SALT LAKE CITY — It’s a good time to be Paul Cardall.

The Latter-day Saint pianist, composer and producer from Utah is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his heart transplant by releasing a new album, “Peaceful Piano,” and he’s also been nominated by the Gospel Music Association for the 50th Annual Dove Awards’ Instrumental Album of the Year (for his album “Christmas”). 

His last three albums have also done well on the Billboard charts. 

While Cardall is grateful for the personal success, he also sees it as a sign of progress in the musical world for the vast majority of Christian musicians, he said.

“This is the first time a Latter-day Saint has been nominated by the Gospel Music Association for Album of the Year in its instrumental category,” Cardall said. “For years, Excel Entertainment has worked and worked and worked to get some of our music into the Christian mainstream. It’s happening, finally.”

The 46-year-old will find out if he wins on Oct. 15 at the Dove Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, where he currently resides. The Dove Awards promote Christian and gospel music. 

What fans tell Cardall they love about his music is its “healing” effect, particularly surrounding the death of a loved one.

One fan recently told Cardall that his music played in the background as her mother died and that his music “helped in the transition from this life to heaven,” Cardall read from his cell phone. 

Another fan wrote: “My husband received heart surgery and used your music to help him calm down.”

A young man in Iraq once emailed Cardall. In broken English, he said his family had been killed and he was considering suicide when he happened to walk by an office at a military base and overhead a melody that caused him to stop and cry. The music was Cardall’s arrangement of the hymn, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” 

“This happens daily,” Cardall said of the messages. “Sometimes I wish I was a rock ’n’ roll or country artist so I could watch people jump up and down with excitement. But God knows who is hurting and how to help them. All I’ve done is try to create music based on what I know from my own experiences of hurting. It’s all from God.”

Cardall discussed these topics, along with why he moved to Nashville and how he discovered his musical talents, in a recent interview with the Deseret News.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Paul Cardall is a pianist, composer and producer. His most recent album is “Peaceful Piano.” | Provided by Paul Cardall

Deseret News: Why move to Nashville? 

Paul Cardall: I was the keynote in New Orleans for the American Heart Association three years ago. We wanted to do a road trip to Cleveland. I had never been to Nashville or Memphis. I love country music so I did what my heritage taught me: I went to Johnny Cash’s gravesite. We had the normal tourist experience and left. While driving in Kentucky, my wife and I both had his overwhelming feeling that we needed to go back to Nashville and we didn’t know why? 

I had a great studio in Salt Lake City and Stone Angel Music was thriving. But we go back to Nashville and stayed for a week. I didn’t know anybody. What got us to start meeting people was I went to church. We saw an older couple, she was playing the organ, he was enthusiastically conducting. Their last name was Tolk. I text (friend and composer) David Tolk and he said, “Those are my parents.” We met them and they say, “You must stay with us.” We got out of the hotel, spent time with them and they introduced us to people in the community. Then at a music business conference, I met a handful of people in the music industry and so it was confirmed that we needed to make it more permanent. 

DN: Since moving to Nashville, who are some of your favorite country music artists?

PC: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw and Miranda Lambert. The label I’m with has Jordan Davis, Austin Jenckes and Chris Janson. Vince Gill has a new album. That’s the beautiful thing about Nashville. There’s so much music to listen to.

DN: You taught yourself to play the piano as a teenager. What compelled you to sit down and want to learn to play?

PC: I took lessons when I was 8 years old, but it didn’t work at that time. It only lasted six months. My teacher told my mom that I was wasting her time and my mom’s money. My mom had eight kids, so was like, “Whatever, let’s take that off the checklist, that’s fine.” 

But what happened was in high school, one of my closest friends who was a perfectly healthy, energetic, charismatic young man, who played the piano, got hit by a car. It was hard for me at that time to understand that I have this huge problem the doctors see on X-rays and MRIs. He was perfectly healthy. I talked to him yesterday. I’ve been fighting my whole life to live and out of nowhere there’s this crazy accident, and he dies. 

So I was grieving and grieving. It led me to not want to do anything. So I sat at the piano and played three notes. Those three notes became a song. I worked on it and worked on it. I felt this overwhelming sense of peace. I realized he had a specific purpose and we each have a specific purpose. Whether we are here or there, we have work to do. So I became obsessed with creating in order to feel closer to God. Through pain I was able to tap into the spiritual realm that was like a warm blanket on a cold day. 

I didn’t think anything of it until I shared the song with the family and somebody said, “Play it again.” That’s when I knew, Oh, maybe I should try to do something else, write another song.

Paul Cardall’s new album is titled “Peaceful Piano.” | Provided by Paul Cardall

DN: So it was in high school that you knew you wanted a career in music?

PC: I think it was a dream. I thought no one can make a living in music. That’s not realistic. There’s no way. I got to go into something that will pay the bills. I was just doing it because that’s what I knew. It just kind of found me. I don’t know.

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DN: Your new album, “Peaceful Piano,” celebrates the 10th anniversary of your heart transplant. What have you been most grateful for over the last decade?

PC: I think what I’m most grateful for is my wife Tina. She has been the rock and the balance for helping me stay focused, helping me strengthen my relationship to God and helping me be a better father. 

DN: The Paul Cardall Family Foundation funds scholarships for students with congenital heart disease. To date how many scholarships have you awarded?

PC: We’ve had nine at Salt Lake Community College. One of the young men passed away and wasn’t able to use the scholarship. We just had a patient who got the scholarship but has to have surgery. The school normally gives the scholarship to somebody else. But the whole purpose of the scholarship is it’s expensive to go to school, but when you have medical bills, it’s even worse. Some people with heart problems don’t go to college because they have the mindset, “I might not be around very long so why get an education?” I’m a firm believer that you take everything you know with you (beyond this life). So we were able to get the college to extend the use of the scholarship for three years.

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