By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter
FRIENDSVILLE (WATE) - At the age of three, Michael Stinnett, fresh from Bible Camp, crawled onto a piano bench and picked out "Jesus Loves Me" on the family piano.
It was the beginning of a long love affair with the piano.
But not only could he play, he soon realized that he was also good at fixing pianos - very expensive pianos.
"This is one I just purchased," Stinnett showed us. "It was built for a convent in 1850."
Inside Michael Stinnett's Antique Piano Shop are hundreds of pianos in various stages of disrepair - pianos damaged by time, or neglect, or disaster.
Under his roof are grand, baby grand, square grand, upright and even player piano.
It's a collection that would be hard to find just about anywhere else in the world.
"This is one we're restoring for the Church at Dollywood," Stinnett said.
Michael's list of customers stretch to a dozen countries and range from the very wealthy - he recently restored a piano for a sheik in Dubai - to the mom who wants to save the family heirloom.
"She's restoring grandma's piano and these kids will learn to play on the same ivory keys that grandma played and hopefully hand it down to their kids," Stinnett told us.
Michael's love of music and pianos began at an early age.
"When I was three years old, I'd been to Bible School and crawled up on a piano and started playing 'Jesus Loves Me' because I'd heard it at Bible School," he said.
By his teens, he realized he had a knack for fixing them.
"When I was 14, my parents had just built a small shop in the backyard for me. I was doing pianos one at a time, on a very small scale. Buy them for 100. Sell them for 500," said Stinnett.
Today, Michael's work fetches higher prices and more expensive pianos.
"This piano right here is probably one of the most expensive pianos on the East Coast, valued at over half a million dollars, built in 1918," he said.
But it all comes back to his love of music. It helps that Michael is blessed with perfect pitch and with patience for his less-talented brethren, like myself.
These days, Michael works with a talented group of woodcarvers and artisans that return often priceless, but damaged heirlooms to their original luster.
"There is a demand for this. Very few are doing it. Most of the technicians I've known have passed away. And there are not many people learning the art of piano restoration. So it's a dying art," Michael said.
But not as long as he and his team continue to do their magic.
Michael's pianos sell for anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 and up. You can view some of the pianos he has for sale on his website.
And if you'd like to check out Michael's ivory-tickling skills, watch this YouTube video.
If you know someone who you believe is an example of the Spirit of East Tennessee, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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