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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


October 9, 2015  RSS feed
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Tampa guitarist performs at 9/11 ceremony with pope

Dr. Benjamin Pila played a four-minute solo at the interfaith commemoration at the September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. Dr. Benjamin Pila played a four-minute solo at the interfaith commemoration at the September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. It took an act of God to bring a Jewish musician from Tampa, Dr. Benjamin Pila, and Pope Francis together for a solemn ceremony in New York City last month.

Pila, the only classical guitarist to be named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts, has performed six times at the national 9/11 Commemoration Ceremony held annually on Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center site. He has shared the stage at those events with such notable musicians as James Taylor, Paul Simon, Itzhak Pearlman, and Yo-Yo Ma.

In conjunction with Pope Francis’ visit to America, a multi-religious ceremony was planned at the September 11 Memorial and Museum on Sept. 25. In mid-July, Pila got a message from the music director planning that ceremony. “So we still don’t have music for the 9/11 ceremony. Are you aware the Pope is coming?” he asked Pila, inviting him to perform for the event.

Ben Pila at Ground Zero during 9/11commemoration in 2009. Ben Pila at Ground Zero during 9/11commemoration in 2009. Pila had already been scheduled to perform on Sept. 25 in a solo concert at the Hillsborough Community College. In August, however, days of heavy rains hit Tampa and the facility he was to perform in was flooded. When the concert organizer called to tell him he was seeking another venue, Pila asked if he could also reschedule the concert, so he could play for the Pope Francis visit. The organizer agreed and Pila quickly let the music director in New York know he could perform there.

Along with a string quartet, Pila played 10 songs ranging from Argentine tangoes to American contemporary classics as people were seated for the ceremony. Once the more than 1,000 guests were silenced, awaiting Pope Francis’ arrival, Pila had the opportunity to play a 4-minute solo.

“It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Amazing,” Pila said.

Seated just 100 feet away, he listened to the heartfelt message the Pope delivered, along with the prayers of a rabbi, a cantor who chanted Oseh Shalom, and a dozen other religious leaders who had joined together for the interfaith service.

Security was unlike anything he had ever experienced, Pila said. Dogs, metal detectors and police checked his guitar thoroughly.

Pila, 31, attended the Hillel Academy and Blake High School. He graduated from Florida State Univeristy, received his masters of music from Juilliard and doctorate of musical arts from the University of Southern California. Among his accomplishments, Pila is a professor of guitar at Polk State College in Winter Haven. His debut CD, Commemoration, is a compilation of music played at 9/11 commemorations ceremonies and tribute to the survivors and victims of 9/11.

The concert originally scheduled at Hillsborough Community College on Sept. 25 is now scheduled for Friday, Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. at the HCC Dale Mabry Campus. For information or to get in touch with Pila, visit his website at:

Pila is the son of Judith Sachs and Kalman Pila, both of Tampa.

Good Stuff columnist Diane Tindell contributed to this report.

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