Two decades ago, the Bloomington-based community chamber choir Voces Novae was born from loss. After experiencing the death of a friend and fellow choir member from cancer in Boston, new Bloomington resident and founding artistic director Aaron Kercheval wanted to create a lasting choral and poetic recorded exploration of life and death.

During its early years, Voces Novae was cultivated through concerts centering on astronomy, mythology, and meditation. At the same time, Kercheval pursued recording permissions and solicited voice talent from actors like Blythe Danner and Julie Harris for a project that resulted in a book and two-disc recording titled Meditations on Life~Death. The compilation of readings, music, and artwork, completed in 2001, was donated to hospice centers all over the country.

The choir has performed with increasing regularity over the years, often in nontraditional spaces, such as inside the Monroe County Habitat for Humanity ReStore warehouse or while walking along the B-Line Trail. And while there may be chamber choirs in other cities that look to bring a contemporary spin to classical music, according to Artistic Director Susan Swaney, Voces Novae is a distinctively Bloomington ensemble.

“I think what we do is still pretty unique,” says Swaney, who served as music director until 2004. “Every single concert is sui generis [Latin, meaning “of its own kind”]. We completely make it up from the beginning — the form, as well as where and how we’re going to do it.”

As it celebrates its 20th anniversary season, Voces Novae is looking back on its history of performances, which has included explorations of the intersection of math and music, a performance inside the Bloomington Hospital parking garage, and last year’s “Whaddya Know? A Musical Exploration of the Ignorance Map.” The latter’s nod to deception included a lobby full of misleading snacks, including roses made from bacon, and grilled cheese sandwiches made of pound cake and orange frosting.

“Not everybody speaks the language of classical music anymore,” says Swaney. “It’s kind of a dying thing. But all of that music has so much to say. I think what VN does sometimes is to translate it, to try to make it fresh.”

On February 26, the choir, with help from the Bloomington Storytellers Guild, will perform its fourth Indiana history program. The subject is Lew Wallace — Civil War general, Ben Hur author, Billy the Kid–betrayer, and ambassador to Turkey. The official celebration of the choir’s 20th anniversary comes on May 13 with “The Art and Science of Happiness,” which will survey some of the moments that have made Voces Novae’s members happiest via video and revisited choral pieces. The event will also include an interactive “Happiness Fair.”

For more information, visit