Friend’s attitude about giving hits the right note for music lover Ben Cox

November 07, 2017

The following story was written by Larry Wood at the Aiken Standard.
Published on Wednesday, October 25, 2017.

Ben Cox loves music, especially piano, and he loves supporting musicians and musical performances.

But it took a visual artist to get Cox, who founded the Winter Nocturne music series at USC Aiken and is a benefactor in the university’s effort to buy a new Steinway concert grand piano, in tune with the fun of giving to share his love.

About 10 years ago, Cox told the late George Kierspe, a well-known, local artist and supporter of USCA’s art program, about a master class taught by a timpanist from the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., which was performing a concert at the Etherredge Center.

Cox had gone to pick up his wife, Elizabeth, who was taking a class with USCA art professor Al Beyer, and saw a sign for the class in the Etherredge Center hallway. The couple decided to stop by before heading home.

“To watch these percussion students interact with a professional at the level of the National Symphony Orchestra was just incredibly motivating, just exciting,” Cox said. “To watch them literally blossom in 45 minutes with this real professional, it was incredible and so much fun to watch.”

When he later described the class to Kierspe, he “just got this big smile on his face,” Cox said.

“George said, Ben, it is so much fun giving money away,” Cox said. “He was like a little kid in a toy store when he said this. It was seriously from the heart.”

Cox told Kierspe he was interested in supporting music education, and Kierspe introduced him to Judith Goodwin, USCA’s development officer, to explore ways he could share his love of music with students and the community.

“George was so inspiring with his attitude that I decided to delve into it,” Cox said. “George was instrumental in helping bring all of this together and to do it now before it’s too late. It really is fun giving money away.”

In 2009, Cox began identifying and sponsoring international artists to come to USCA in support of piano studies, while offering an evening of performance to the Aiken community, and the Winter Nocturne concert series was born.

The concert, held in January to welcome in the new year, features world-famous musicians, and concertgoers can meet and talk to them after their performances.

Tickets are affordable, and students are admitted free. All proceeds benefit USCA music.

In addition to the concert, the artist in residence works with USCA students, provides educational outreach programs in local schools and shares his or her passion for music with the community.

“I support music education because it’s one of the salvations of humanity,” Cox said. “Music transcends everything: gender, race, language, religion.”

Cox also supports USCA’s 88 Keys to Success fundraising campaign to buy a new Steinway concert grand piano for the Etherredge Center and to help make the university an all-Steinway school.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert E. Penland bought the current Steinway piano for the Etherredge Center, and it was used when Metropolitan Opera star Roberta Peters opened the performing arts center in 1986. Since then, however, Steinway-approved technicians have not always maintained the piano, Cox said.

“It has some generic parts,” he said. “Steinway’s position is, if it’s not maintained by Steinway technicians with Steinway parts, it’s no longer considered a Steinway.”

Pianist and Steinway artist Edvinas Minkstimas, a pianist from Lithuania who performed at the Winter Nocturne a few years ago, will select the new piano Nov. 7.

“He’s played at the Etherredge Center. He’s met all of the music staff. He understands this community,” Cox said. “Every single instrument has a personality just like every single person has a personality. He’s a real professional and a gifted musician.”

South African pianist Petronel Malan will debut the new piano at the Winter Nocturne on Jan. 25, 2018.

“It's going to be a mostly Mozart concert. Mozart’s birthday is Jan. 27,” Cox said.

Minkstimas will return in the spring to perform on the piano in appreciation of donors.

The Penland piano will be restored and used in a classroom.

More than 90 percent of professional pianists request a 9-foot Steinway D concert grand piano in their concert contracts, Cox said.

“It projects in a big hall. It is a powerful instrument,” he said.

Cox said the new Steinway concert grand will be a gift not only to USCA but also to the community.

“The Etherredge Center is a great venue. They’ve really had some spectacular entertainment here that is so culturally enriching,” he said. “The Etherredge Center is fabulous for this town and this school.”

Goodwin called Steinway pianos the “gold standard” and said becoming an all-Steinway campus would mean students would be instructed exclusively on Steinways from the practice room to the classroom to the stage.

“By becoming an all-Steinway school, USC Aiken will join an elite category to which few universities belong, enhancing our ability to recruit talented students and faculty,” Goodwin said. “Currently, there are only two schools in South Carolina classified as all-Steinway schools, and neither of them are state schools.”

Cox said his gift is for USCA, the community and especially his friend, George Kierspe.

“I did this for George and his wife, Jean, who preceded him,” Cox said. “I wanted to show my appreciation for his character. He was such a good guy.”

For more information about 88 Keys to Success, visit


USC Aiken, a comprehensive university in the University of South Carolina system, offers undergraduate and master’s degrees to more than 3,500 students in 50 programs of study. USC Aiken is ranked the #1 public regional college in the South by U.S. News & World Report’s guide "America’s Best Colleges." The 2018 distinction marks USC Aiken’s 20th consecutive ranking among the top three in this category and its 13th time in first place.