The Runner’s Beat

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Familiar with classical compositions like “Fur Elise” to “Cello Suite No. 1” playing in orchestras worldwide, many students know why Mozart and Bach are famous. But what about classical guitar? Ask rock junkies and they can tell you every detail of their favorite guitar riffs, but not the music that paved the way for modern guitar as we know it.

Enter Ariel Alba, a junior guitar performance major at UTSA, and self-taught guitarist and musician since the age of 13. Maybe you’ve seen him around campus before class starts or quietly hidden in nooks, letting his music speak for itself.

His passion for guitar didn’t start with mariachi, typical of Hispanic guitar players in his homeland Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Instead, Alba was influenced by the metal-heads on the other side of the border such as Megadeth.

Growing up in Mexico, Alba wasn’t provided with access to many formal music programs, so family and friends were his best resources. “I started with a nylon guitar, just strumming cords, playing pop songs,” mused Alba while he plucked his guitar. “At one point I remember playing Backstreet Boys sheet music, but I didn’t play classical until I started college.”

Eventually his interests drifted to rock and heavy metal, and he formed a band, Grado Zero, with his cousin. “We played songs from a Mexican band named Coda, which sounds like Bon Jovi,” explained Alba. “They were on the same track as Bon Jovi when he was out, but not everyone (in Mexico) accepted it.”

Once at UTSA, Alba began to learn about the history of guitar and the influences of modern music. “The guitar as we know it is the new kid in town, compared to the violin and bass,” explained Alba on the differences between the two instruments. “Classical guitar is a thing in the U.S., but not as big in other places, like where I came from. So there is a big need for awareness of classical guitar everywhere.”

Even with his newfound discovery, Alba continues to champion the classical genre of music. “I’m really sad that Chopin never wrote for guitar. He was mad!” laughs Alba.

As for future dreams, Juilliard is on Alba’s radar, but he’s setting his career goals to new heights. “Cirque du Soleil is a multidisciplinary show; you need to be very versatile and know how to play metal, classical, jazz, R&B.”When you think of circus, you think of clowns, animals; but Cirque doesn’t have animals. They have acrobats, singers, musicians,” explains Alba. “I would love to work there. It’s my dream job.”

Besides being a full-time student, Alba still finds time to give back to the community by being involved in a UTSA outreach program and tutoring younger children from the community to bring guitar music to more people. “There is a lot of good music being written and performed; it’s a matter of going out there to hear it. It doesn’t matter what genre: classical, tejano, rock or indie. It’s out there being written and performed. I’m excited for the music scene here in San Antonio.”

You can find Alba playing outside the Sombrilla just before your class starts or on one of the benches on a cool day. So take a seat nearby and enjoy some of his classical guitar music — maybe you’ll fall under the influence, too.