Who knew sitting down at one of the pianos on 16th Street Mall could change your life? Twenty-year-old Deon Fisher certainly didn’t. When Fisher sat down to play “Carol of the Bells” one late December afternoon, and a random onlooker captured the now famous video that has racked up millions of views across the internet, he became a viral sensation, but one-off talent alone. His video, an absolutely blistering rendition of the Christmas classic, has stopped people in their tracks and brought them to tears all across the world. We caught up with Fisher following the video’s explosion to get to know the man behind the music.
303 Magazine: Where are you from?
Deon Fisher: I’m originally from Tucson, AZ, but I moved to Denver about seven years ago.
303: When did you start playing the piano?
DF: I started four and a half years ago. I was in my friend’s basement and he was playing Harry Potter. I thought one of the songs playing sounded dope, and I wanted to learn it. So, I practiced it with just my two index fingers and I was just bouncing off the keys. Hearing the keys make that little knocking sound created a little beat in my head — a way for me to create rhythms. Nowadays, I go to Guitar Center to use their digital keyboards, to build different rhythms in my head using other instrument sounds. For example, with a trumpet, you want to go quicker and violin sounds you want to go slower, but in the end, I take the rhythms I learn from those instruments and take them to the piano for inspiration.
303: What’s the story behind the famous 16th Street Mall video?
DF: I was in Arizona the night before I went to play, but I came back to Colorado, went to sleep, and I had a dream about waking up and having 3000 followers, but I had no idea why. I went downtown the following day, not knowing what was going to happen. The day after the performance, the guy that had filmed me messaged me to tell me that the video had 30,000 views. Even then, before I left the house that morning, my mom and my sister had a heavy feeling in their chest which they thought was something bad, but it turned out to be an overwhelmingly good feeling for what was about to happen.
303: What’s life been like since going viral?
DF: For an entire week, I was getting friend request after friend request and messages from all these people around the world — people thanking me. But, I’m still playing the piano to grow, if someone wanted to help me share that rather than simply being the second person in the scene I’m all for that because it’s my groove. Other than that, I’ve gotten news people calling and people calling for me to come out all over the world to play or make music with them. But, I want to set something for myself.
303: What’s the best message you’ve received?
DF: I met a woman who had recently lost her son, and the video reminded her of him and the music he liked. Another lady had a baby that wouldn’t stop crying, but every time she’d play the baby one of my videos, the baby would stop.
303: What do you do currently besides playing the piano?
DF: I currently have a hummus company with my friend Angel and our boss Joe. I break dance, and I also work at a trampoline center for kids. I also recently stopped working in kitchens, where I had been working for about six years.
303: How often did you go down to play on 16th Street Mall prior to that video?
DF: I went a lot, but just to play. I mean, I can feel when people come up genuinely because of the music. I have a different emotion that drives me to make a new sound…
303: Can you go deeper into that?
DF: So, I go downtown to play for purposes outside of music. Not for sadness or happiness, but inspiration from poetry, lessons learned, watching people interact, like a kid saying ‘thank you’ to another kid, etc. Something so small can make a big impact in the way I see it, which is very important to use in creating something emotionally.
303: Can you read music or do you listen and play?
DF: I just listen and play to a degree. It’s more so the different patterns I hear in my head — I just take those patterns to the piano and go from there. I don’t see sounds as sounds, I see the vibration of energy, like the way it hits people.
303: Is that why you go down to 16th Street in particular?
DF: I go down to 16th Street because the pianos are just out there, so when I had free time to play, I would. Also, a little while ago, I was in a problem where I had to go downtown to make some cash, and I don’t even know if I was good at the piano at that point. But, I’d go down there and make, like, $10 — enough to eat in the winter or a day I wouldn’t get called into work. It just became something I needed to do. But, as I found out, I made no money when I came to play for money, however, when I came just to play, that’s when I made it.
303: Where would you like the piano to take you?
DF: The flavor of the piano is different. People, like teachings, will try to put it into a category, but there’s no telling what it could become. It really comes from a groove, but I’d like to share that anyone can play any instrument, and it’ll come easily if you take inspiration from everywhere. You just take your flavor and you’ll learn something new.
303: What inspires you?
DF: There’s minor inspiration in everything. But, this philosopher Alan Watts — the way he talks about how simple life really is — my life is simple, it truly is. Regardless of things, you ask for everything you get and you can only give what you get. Even if you were born in a bad spot, life is really what you make it. I make music on the piano the same way I dance and make people feel as comfortable as they feel. I would like to feel the same from anyone or anything.