Provider still riding high two years after 'Piano Guys' created viral video

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James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor
James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor

Many a long-term care provider has been known to sample Cub Scout choirs, tamburitza bands and alleyways of off-off-off Broadway in search of talent to entertain his or her residents. Then, there are the folks at Sterling Court, an assisted living facility in St. George, UT, who did nothing of the sort and wound up with viral Internet stardom on their hands.

Never mind a good way to start your work week, check out this link for what will have to be the biggest attitude boost in your month, if not longer. And then marvel at the good fortune of Executive Director Nick Lay and the 100-plus residents and workers at Sterling Court.

As if someone playing a jazzy version of “Linus and Lucy” (aka “The Charlie Brown Theme”) weren't enough, a couple of world-class musicians delivering it in extremely showy fashion has to be icing on the cake. Two more hours of other tunes from these “Piano Guys” only enhanced the day.

Such is the payoff for a world-class video crew using your facility as a soundstage for an afternoon. The opportunity came out of the blue, according to Lay, and the facility has never looked back. Even though the recording took place and was released more than two years ago, it's still the featured window on Sterling's home page — under the heading “What makes us different.” No kidding.

To date, more than 3.7 million people have viewed the Charlie Brown video clip on YouTube, many of them repeat viewers, including yours truly. The clip was originally emailed to me by a musical friend who added three other links to The Piano Guys' creative classical and pop adaptations just because they're so cool.

“One of their main production guys who ran a store not far from here came over and pitched the idea of this piano player and cello player putting on a concert they would film here,” recalled Lay, who has been Sterling Court's top administrator for eight years. “I had never heard of them but thought it sounded cool.”

Like any good team leader, he discussed the concert offer with his colleagues. Good thing.

“One of our employees said, ‘Jon Schmidt? He's amazing! Get him here and he'll be the best entertainment we've ever had,” Lay remembered with a smile. “I think we lucked out, for sure. They were amazing with our residents.”

The other musician in the video is cellist Steven Sharp Nelson, sometimes described as the “Mr. Bean” of the outfit. His strumming and drumming on the cello body, which is what he does in this video, is one of his trademark performance moves. But make no mistake: While extremely creative and full of video gimmicks, these are world-class musicians, as their highly popular world tour indicates.

Beyond the music, however, are the incredible videos. If you step back for a second and survey the overall scene, you'll realize the videos are just as much works of art as the musical performances. From the Berlin Wall to Western desert locales to various other stunning locations, great pictures are made.

Including at a senior living facility.

The video was created from about a four-hour visit, Sterling's Lay explained. Three or four cameras were used, and there were also sound technicians and others to help.

It wasn't a total surprise, as the video's opening scroll reads. Staff had about a month to get the residents to sign waivers to be present on camera, which about half (roughly 50) did. The rest of the residents were occupied with a bingo game or other activity, Lay noted.

The spontaneous emotions from the viewers were mostly just that, the executive director explained. “The residents dancing … that's just them,” Lay said. “The (dance) train, that was a bit coached. But when the residents see someone playing the piano, they just come to life.”

Including the gentleman in the white T-shirt who rolled into the performance in mid-show and then parked his wheelchair at the back of the piano, where he could finger the lid, as if he were playing it himself.

Another resident “star,” the dancing woman in the green pantsuit who wound up recording a plug for videos at the end, was not an actress, Lay added. “That little old lady, they really loved her. She was really into music her whole life, teaching and so forth, so she really lit up when they came. Afterwards, they talked with her, and they've followed up with her, to see how she's doing.”

The video remains popular with everyone from Platinum Living Services' corporate owners (who watch it all the time as a “pick-me-up”), to local citizens (who wander in to see where it was shot) to staff members (who show it to new employees).

The 12-year-old facility is a decidedly high-end operation. It's grand staircase is so magnificent, in fact, people come in to have wedding photos shot with it, Lay explains. So whether it was local reputation or just being situated near a key official with the music group, Lay isn't sure.

But he is certain that luck dropped in on him and the others at Sterling Court.

“Going in, I thought: This could be very cool,” he recalled. “At the very least, the residents would have an amazing afternoon.”

As it turns out, the residents and nearly 4 million other people — thus far — will have great memories for much longer than that.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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