool with inventive arrangements featuring new age sounds and sound effects, interesting nuances and textures, and abundant surprises.

For example, their premier album’s “Over the Rainbow/Simple Gifts” is a cheery fusion of traditional and modern. Echoes of Star Wars are heard in “Cello Wars,” and snatches of the Fifth Symphony surface in “Beethoven’s Five Secrets.” The haunting “Arwen’s Vigil” is an original creation of van der Beek, Schmidt, and Nelson. Mind-boggling imaginations these guys have!

Who cares what they call themselves? The Piano Guys’ successful blend of acoustic and electric sounds appeals across genres and generations (and the first Sony CD is a surprising $9.99).

Josh Wright’s piano expertise ranges from classical to pop, and his accolades likewise from winner of an International Chopin Competition to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The same enticing range appears on his self-titled new album, Josh Wright. It’s actually his fourth but the first to be produced by Shadow Mountain ($16.98), following a couple of successful concert appearances at BYU Women’s Conference.

Young Wright took his cue from other successful LDS artists and has managed to skillfully and beautifully blend hymns with classical pieces, although he also lets Chopin, Ravel, and Liszt have their own space on this album. His “Claire de Lune/ How Great thou Art” combo is gentle genius. The talented Sam Cardon orchestrated and/or arranged several pieces Josh plays.

You can hear Cardon’s signature sounds in some of the arrangements, including a mix of the adagio movement from Rachmaninoff’s Concerto no. 2 in C minor and “Abide with Me, ‘Tis Eventide.” Josh’s own bluesy arrangement of “Homeward Bound” is dedicated to Cardon, who’s obviously had a major influence on the young pianist.

Likewise, Wright’s rendition of Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” (18th Variation) is dedicated to his University of Utah piano professor, Susan Duehlmeier.

No gimmicks here — just a classically trained, highly skilled, and creative pianist giving his all on some old and new classics that appeal to good taste.

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About Laurie Williams Sowby

Laurie Williams Sowby has been writing since second grade and getting paid for it since high school. Her byline ("all three names, please") has appeared on more than 6,000 freelance articles published in newspapers, magazines, and online.

A graduate of BYU and a writing instructor at Utah Valley University for many years, she proudly claims all five children and their spouses as college grads.

She and husband, Steve, have served three full-time missions together, beginning in 2005 in Chile, followed by Washington D.C. South, then Washington D.C. North, both times as young adult Institute teachers. They are currently serving in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs

During her years of missionary service, Laurie has continued to write about significant Church events, including the rededication of the Santiago Temple by President Hinckley and the groundbreaking for the Philadelphia Temple by President Eyring. She also was a Church Service Missionary, working as a news editor at Church Magazines, between full-time missions.

Laurie has traveled to all 50 states and at least 45 countries (so far). While home is American Fork, Utah, Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have provided a comfortable second home.

Laurie is currently serving a fourth full-time mission with her husband in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs. The two previously served with a branch presidency at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The oldest of 18 grandchildren have been called to serve missions in New Hampshire and Brisbane, Australia.

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