One day when Simon Powis was 11, he returned home electric with excitement.
A touring band had just visited his school in Australia, and Powis was enamored with the guitar. He told his dad about his newfound fixation promptly upon arriving home.
Powis’ father, who worked for the United Nations, fetched a steel-stringed acoustic guitar he bought on a work trip to Fiji from his closet. Powis had found a new obsession.
These days, Powis is known for playing the classical guitar, which has nylon strings instead of steel. In addition to being a virtuosic performer, he founded Classical Guitar Corner, an online education site and community for classical guitar players.
Powis will perform in Lancaster on Saturday at a concert presented by the Classical Guitar Society of Lancaster. He also will host a master class for members of Classical Guitar Corner and the Classical Guitar Society of Lancaster the following day.
After plucking away on his dad’s acoustic, Powis shifted his focus to the electric guitar in his teen years, throwing himself into the music of heavily or entirely instrumental musicians, including Joe Satriani, Steve Vy and Eddie Van Halen.
“That sort of transitioned my thinking to classical partly because with classical, you can play a piece by yourself and it can be complete,” Powis says. “Whereas with electric guitar, you really want to be with a band, and it’s more of an ensemble pursuit, and I don’t know if I was ever much of a team player.”
Powis enjoyed the solo sport of tackling a piece on his own.
“You can get a lot of gratification just by working on a piece, polishing it off, and completing it,” Powis says.
That realization, paired with a classical guitar CD gifted by his grandmother, led Powis to his current path. He studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music before moving to America to pursue a Masters of Music at Yale. Then, he became the first guitarist in more than 20 years to tackle doctoral studies at the Ivy League school.
“I loved being a student,” Powis says. “I loved learning.”
That passion for education helped him in the creation of Classical Guitar Corner, which includes lessons, instructional videos, podcasts and more. Powis knew firsthand that a quality education could be found online — he used the site Creative Live to develop his skills as a photographer, and went on to shoot at New York Fashion Week and do promotional portraits for other musicians. He had always intended on becoming a teacher; Classical Guitar Corner afforded him a new platform.
“As a teacher, you find yourself explaining the same concept over and over and over again, and I loved the idea of crystallizing the information and saying it in the best possible way, and then allowing everyone to have access to that message,” Powis says.
Powis connected with the Classical Guitar Society of Lancaster through the website, too. Richard Kordel, a member of the Lancaster group, is also a member of Classical Guitar Corner.
Powis will perform a diverse set of music at his Lancaster show, including selections by Bach, an Argentinian piece showcasing different dance styles, and a French piece with plentiful jazz influence.
“I think I always try to start from pieces that I love myself, because if you don’t love them, that will probably come across and it won’t translate as well,” Powis says.
He believes one of the most powerful parts about a solo classical guitar show is its intimacy — there’s no large wall of instrument between a performer and the audience, as there might be with a grand piano. The space is more open, giving the performance a certain openness as well.
“It’s very personal,” Powis says. “It’s just one person up onstage. It’s not like you have a giant piano in front of you blocking the physical distance between you and the audience. It’s just you, the guitar, and the audience. So it’s part of the beauty of the whole set-up, I think.”