The Piano Guys' Steven Sharp Nelson has lived many people’s dream as he has traveled the world playing the cello. And yet, his journey has been one with many highs and lows that have taught him to trust God and to consecrate each and every performance to Him.
“As incredible as all the views are, as incredible as Carnegie Hall’s stage is, as incomparably sublime as playing in front of the Christ Redeemer statue is, nothing out there is better than being a dad and being a committed husband. Nothing is better than that and I remember that every time I come home from tour and my 7-year-old locks me in this hug I want to live in and says, 'Daddy.’”
Link: The Piano Guys
Music video on the Great Wall: "Kung Fu Piano: Cello Ascends"
Music Video: "This is Your Fight Song (Rachel Platten Scottish Cover)"
LDS Living article about Annie Schmidt: "Little-Known Miracles Behind the Discovery of Annie Schmidt's Body 2 Years Ago"
Scripture: 2 Nephi 32:9:
BYU Daily Universe article about Steven: "‘The Cello Guy’ strives to be a missionary to the world"
Music Video: Dottie Peoples - He's an on time God
"But behold, I say unto you that ye must apray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall bpray unto the Father in the cname of Christ, that he will dconsecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the ewelfare of thy soul."
1:30- So You Want Your Kid to Play an Instrument?
10:05- A Tribute to Julie
12:53- Why Teach Your Children to Love Music?
16:00- Unseen Sacrifices and Challenges
19:52- An Opportunity to Trust God
24:18- Witnessing a Mother’s Battle with Cancer
31:19- Attributing Success to the Grace of God
35:58- The People You’ve Prayed Into Your Life
39:18- Annie Schmidt
43:00- “Consecrate Thy Performance”
47:57- What Does It Mean To You To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
Steven Sharp Nelson is arguably the most-watched cellist in the world. You've likely seen him perform as a member of the Piano Guys. But what brought Nelson to this point in his life? We often don't realize when we see people excel, when we watch people at their peak, what they've been through to bring them to this point. And maybe if we did, we'd realize we're all more the same than we are different.
As a member of the Piano Guys, Steven Sharp Nelson is watched and listened to over 3 million times every day. That means 2000 people, enough people to fill a large concert hall, experience his music every 60 seconds. He's the only cellist in the history of the world to play atop the Great Wall of China, in front of the Christ Redeemer statue in Rio, the Petra sandstone city in Jordan, and on the Death Star. Steven's albums with the Piano Guys have gone gold and platinum in six countries and have held the number one spot on multiple Billboard charts. He's performed on The Tonight Show, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and the Katie Couric show.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we asked the question, "What does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" I'm Morgan Jones, and I am honored to have Steven Sharp Nelson here with me today. Steven, welcome.
Steven Sharp Nelson 1:29
The honor is mine, Morgan. Thank you for having me on this podcast.
Morgan Jones 1:32
Well, thank you so much. I want to start with something that I find really interesting about you—your dad utilized some interesting strategies in getting you to learn how to play an instrument. And I feel like parents everywhere will be able to relate to this and probably kids too. So can you tell us about that and why you're grateful for it?
Steven Sharp Nelson 1:52
Well, my father may have very well coined the phrase "necessity is the mother of invention," and when it came to trying to get me to practice, he was the ultimate Thomas Edison. Every aspect of our practices was engineered, to some extent, to try to get me not to, you know, try to get me to even focus at all. I'm blessed with a wonderful gift, it's called ADHD, and I consider it a superpower. I really love it when it comes to creativity. But when it comes to focus, it's not so good. I mean, it's like it's tough, it's really tough. And even from an early age, I mean, every practice session was squirrel moment after squirrel moment after squirrel moment. And my dad was a saint. I mean he stuck with me, didn't give up on me, even though I think I would have given up on me. I mean, it was so difficult to try to get me to focus. So when parents approach me and they say, you know, "How much do you practice?" And, "Tell my child to practice?" I feel like I just want to reach out and hug that child and say, "Just keep trying. Just keep trying because it does get better." It really does. And I talked about that in my shows, actually, I really reach out to those kids in the audience as best I can. And say, "It gets better." And there's this magic moment that will occur. And I think this works in everything, not just music. If you hold out, this magic moment will occur when you'll be playing your instrument—and it happens gradually, but it'll feel like it's overnight. You'll be playing your instrument and you'll close your eyes, and it'll feel like you're flying. And it's the most incredible feeling in the world. And I know that people can experience that in other things than just music. So I try to tell the kids, it feels like mud, dragging yourself through the mud right now. It feels like you're shackled to the ground, but eventually, you will soar if you stick with it.
But in the beginning, we have to be honest with ourselves, we're human beings, and in our youth, and sometimes in adulthood too, we need help progressing because we don't we can't just draw from that deep well, of natural joy that occurs as a result of seeing fulfillment and progression in our lives. We need help because it just feels like it's drudgery, it feels such like hard work. So my dad mastered what I call the power of positive association. So instead of practice sessions being dread, he used things that I love to get me to have a positive association with that thing. And I'll talk about how that's permeated my entire life. But I'll give you an example. And when I'm practicing—and actually I'll give you my sister's example because she struggled with this too. One of my favorites was my sister is practicing and she's struggling trying to get a particular section down. And what happens? Well, you skip it, you know, you move on. But that's not what practicing is, practicing is nailing those really difficult passages. So my dad would put a pack of gum, my sister's favorite pack of gum, on the piano bench near where she was practicing. And every time she'd get it right, close enough, he'd inch that pack of gum closer to the edge of the piano bench.
Morgan Jones 5:06
This is like next-level dedication from a parent.
Steven Sharp Nelson 5:10
Oh, yeah. Oh yeah, completely. And now granted remember, not all practice sessions were like this, but the good ones were like this. The pack of gum would inch and it would inch further. And it would go towards that end to the piano bench. And she would focus on that rather than how bad she is at the violin because we're all bad at what we start on, especially string instruments. Oh, I mean, for the first year, you don't even want somebody in the same room with you it sounds so awful. It's just scratchy time. So she would focus on that pack of gum and then eventually if she could practice it enough times, get that section right enough times, that pack of gum would push enough where it would fall off the end of the piano bench and she could catch it and have it.
Morgan Jones 5:46
Steven Sharp Nelson 5:47
So here's another example. I would go to my cello lesson. Now I had a very austere cello teacher, a very strict cello teacher. He was incredible, but he was very serious and expected a lot of me.
Morgan Jones 6:01
Steven Sharp Nelson 6:01
Thank goodness. My lessons could have been dread sessions. So my dad would pick me up from school, bless his heart, and we'd go to 7-Eleven first, and he'd let me pick out my favorite snack from 7-Eleven and I could eat it on the way to the lesson. And I tell you, the power of positive association is powerful, it really is. It's like, I looked forward to that, rather than like, "Oh my goodness, Thursday's are lesson days, how do I get out of this?" So I think that translates into so many different aspects of our lives. One of my favorite scriptures is the Prophet Enos. He's struggling, he's out hunting, he's struggling with something you can tell and he doesn't really tell us what he's struggling with, right? But he's struggling with something intensely. So what does he do? He goes and does what he feels he's good at or he loves. He goes hunting. And as he's hunting, he remembers something. But what does he temember? He remembers his father talking about the joy of the saints. And he associates joy with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so when he's not feeling joy, which he was, that's where he goes. And I love that. So if the gospel and if church is about joy, if we associate positive things with it rather than rules or do's and don'ts and just focusing on the aspects of it that scare us or make us afraid or make us feel overwhelmed, it's just incredible what we can do. And my dad taught me that by example, that power of positive association. And I tell you what, when I was playing on the crest of the Great Wall of China, I remember closing my eyes and thinking, "I'm glad my dad made me practice." And a lot of children, parents—your listeners that are parents: Your children will have days in the future when they will say, "I'm glad my mom made me do this," or "I'm glad my dad made me do this." Those moments will come, I promise. And they have come in my life. And so I think back so fondly, even though there were lots of fight sessions, of course, I fought practicing—all kids do, it's what we're best at. But in time, I've looked back and appreciated so profoundly my dad's commitment to teaching me this principle, probably unintentionally. And just imbuing that so naturally into me has created what I get to do every day now. And just the other day I sent dad a packet of emails of lots of people saying what this music that we've created has done for them and I sent it to my dad I said, "Dad, this isn't mine, this is yours. This is yours, read all of these and I hope it can salve, or at least console you after all of those difficult moments of raising me." Because I was a difficult child, he's very very open about that. Especially as he gets older and his inhibitions fall away. So that's just the story of my dad. I love him dearly.
Morgan Jones 9:15
That is so neat and so powerful. Did your dad play an instrument himself?
Steven Sharp Nelson 9:21
Morgan Jones 9:21
What did he play?
Steven Sharp Nelson 9:22
He was a violist. Which is why I'm such a great Viola joke teller. Viola jokes are the best thing ever. So he actually would sit with us in practice, which says a lot about a parent. Parents out there, if you're struggling with your children practicing, if you are musical at all, sit down with them and practice right alongside with them. And if you have any desire, learn the instrument alongside them. It's a very, very powerful tool for parent and child to bond and for a child to see parents struggle too.
Morgan Jones 9:52
See this is why it's good that we do this podcast before I have children. I'm gonna have a whole list of tips. This is great. And your wife is a violinist as well. Do your kids play instruments?
Steven Sharp Nelson 10:05
Well, pause briefly on that because to say my wife is a violinist is the understatement of the century. You know if you were to put my wife and I in a lineup and, you know, with us turning forward and then profile. Imagine this, please listeners with me, we're in this scene and you're looking at both of us, who are you going to pick out that would be the one that that you would pick to be successful on YouTube? Is it the dorky guy that sort of kind of struggles and talks too fast and seems to struggle with all aspects of his life, or is it this immediately charismatic, beautiful woman who can play any instrument and do it well? Speak naturally from her heart, console people as the Savior would console people. And really, that would be the person you would pick. And I'm stuck on YouTube and she's doing the really important work, which is raising our children and giving them a chance, you know, beyond what their father could give them. And I think that that speaks volumes for her. Because not only is she a much better musician, and could do so much better at my career than she does, she has chosen, she has chosen to take on the most important and most beautiful role in the world as mother. And I cannot say enough about that commitment and sacrifice that she has made. An involuntary single motherhood that has been thrust upon her in being married to a traveling musician is harrowing. But she has found positivity in it all and is really just the true hero and the person that really should be getting all of anything that I ever get in terms of accolades from what I get to do. So I have to say that first.
Morgan Jones 11:59
I'm glad you did.
Steven Sharp Nelson 12:01
Thank you, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to do that because I think there's nothing better a man can do than to marry the right person in the right place at the right time. And I married so far above myself that every day I wake up and I try to think how am I going to try to still win this girl's hand? And I print our marriage certificate, I put it on the wall and I point to it and I said, "You signed this! Remember that." I just tried to employ her integrity.
Morgan Jones 12:29
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's worked so far.
Steven Sharp Nelson 12:32
Yeah, well thank goodness. We have four children, a 14-year-old boy, a 12-year-old-girl, a nine-year-old boy, a seven-year-old girl. So we're total bipartisan in our family, lots of filibusters go on all the time, but I love that their hero, true hero is their mom. I love that. And their mom is the consummate musician, so of course, our children are going to pick up on that. But beyond that, I do the same thing with my children that my father did with me. He believed in freedom of choice, he believed in agency, he gave me two choices. One choice was to practice the cello and eat, and the other choice was not. So those were my two choices. I chose to practice and eat, that seemed to be the better choice. But what I mean to say is my father—don't get me wrong, he was a benevolent dictator—but he saw that in the situation of learning a musical instrument, how difficult it is, he made certain privileges and incentives contingent upon our learning an instrument. And in the increased urbanized society that we live in, we're in a society that has so much technology that we assume that the minute we hit something hard, we're upset that somebody hasn't invented a way to make it easy because we're so used to that, convenience is king. So it's so difficult to teach our children. Here's another thing to put on your list, Morgan, to teach our children how to work. It's pretty hard because everything is made easy. It's just kind of the nature of the technological society we live in. So getting your child to learn an instrument is like the olden days of getting them to milk the cows.
Morgan Jones 12:32
Yeah for sure.
Steven Sharp Nelson 14:09
That's their farm work. And we say we don't have a farm that we can have you work on, so this is our farm work. This is what we do. And I tell you, music is a master switch with life. It brightens everything, every aspect of a child's life, it increases their sociality, it increases their mental intellectuality, it increases their emotional intelligence, it increases their confidence in themselves. It increases their compassion, it increases both sides of the brain and the way the synapses communicate to each other back and forth. It is incredible because it's mathematical and it's melodic at the same time. There's nothing that can emulate what music can do for us. So it is a requirement. Now it means that we might have to find the right instrument for them and that's okay. My dad did that. I started on the violin, I didn't like it, it wasn't mine. And the minute he handed me the cello a year later, it rested against my heart and I played the jaws theme. And I was like, "This is it, this is my instrument." Because I just felt an instant connection with it. So I think to your listeners, parents that are considering whether their child should play an instrument, or maybe considering, "Okay, this is probably too hard," because it really is hard. I would just say, do all you can to stick with it, even if it means switching instruments of your child and trying to lock into the right one because it may not be their gift and that's okay. But first, try a couple instruments and if that seems to never click, it might be art or sports or academics. You don't want to force it on them too much. But you got to try as hard as you can to see if you could lock it in because again, it's going to enhance. It's like a master switch on a fader and the more they do music, the more that fader climbs its way up that switch and everything is illuminated by it. It's beautiful.
Morgan Jones 15:55
I'm just gonna like take notes after this. I've got the points. So, Steven, I wonder if we could kind of use this as a little bit of a jumping-off point. I imagine that people look at you and they're like, "This guy has a dream job." And you mentioned already that Julie has made significant sacrifices. I wonder what do you wish that people most understood about maybe the things that are hard about the lifestyle that you have to lead?
Steven Sharp Nelson 16:27
I appreciate that question. I don't want this to turn into a pity party at all, but I'm hoping this is a way that we can all—because we're all in this together. I really love that and everybody has a work to do. The Lord has a work for everybody. And I believe that when you lock into that, you find that it's the best, most rewarding and the most difficult thing you could ever do because it's that refiners fire. And the thing I'll tell people is every job has its ups and downs. Every every job has its highs and its lows. But when you're living your dream and when you're trying to go after your passion or what's something you feel you were born to do, those highs and lows are amplified so significantly that they become extreme peaks and valleys. And what does that mean? Well, it means that's why it's harder, you know. I mean you are flying high one day, it's the best thing in the world and then the next day you could be mired in self-doubt and vulnerability and so many aspects and pressure and burnout. I mean, I gotta tell you I mean everybody says, "Oh you travel the world, that's got to be amazing!" I don't see it at all. I mean I'm inside a tour bus and then when I'm not inside the tour bus I'm inside the concert hall you know.
Morgan Jones 17:50
You're like, "Those concert halls, very beautiful. That's all I know."
Steven Sharp Nelson 17:52
Yeah, right? But they also don't look the same backstage, I tell you that. And the point is too, it's like do I have a choice? When it comes to being as incredible as all the views are, as incredible as Carnegie Hall stage is, as incomparably sublime as playing in front of the Christ, Redeemer statue is, nothing out there is better than being a dad and being a committed husband. Nothing is better. So and I remember that every time I come home from tour and my seven-year-old locks me in this hug I wan't to live in and says, "Daddy." So with that, when I go on tour, I have two choices. I can try to make it very enjoyable by adding days, adding travel, adding lots of fun things to do. Or, I pack it in and crunch it together to the point where I get in and I get out as fast as I can so I can be back home.
Morgan Jones 17:55
Steven Sharp Nelson 17:56
And as a result of doing that, it's very exhausting. It's you're on 24-seven. And then at night, you're trying to sleep in what I call the washing machine, which is the tour bus. You know, being jostled around all night long driving to the next location. And there's tremendous pressure, there's this self-doubt that creeps in because you wonder if you can keep up what you're doing. We're in this skip and scroll culture.
Morgan Jones 19:22
Steven Sharp Nelson 19:23
People are scrolling past me and skipping past me all day long every day. And it's harder and harder to maintain their attention and to stay relevant. And that pressure mounts to the point where you start to really doubt yourself and if you think it is all on you, then you will eventually cave in. And that is why living your dream is not a dream come true all the time. It can have very, very significant side effects. But I will tell you that with all of the burnout, the vulnerability, the self-doubt, the exhaustion, there comes this wonderful opportunity to build trust in God. And I remember one time I was vacuuming. Vacuuming, by the way, is a great time for personal revelation. I don't know why, just the white noise and just doing something good for your family at the same time of just having that thinking time. I'm sitting there vacuuming and I said, "Heavenly Father, what if tomorrow I wake up a dud? What if all my ideas are gone?" Because we kept getting this question incessantly in our interviews as we were building and ramping up and this was catalyzing. "How are you going to keep this up? How are you going to top this? You were just in this or you were just here, or you were just at Petra, what are you going to do next?" You know, and I started getting this feeling like, "Oh my goodness, what if I can't maintain this? Can't sustain this?" And I had this voice come, and I love when I get to hear the voice of the Lord. I love it. And it comes to every one of us so differently. But to me, it often comes with a little bit of humor, because that's a lot of my language. And I remember distinctly feeling, "Please don't worry, Steve. All the ideas are mine. Except for the bad ones, those are yours." And I remember just laughing at that and feeling like, okay, this is an opportunity for me to trust in God. If He wants me to keep doing this, then, as Job I will say, "The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away." If He doesn't want me to keep doing this, if He's got a different path, then He'll take it away and that's okay too. I just want to be where He wants me to be no matter what. And if that means—I was listening to one of your podcasts the other day, Chelsie Hightower, who I admire so much
Morgan Jones 21:47
Isn't she great?
Steven Sharp Nelson 21:48
She's so awesome. And I know you're good friends. And she, that moment she talked about willing to give her career to the Lord was really powerful to me. I think that speaks volumes to faith. I think that if we're willing to give up everything that either we think we've built up for ourselves, or he's given us in order to stay in tune, to stay facing God, that is a beautiful moment to reach in life. And it also is this moment of liberation.
Morgan Jones 22:17
Yeah, it's freeing. It takes the pressure off of you.
Steven Sharp Nelson 22:20
Exactly. Right. I remember when I was on the side of a stage, and we had been touring for so long. And I was so exhausted, Morgan, I wanted to go into the corner and cry and just get into the fetal position and say, "Don't make me go out on that stage." I'll never forget what that feeling was like, and as it's come many times, but this one, in particular, was especially poignant. And I was standing on the side of the stage and they started doing the intro. And I was like, "Heavenly Father, I can't do this anymore. I can't do it. I'm too tired. I can't do this." And I remember the voice came again. And it was so sweet and gentle, but it was a little bit of humor at the same time. And it said, "My dear son, Steven, when have I ever given you the impression that it's all up to you?" And I smiled, and I walked out onto that stage—which is what we have to do, the spirit doesn't work with a stick in the mud. You've got to go out there. And I got onto that stage and the minute I sat down, I floated six inches off of that chair the entire night, remembering that is not up to me. And that is a liberating moment. If you haven't had that moment yet—and again, it has to recur, because of course, we can fall back, we can take steps back—but if you haven't had that moment, pray for it. Pray for it because I promise you, it will come when you can realize that it's not totally up to you and therefore liberating and therefore you are no longer in a position where you're berating yourself and criticizing yourself and disappointed with yourself. You've just got to show up and have faith that the Lord will carry you six inches off of wherever you stand or sit. And I promise that'll happen.
Morgan Jones 24:15
That's beautiful. Thank you. Recently I was, as I was prepping for this interview, I read a review of a show that you guys did in December. And I loved what the writer said. They said, "In a poignant moment, Steven told the story behind their final song—a mashup of Rachel Platen's "Fight Song," and John Newton's poem, "Amazing Grace." He explained that his father had lost two wives to cancer throughout his life and despite this remains undeterred in his love and grace. He also mentioned his faith attributing the success of The Piano Guys, to the grace of God. While there are many artists and bands that like to publicly recite platitudes, thanking God and the fans, I felt that this was genuine, which made their last performance even more compelling." And first of all, I thought that was so cool. And that was in Nebraska.
Steven Sharp Nelson 25:11
That was a very generous review.
Morgan Jones 25:14
Yeah. I just thought that was so kind and such a credit to you and your words. But I wanted to talk about two aspects of that. One, you mentioned that your father lost two wives to cancer, the first being your mother,
Steven Sharp Nelson 25:29
Morgan Jones 25:30
You lost your mom when you were how old?
Steven Sharp Nelson 25:34
So she was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was two years old. She outlived all of the medical predictions, miraculously, for 18 years. But it also meant that my father was her caregiver for most of that time.
Morgan Jones 25:51
Yeah. How did that experience shape you, Steven?
Steven Sharp Nelson 25:56
Well, there's so many answers to that. You know, I ask myself, Morgan, why is there so much of this going on? My story's not all that unique. It might have been a while ago, but I think there are a lot of us out there and I know there are a lot of you that are listening right now that—sorry. One thing I inherited from my mother's is I'm an incessant crier. I cry when a gas station opens up on the corner for heaven's sakes. I'll never forget when I was in junior high—this is a sidebar story. I was in junior high and my mom is failing health, of course, by that time and tough to get out. But she came and supported me as I sang in the boys glee in junior high, which was a horrendous concert. I mean, oh my goodness, I don't know how anybody sat through it. It was so bad.
Morgan Jones 26:40
But she was so proud, she was crying.
Steven Sharp Nelson 26:41
Well, and yeah, and I came up to her afterwards and I was like "Mom, how'd you like it?" And she just started to cry. I was like, are you kidding me? But every time I shed a tear, I feel more connected with her and so I'm sorry for being a little weepy, that's just who I am. But I know that there are people out there listening right now that are struggling with this debilitating disease that has struck us so ubiquitously. And I know that either you or you're with somebody or you love somebody who's struggling with this. And I took tremendous heart in what Elder Maxwell—who's a very dear friend of our family, someone I miss so dearly, and was also the one that blessed my mother, originally, when she was diagnosed with that brain tumor. She had my sister in her womb, she was pregnant with her youngest child when she was diagnosed. Can you imagine that? And my father—sorry, I'm getting on a tangent. This is how I roll. My father, unbeknownst to my mom and Elder Maxwell, gets down on his knees and so overwhelmed, he says, "Heavenly Father, please just keep her around. Even though the doctors are saying she only has a couple of years, please keep her around long enough for me just to get my kids out of school. Just let her be with me till then, it's a lot to ask." And he asked Elder Maxwell, who again friend of the family, and my aunt's father, incidentally, he blessed her. And as he blessed her, he said, "You will live to see the daughter in your womb graduate high school." And everybody thought, "How dare you promise that. There's just no way." And she passed away the month my sister graduated high school. And I think that was much to the credit of, all to the glory of God and the credit of Priesthood power, but also to the credit of my mother's and my father's faith. So, Elder Maxwell, in explaining how important he is to our family, he suffered cancer himself.
Morgan Jones 28:47
Steven Sharp Nelson 28:48
And you know what he said? He said that it was softening, it was a softening experience. And I think about all that you are going through that you're listening right now and I think about your loved one perhaps and what they're going through. And I think about what my family went through together, in watching my mother go through this. My father taking care of her and then she passes away, and my father remarried—and I tell this story in my concert—but he remarries another woman, she's diagnosed with cancer and she passes away. And I think what is going on? And really, there's a tremendous, beautiful purpose to this. And the softer we are with each other, the more we can love each other, and the more will be dependent on God. And I think that that just seeing that, that there's there's this softening and this grand purpose to it all is so beautiful and so consoling.
And watching my dad take care of my mom and take care of my, who I call my bonus mom—I don't like stepmother. Disney ruined that term. She's a bonus mom. Watching him take care of both of them and being so grateful for each day their life was extended rather than bitter at the time taken away. I realized something, and it's what "Fight Song," our song "Fight Song" and amazing grace is all about, and I say this in our shows. It's when the fights of our life grow too fierce to fight on our own, when they're too unfair when they don't make sense when we can't see through them. When we don't see the purpose, when they're too fierce to fight on our own, we can turn them over to grace, and let grace do the fighting for us. And that is what my dad did. And that is what is expected of me too in my trials because I saw such a wonderful example. He could have preached 1000 sermons to me, and yet he didn't need to because his actions were so compelling. I couldn't help but pick up on his faith, his grace, his fortitude, his gratitude. It's a beautiful, beautiful story. And the reason why I shared in my concerts is because I want people to see that this is what this whole harrowing experience that we're going through at this debilitating disease, it's all about a softening, and a return to God and faith. And also feeling that gratitude for each day and the miracle of each day, rather than focusing on the things that don't mean anything. I love the line in "Come, Come Ye Saints ." "Our useless cares from us to drive." And that's what our trials are all about. And that's what I saw in my father's life. It's a beautiful thing.
Morgan Jones 31:18
Thank you so much for sharing that. I want to come back to the second part of what that writer said that you said. And that is that you attributed the success of The Piano Guys to the grace of God. How do you feel, Steven, that the success of The Piano Guys is a credit to the grace of God and how has that success humbled you?
Steven Sharp Nelson 31:42
You know what, I love how God can take can do so much with so little. And if there's anything The Piano Guys have proven, it's that God can do a lot with so little. Because look at us. If we were to go to Sony before we signed with them, because we had proven ourselve kind of that point already. If we were to go to them at the outset before we had done anything and said, okay, here's Sony, "Here's what we're thinking. We're going to take for middle-aged dads, we're going to film classically influenced music videos, instrumental music, in nature." You know how would that have gone over? Sony would have been like, "Oh, yes, we'll invest millions of dollars!" No, they would have laughed us out of the room. So it's almost like God saw us, perhaps as he sees all of us, and said, "You know what, I can use these guys to show the world that anybody can do this." And I'm not a rock star. I'm not, nobody has my poster pinned up in their locker for heaven's sakes, you know, up on their wall.
Morgan Jones 32:44
Our sound guy's saying that he maybe does.
Steven Sharp Nelson 32:47
Besides Derek, nobody else does. So I think it's important to see that we look on this and we're just average, totally average guys. And all we're trying to do is be instruments in God's hands, and I love that anybody can do that. Anybody can do that. There's nothing spectacular about who we are. But there's everything spectacular about who God is. And anybody and everybody has access to that, in all kinds of fields—whatever your gifts are in. And I love that, and I love that we as sort of ordinary looking guys that are playing classical instruments out there—I mean, for heaven's sakes, you know, when we sell out a huge concert hall, I feel like saying to the audience, "You know, you're at a piano cello concert right?" I mean, was like Bon Jovi advertised and I just didn't know about it? Like, how are these seats being filled? And I keep reminding myself, I look back on the history of The Piano Guys, and I see all these little coincidences. And remember coincidences—how does the saying go? Coincidence is just one way for God remain anonymous in our lives. But I think it goes deeper than that. I think when we recognize that coincidences represent meaninglessness and life is too meaningful to be meaningless. So when we recognize all these little coincidences, we can relabel them into miracles. And as we recognize them as miracles, we can count on those miracles continuing in our life, and that brings tremendous peace, comfort, joy, faith, hope, all the above.
So I look back and when we see all those miracles, I can't help but give credit where credit is due and to thank God publicly on the stage for putting us on that stage. And I hope what people draw from that is not this sort of self-righteousness. I hope that they draw from that as "Hey, I could do that too." In whatever aspect, not necessarily being onstage, but whatever gifts that they've been given, whatever work the Lord has for them to do, they can tap into that. I'll never forget this publication was interviewing us, and they kept asking us sort of the platitudinal questions of "What would you say to somebody who wants to do what you do to be successful?" And up to that point, I was kind of like, "Well, dream big, work hard." I was giving platitudes back. You know, "Never give up," you know all those kind of things. And it's so funny, the spirit sort of whomped me on the head, for you, you don't need this as much as I do listener, but the Spirit kind of speaks a little bit resolutely with me, I guess is the euphemism I could use. Sometimes he calls me by my last name when I'm being extra dense. And he just said, "Nelson, tell them how you really feel, stop with the platitudes." And I remember looking that interviewer straight in the eye and I said, and it's an Ezra Taft Benson quote, "Men and women who place their lives in God's hands will find that He can do so much more with it than they ever could." And anybody can do that. And that's the only thing that I can say that we've strived to do in The Piano Guys because we're not world-class talent necessarily. We're not world-class in this or that, and like I said, we don't look like rock stars. But if we can just turn our lives over to God, He can make so much more out of it than we ever could and anybody can do that.
Morgan Jones 35:56
Yeah. Well, I think first of all, the sales pitch to Sony would have actually been much different. I mean, you kind of undersold it there.
Steven Sharp Nelson 36:04
I did. Okay maybe for comedic purposes I did.
Morgan Jones 36:08
But, I do love that point. And I think that you're so spot on. And I want to talk a little bit about The Piano Guys. I imagine that you guys are all probably pretty different as human beings. And so what have you learned from this experience of working with three other middle-aged men—I feel like it's kind of unusual to spend that much time—granted, everybody has a job you spend way too much time with the people you work with. But how has that taught you to work as a team?
Steven Sharp Nelson 36:42
First of all, that's a very perceptive question, thank you. And I think that's a big part of who The Piano Guys are is is the diversity of the four of us. I will tell you who is who's listening, I think one of the things that that I would gently advise you to do is to pray for the right people to come into your life. And I did that when I was a kid, I can't remember who told me to do that, advised me to do that, but I promise you the Lord will do that. And I found that if you surround yourself with people that are that you've prayed into your life, that God has placed in your life, they often are people that are way more of something than you are. And just being in their presence demands more from you, in such a beautifully compelling, even gentle way. And these three guys that I work with, Al, Paul, and Jon are that times 100. They are so much more than I am in so many aspects that when I'm around them, I can't help but feel the demand for me to live higher. And I love that. And we're all very, very different. And I will tell you, there have been many times when we butted heads, we've disagreed we haven't had unanimity. And the only way we've stuck together rather than being a statistic—because nine out of 10 bands break up—is prayer. We pray together. And we pray for forgiveness, we pray for understanding, we pray to know what is right, rather than who is right. And we pray for humility, even in all of the fame and fortune that could be thrown at you and all of the accolades, we pray for that. And we pray to be united. And when we reach that, then the spirit comes in and that's the X-factor in our music. That's why I can't take credit for it either. When somebody feels something from music, it's the spirit, it has nothing to do with my bow or my cello. So I think that's the key: is praying the right people in your life and then pray with them. And I'm hoping that means that if you're married, that you're praying out loud with your spouse and expressing gratitude for him or her in front of him or her. And that is such a wonderful thing. And we do that all the time as The Piano Guys, we pray and gratitude for each other. Yeah, there are things that bug us about each other. There are things we disagree about all the time, but to pray for each other and to pray for that unity is such a beautiful blessing and I cannot express enough gratitude for what I have learned, gained and enjoyed in my life as a result of Al, Paul, and Jon.
Morgan Jones 39:05
That is like such a high compliment to them, and I'm feeling emotional over here just because I can think of people in my life that have been that for me. And so thank you, thank you for sharing that. I wondered, you guys have gone through some hard things together. Specifically, a few years ago, Jon's daughter, Annie, was missing and then later found, and she passed away. How did that experience bring you all closer? And what did you learn through that process?
Steven Sharp Nelson 39:37
There's so many things, it would be hard to summarize, but I'll do my best. First and foremost, Michelle and Jon are valiant souls. And to watch them handle this differently—Michelle and Jon handled this very differently. But to watch them, again, pray for that unity and pray to meet in the middle where both of them stood regarding how to—I mean, at one point, Michelle felt very strongly that Annie had passed away and it was okay to let her go. And and Jon, conversely, was convinced she was still alive and they had to continue to search. But what they did is they relied on the Lord and they did so together and to watch that was a sublimely beautiful experience and inspiring. And there's nothing like watching one of your best friends walk up a river, ice cold, yelling his daughter's name, and knowing that there's little if anything you can do. And to feel totally helpless reminds you that we are dependent upon God. And even though I couldn't be his Savior or Annie's savior in that moment, we should never really want that. I mean, I think that's going above and beyond what we are, that job is taken. And it's overfilled, in fact, it's overflowing. I could be his friend, and I could be his business partner. And I could be there and say, Jon, if you need three months with your family—which is I don't remember how long it was—we kept Piano Guys rolling, we kept it going. And that is a partnership really. And I think that happens in relationships, in marriages is when when one of you is low and stricken, the other steps in and it goes back and forth. I remember in particular, very difficult experience that Julie and I experienced, Julie in particular when she lost her brother, when he took his own life. And I'll never forget on my knees, praying, you know, watching my wife who is the most optimistic, most faithful person I know just struggle to even take a step. I got on my knees and I said, "Heavenly Father, help me save her from this. Help me to take the pain away from her. Help me to make this right, fix it. I'm a fixer. A lot of us guys are for heaven's sakes, help me fix this." And I remember the spirit, the Lord's voice through the Spirit gently telling me, "Please stop trying to be her Savior. That job's taken. Just be her husband." And I remember in that moment when that block was removed, when I was trying to be more than I was, you know, in Ammon and sending in his wish, trying to be the trump to everybody and the angel that proclaims the gospel to everybody. Instead, I said, "I could do that." And all of a sudden, all these ideas started coming in, you know, you could take Eli to this, and you could make dinner, and you could clean up this part of the house, and you could insist that she stays with her family for a couple of days just to commune with them while you take care of everything. And you take over that schedule, you be the best Mr. Mom ever in the history of mankind because that could be something you could do. And I think all of us can have that role. You don't need to be somebody's Savior, you can just be their friend, their mother, their father, their brother, their sister, their husband, their wife. And that's something we can all do, and we can have inspiration within that as well. So that when we serve that person who needs us very most at that time, we need them the very most, we can be inspired in our service to the point where it really counts and really means something to them.
Morgan Jones 40:37
I love that. You mentioned inspiration just now and I read that you all, The Piano Guys, pray to have the spirit with you before every concert. You mentioned prayer earlier, obviously a big role. But what role does prayer play, Steven, in deciding what songs to write or arrange? And are there any specific examples of that?
Steven Sharp Nelson 44:05
That's a great question, Morgan, thank you. And I'm just so excited that this is something that anybody can tap into. This is one of my favorite scriptures if that's okay if I share this, it comes from 2 Nephi 32:9. Now remember, these are Nephi's last words. And I consider somebody last words very, very important. Moroni 10 is so powerful. Read Moroni 10, but read it as a great prophet's last words, and it's so powerful. Same thing with Nephi here in 32. What is he trying to tell us? He says, "But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform—and this is good for a musician— that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul." Now that performance could be a recipe you're cooking for somebody or that could be a test you're taking. Or that could be a stage performance, it could be a piece of art you're painting. It could be a job interview, you're "performing in," so to speak. As we pray with faith, as much as we can muster, even the times we don't feel like praying because I've had those times too, that we askfor that consecration. I love that word. How cool is that word? To be sealed up, to be consecrated, so that our performance will be for the welfare of ours and other souls out there. And I have seen tremendously powerful things happen, Morgan, I wish I could tell you the stories. These incredible stories of moments when we prayed and prayed and God loves close calls, so sometimes—I love the gospel song. One of my favorite gospel songs says "hH may not Come when you call Him, but God's always on time." And I've seen that. So as we pray and pray for that consecration, it does happen. But often, remember that the way the Lord wants us to perform may not be what we have in mind. When we performed in Carnegie Hall, everything went wrong, technically, everything went wrong. You know, as we prayed before this interview, your awesome guy Derek here prayed that all the things would go well technically, and I loved that prayer. But we've learned since then, that you have to throw in a little Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into that and say, "But if not, help us to roll with it."
Morgan Jones 46:37
Steven Sharp Nelson 46:37
Because I've learned at Carnegie Hall when everything went wrong, technically, it was a disaster I thought. And we did the best we could and I remember after a Sony executive, a big time Sony executive who was there at the show, because all of Sony was there and all of our family, I mean, it was such a pressure experienced. I remember that Sony executive came up to me, and he said, "I have more respect for you than any other musician that I've ever seen." And I said, "Were we at the same concert?" And I said, "Why?" And he said, "Because I've seen musicians storm off the stage for far less than when you stayed and try to make fun of it and make a joke and enjoy it still and try to make a performance out of it still." So just remember that when we pray for the Lord to consecrate our performance, it may not be exactly as we pictured it, but He will consecrate it. Because as a result of that performance in Carnegie Hall, going right and wrong, I think we forged an incredible relationship with our record label, which was very important at that time as a result of them seeing us at our worst in a very difficult situation, but handle it with a god given grace that we prayed for.
Morgan Jones 47:48
That's so neat. Well, Steven, I cannot thank you enough for coming in and giving of your time, I know you're very busy. But before we wrap up, I just have one last question for you, and you probably know that this is coming.
Steven Sharp Nelson 48:03
Oh yes, it's the question, right?
Morgan Jones 48:04
It's the question. What does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Steven Sharp Nelson 48:10
I love this question. And I love that it's different for everyone. I love that. I love that there's no cookie cutter answer in this. I love that God is such an individual, loving our souls God, that each of our journeys are so significantly different as a result to be all in is so different for us. But for me, I think about this question a lot. I thought about it a lot ever since you asked me to do this too, in particular. And I think about Peter. I love Peter. I think Peter and I could totally hang out together even though I'm way below what I could ever claim him to be. But I just love his seal and I feel like I relate to that. You know when the savior was washing his feet, I love when Peters was like, "No, no, no," because that's what I would have said. And then when the Savior's like, "Well if I can't do this, then you're not my disciple." And what a Peter say, "In that case, wash everything." I love that, that's so cool. And I love that Peter struggled. I really do. I love that when the Savior was walking on the water, Peters like, "I want to come out to you. I can do that, I can walk on the water." I feel like that all the time. When I feel the spirit, I feel like I could walk right out in that water and race to the Savior with miracles in my wake. But then I experience what Peter experienced when he saw the wind and waves boisterous. And he began to sink. And he began to sink deeper.
And sometimes we think "all in" or sometimes I think—I'm going to put this in a personal context. Sometimes I think "all in" is when Peter jumped out on the water to walk to the Savior. And I think the tremendous moment, the "all in" moment, was when Peter was literally all in the water. And he was sinking. And I've learned that the deeper we sink, the more the upward pull that the Savior gives us, the more we will feel that upward pull of the Savior. And Peter was all in and I have felt that too. All in, not just all in the Gospel, but all in maybe even over my head, trying to be like the Savior and failing miserably. But what did Peter say in that moment? He said, "Lord save me." And I think being all in the Gospel is having the hope with all of our heart, striving for the faith, striving for that faith, that God is all in our lives enough that when we sink, He will pull us out. And when I think about that, I rejoice. Rejoice in knowing that when I commit to be obedient and to be like the Savior, which is so daunting and can feel so overwhelming and I can feel like I'm not enough ever. With that commitment of obedience and emulation comes a promise and a commitment from the savior of sustainability and of rescue. And I can count on that. And I've learned I have trust issues, Morgan, I really do, I will be vulnerable. I when something goes wrong, it erodes my trust, not necessarily in God. I believe that with God, nothing is impossible, and yet when you put me in the equation I'm like, well, that just ruin everything. So I struggle with trust issues sometimes. And I found, and this is such a wonderful piece of advice from my dear friend Jane, I was talking to her one time she's in my ward, we're so blessed to be around good people like this. I love that we have the church to have people like this around. And I said, "Jane, I'm really struggling to trust in Heavenly Father right now with all that's changing in my life and the industry I'm working in.I'm having trouble trusting. How do you do it, Jane?" And she said, "Wow, I struggle with that same thing. But I've found that I just hold on to hope. And I hope so hard that it feels like trust." And I think that's what we can do. If we can't choose to trust, we can't choose to be happy, even choosing to be grateful is difficult at times for us. If we can just choose to hope and hope hard enough that all the other stuff just sort of feels like it's happening. And I really believe that is we're all in for Heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ and their gospel, we can count on them always being all in for us.
Morgan Jones 49:49
Thank you, that was so perfect. Thank you so much.
Steven Sharp Nelson 52:50
My pleasure. Thank you so much, Morgan.
Morgan Jones 52:55
We are so grateful to Steven Sharp Nelson for joining us on today's episode. You can look up The Piano Guys on YouTube and have beautiful music to listen to for days, literally. As always, thank you to Derek Campbell of Mix At Six Studios for his work on this episode and thank you for listening. We'll be with you again next week.