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A song in their hearts — and architecture, too

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Susan Swaney’s 22-member musical group has sung at events marking bird migrations, at goat farms and at Bloomington’s Stone Age Institute.

“I like to think of these as our choral adventure concerts,” Swaney said with a chuckle, speaking by phone from her home in Bloomington.

So it seems hardly surprising that her Bloomington-based choral ensemble, Voces Novae (Latin for “New Voices”), will perform at seven sites of Columbus’ architectural gems during a free, song-and-sightseeing downtown excursion at 1 p.m. March 29.

Swaney, the group’s artistic director and a fan of local design, suggested the event to Kelly Wilson, director of the Indiana University Center for Art + Design in Columbus.

Wilson has been a powerful proponent of Columbus’ noted structural designs since his arrival in 2011 to lead the then-new center. As a painter who has exhibited in Europe and elsewhere, he also loves blending the various arts whenever possible.

“The philosophy of the architecture of Columbus is one that made the creation of radically new ideas possible,” Wilson once wrote.

So the vocalize-and-view idea, while not exactly radical, is at least new.

Columbus singer and composer Josh Ratliff, helping to coordinate the event, has composed a piece for the choir to sing at his favorite structure — one that he prefers to keep a surprise. The no-text piece is built exclusively on various vocalizations.

“I jumped at the chance to do it,” Ratliff said.

He loves the idea of blending Voces Novae with architecture, which arts aficionados have long called “frozen music.”

“I’ve found that the large, cathedral-style spaces really magnify a choir,” Ratliff said. “The larger sounds really get accented.”

Ratliff sees the tour as a another way to highlight the city’s year-old cultural district, one of five statewide.

“We wanted to sort of help celebrate that,” Ratliff said. “And we wanted something a little informal.”

Architectural locations include Columbus Signature Academy Lincoln Campus, Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, First Christian Church’s sanctuary and outdoor loggia, the former Irwin Union Bank, the Columbus Post Office, the Bartholomew County Veterans Memorial and Chaos I. Much of the music will link to the heritage of the site’s designer.

For example, the choir will open with a Latvian piece, “Northern Lights,” by Eriks Ešenvalds to honor the school’s Latvian architect, Gunnar Birkerts. The work will include singers playing wine glasses and chimes in the school’s gym.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Swaney said.

They even will sing three works as they stroll between buildings.

“Some of the pieces,” she said, “were meant to be sung outside.”

Swaney figures some of her ensemble’s supporters will make the trip from Bloomington to enjoy the tandem of classic structures and classic songs.

“They are our fans,” she said.

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