Novaria: Nova Aria: New SongBy Barbara Jaquish
For 200 years, composers and musicians have combined flute and guitar, two very different voices, to create a sound both liquid and resonant. As Novaria, University of Arkansas music professors Ronda Mains on flute and James Greeson on guitar draw on that rich history while extending the tradition into new territory.
"Sonically, the flute does things the guitar can’t," Greeson observes. "With the guitar, as soon as you play a note, it decays. No note on the guitar can last very long. Whereas, the flute does almost the opposite. It’s very lyrical."
The instruments blend well, Mains says, with the guitar adding rhythm and "a lot of character." She adjusts her playing style to work with the guitar: "I would just bury the
guitar if I played full bore. Guitars can be pretty soft. My articulation has to be more distinct and clearer on most pieces to match the plucking of the strings."
Beyond the joy of playing together, both musicians appreciate the challenge.
"I completely trust Jim as a musician – he’s really wonderful," Mains says. "I can throw him curves, and he never looks up."
"I’m more worried accompanying Ronda playing the flute than if I’m playing my own solo piece," Greeson says. "Ronda’s a very sensitive player, and if I make a little mistake, then in a few beats, she’ll make a mistake. It’s not that I made her do it, but it throws her a little bit."
Mains and Greeson released their first CD as Novaria in 1996. The introductory section, titled "Seven Songs for Sundays," is what Greeson calls "recompositions" of some familiar hymns. Initially, J. William Fulbright’s widow requested Novaria play at Fulbright’s memorial service. His favorite hymn had been "Amazing Grace," but no arrangement was available for flute and guitar. Greeson quickly created "a very different treatment" of the old standard and followed it with new visions of six other favorites.
Since release of the CD, Mains and Greeson have focused on expanding the literature from its European roots to adapting and learning a more multicultural repertoire. Ronda found a challenging piece by Ravi Shankar for the duo to learn, and they’ve played tangos by Argentine composer Astor Piazzola.
In contrast to the notion that time spent teaching detracts from creative time, Greeson believes that teaching motivates him to compose. Even when he is teaching a subject as "old school" as 18th century counterpoint, he wants to go home after class and do something.
"If I’m not teaching," he says, "I find it harder to be inspired."
"I like to think that I am modeling chamber music for my students," Mains says. "I love chamber music. I would rather do chamber music than be a flute soloist any day, because the challenge is so great."
To listen to the music of Novaria, visit the Research Frontiers Web site at http://researchfrontiers.uark.edu. n