Polk State Music instructor and Juilliard-trained guitarist Ben Pila, who has entertained three presidents and Pope Francis, will perform at Polk State’s Winter Haven Fine Arts Theatre on April 20. Students from Pila’s newly created Classical Guitar Ensemble course will be his opening act.
“The students have worked very hard this semester. I wanted to give them the opportunity to play their music in public, and I wanted the public to have the chance to enjoy their talents,” Pila said.
During “An Evening with Ben Pila,” Pila will perform a wide-ranging repertoire that includes Argentinian tangos, Spanish flamencos, and other pieces from Scotland, Scandinavia, Hungary, Turkey, and America.
“I might even throw in some rock music arranged for solo guitar,” he said.
“The theme is music from distant times and places, and the concert is set up like a trip around the world. It starts in South America, continues on to North America, and then takes the audience through Europe. There will be music from 10 countries, four continents and three centuries.”
Five students from Pila’s class will perform four songs, including “Malaguena,” a traditional flamenco dance from Spain, “The Blue Danube,” an Austrian waltz by Johann Strauss that was made famous by the movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Habanera,” a well-known French tango, and “Mbira.”
“The piece, ‘Mbira’ mimics the sound of the African thumb piano that goes by the same name. A ‘prepared guitar’ technique is used in which staples are placed on the strings to give the sound a buzzing quality. The music doesn’t sound like it’s coming from guitars,” Pila said.
Pila’s students have been practicing for the concert since the start of the spring semester. For many of them, “An Evening with Ben Pila” will be their first large-scale public performance.
“Some only started playing classical guitar this semester,” Pila said.
The concert, Pila said, offers unparalleled professional preparation the students.
“Music students devote so much time to practice, but practicing to practice is very different from practicing to perform. I like to use the quote, ‘The amateur practices until they get it right. The professional practices until they can’t get it wrong.’ Preparing to play in public requires a lot more discipline and precision. The students have stepped up to this challenge, and they’re going to be great.”
Ian Albritton, a resident of Bartow who will study music at the University of North Florida after graduating from Polk State in May, said:
“I’ve definitely grown a lot as a musician through the process of preparing for this concert. It puts healthy pressure on us, knowing we will be representing Polk State and Professor Pila. We don’t want to let either of them down — and most important of all, we want to make sure we give our audience a show they will enjoy and remember. We’ve worked hard and it will be very fulfilling to see all of it come together on stage,” he said.
Pila holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Southern California and a Master of Music from The Juilliard School. He performed for Pope Francis in 2015 and gave a solo concert at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016. He is also a regular performer at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, where he has played for presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. He began teaching at Polk State in 2014.
“An Evening with Ben Pila” will take place on April 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Polk State Winter Haven Fine Arts Theatre, 999 Ave. H N.E. The event is free for Polk State students and employees, and Polk County high school students. Tickets for all others are $5 and are available at the box office prior to the show or online at polk.edu/boxoffice.