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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events.

Brazil’s musical melting pot highlights guitar recital at Normal church

A dark-haired man sits on a stone bench playing guitar with a slight smile, surrounded by greenery. He wears a purple suit shirt and black pants.
Teresa Tam
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Nander Novaes
Nander Novaes, music director at Normal First United Methodist Church, will play a solo guitar recital Friday evening at the church.

Classical guitarist Nander Novaes grew up with two constants his life: music and the Methodist church.

“My parents were both music ministers at the Methodist Church in Brazil. So, I usually say that I had no other option in life but to become a church musician,” he said.

There were, of course, other options. Novaes at first hoped to join the military.

“I discovered that I had a heart disorder when I was 18, and that prevented me from entering the military academy,” he said.

After a heart to heart with his father, Novaes, who was enrolled at a music conservatory at the time, was convinced to pursue a career in music.

“Everything happened really naturally in my life,” Novaes said. “That wasn’t my first choice, even though music had a special place in my heart. But I said, OK, let’s give it a try.”

More than 20 years later, Novaes’ path led him and his wife Ana Claudia here, to Normal First United Methodist Church, where he’ll play a solo recital on Friday (Aug. 5). Novaes became music director at the church on Nov. 1, 2021.

“I’m very happy I didn’t become a military officer, looking back now” he said. “I'm not into fighting battles. I’m more into searching for peace and sharing love.”

The classical canon for guitar is largely rooted in Spain. Novaes’ home country is, perhaps ironically, one of only a few in South America to be colonized by someone else — Portugual. Yet, the music of Spain remains an important part of Novaes’ repertoire. He is particularly drawn to Franciso Tárrega, considered one of the founding fathers of Spanish guitar music, plus composers such as Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados, whose piano works were transcribed for guitar and popularized on that instrument.

“That kind of music, especially from the Romantic period — that’s the kind of repertoire that really gets me,” Novaes said.

Some of these Romantic tunes will be played at Friday’s free 7 p.m. concert, but the crux of the recital is based on Novaes’ doctoral research at Northwestern University on Brazilian nationalist composers like Theodoro Nogueira.

“When I say ‘nationalism,’ it has nothing to do with this craziness we see right now,” said Novaes. “I’m talking more about finding, in the music of Brazil, in the folk music, in the music of the people, in the pop music, elements to compose art music — nationalism in that sense.”

Novaes will not be playing any of Nogueira’s music on Friday — saying it needs a bit more practice — but sure to be on the bill are songs by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Nogueira’s contemporary and one of Brazil’s most famous composers.

“Villa-Lobos’ music is like a melting pot of different cultures,” Novaes said. “He was able to combine impressionism by composers like Debussy, for example.” Villa-Lobos spent time in France, where he was introduced to various influencers including Claude Debussy; it was here he also developed a close friendship with Arthur Rubinstein.

“He was able to absorb all these experiences and combine them with popular music from Brazil, folk music, and also the music of indigenous folks in Brazil," Novaes said. "This is fantastic to me: the ability to combine all these elements and make a creative art music.”

Nander Novaes’ solo recital starts at 7 p.m. Friday (Aug. 5) at Normal First United Methodist Church, 211 N. School St. The concert is free and open to the public — with cookies and fellowship to follow.

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Lauren Warnecke is a correspondent for WGLT, focusing on arts and culture.
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