From serving as a sheriff in Tennessee, driving big rigs up and down the East coast, and earning his pilot’s license, to working as an accountant for a CPA firm and operating his own garage that specialized in street car assembly and repair, Benny Mixon is the epitome of a person who has embraced life and taken on challenges. "I read somewhere that the average person will have seven different careers over the course of their life, so I guess I’m right on track with that forecast," said Mixon. "All of my career decisions have been based on an intense curiosity of how things work."
Since 2003, Mixon has worked as the Piano Curator in Converse’s Petrie School of Music, a heady responsibility considering Converse is the first women’s college in the world and the first college in the Carolinas to be named to the All-Steinway School roster. His talents for precision craftsmanship become more palpable when one realizes that there are over twelve thousand moving parts in each handcrafted Steinway piano. When they are operating properly, the sound authenticates Steinway’s reputation of being the finest sounding piano in the world. If one part is off by the tiniest of fractions, an otherwise beautiful song can be turned into a real clunker.
Watching Mixon’s hands move meticulously through the exposed innards of a ninety-year-old Steinway in his studio, it is obvious that he knows his way around the hammers, pedals, dampers and strings. Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, he was close friends with the children of the Case family who have since earned a reputation throughout the country for their piano repair and sales business. "Whenever I would go over to their house, there were always pianos around. I also took piano lessons as a kid but I was more interested in other things," he said with a wink.
Mixon’s relationship with the Case family would lead him back to pianos in 1987. Having become bored as an accountant, Mixon approached the Cases at their Case Brothers showroom in Spartanburg, South Carolina and inquired about working in their restoration department. "They were a bit reluctant so I offered to work with no pay for two weeks just to see what I could do. But they were so nice and did pay me. I loved the work immediately and wish that I had started as a teenager."
Mixon would eventually be named Shop Manager for Case Brothers, and oversaw the repair and restoration of pianos from throughout the country. "Most of our business of course came from clients in Spartanburg, but we also had pianos shipped in from Texas, Boston and other cities throughout the country."
Like many business, Case Brothers was heavily impacted by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. With a business forecast that was then seen as grim at best, Benny left Case Brothers to join the Petrie staff and has since been officially certified by Steinway & Sons as a Piano Curator.
Dr. Douglas Weeks, the Babcock Professor of Piano at Converse and Chair of the Petrie School’s Performance Department, knows a thing or two about pianos…Steinways in particular. When Converse earned All-Steinway status in 2005, Weeks was named to the roster of Steinway Artists, joining the likes of Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Van Cliburn, Billy Joel, Herbie Hancock, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Evgency Kissin, Cole Porter and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
About Mixon, Weeks said "Much like the engine of a Formula 1 racer, the action of a fine Steinway concert grand pian