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Music In The Cemetery: Voces Novae Performs At Rose Hill

In late spring, Bloomington choir Voces Novae held a concert in a surprising place: Rose Hill Cemetery.

  • Rosehill

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    Photo: Arvids Plesovs

    The audience and choir gather at Rose Hill's entrance before the concert begins.

  • Palestrina

    Image 2 of 5

    Photo: Arvids Plesovs

    The choir performed Palestrina near Daniel Kirkwood's grave because the resonances in Palestrina's work mirror the ratios found in the Kirkwood gaps.

  • Local folk tunes

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    Photo: Arvids Plesovs

    Greg Larsen and Cindy Kallet playing folk music from southern Indiana.

  • Sally Gaskill

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    Photo: Arvids Plesovs

    Choir member Sally Gaskill talks about Rabbit Shively.

  • Hoagy Carmichael's grave

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    Photo: Arvids Plesovs

    Visitors put coins on Hoagy Carmichael's grave because he was an avid coin collector.

Sue Swaney points to a grave marker and says, “There’s Kinsey! Right down there.” Swaney is the director of Voces Novae, a Bloomington-based choir known for performing in unusual venues.

In May, the choir led an audience of over 200 people through the hilly, grave-studded terrain of Rose Hill Cemetery, which is the resting place for a number of celebrities, among them legendary sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. To honor Kinsey, Voces Novae arranged Cole Porter’s “Let’s Fall in Love” for ukulele and cello.

Swaney says that when choosing music for the concert, “We couldn’t stop and sing at every [grave], so then it just became, which ones lend themselves to musical treatment?”

Kinsey certainly lends himself to musical treatment, as do many of the residents and monuments of Rose Hill Cemetery. Voces Novae’s diverse pieces mirrored the rich history of Rose Hill itself, ranging from Cole Porter to Hoagy Carmichael, who’s buried there, to Civil War dirges, Palestrina, and traditional local folk tunes.

Grey Larsen and Cindy Kallet teamed up with the choir for this mobile concert. After playing their first tune, Larsen explains, “Cindy and I were just playing some traditional fiddle music from Monroe County and Brown County, Indiana. That was a tune called ‘Old Ben.’”

Larsen is a globally known local musician who plays the Irish tin whistle and flute, fiddle, piano, and several other instruments. His wife Cindy Kallet is a professional singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. They learned this local folk music from their late friend Joe Dawson. Dawson’s grandfather, the fiddler Jasper Chambers, is buried in Rose Hill. Larsen says that Dawson and Chambers “scraped up five dollars and bought a fiddle that [they] shared. And Joe continued to play that fiddle until he died, and we have that fiddle now, and we play it.”

The concert is replete with local history. Choir member Sally Gaskill pauses to remember George “Rabbit” Shively, an Indianapolis-based African-American baseball player of the early 20th century.

“Rabbit Shively lived right north of the cemetery at the time of his death, which wasn’t until 1962; he was 69 years old,” says Gaskill. “He’s buried here somewhere, along with nine or ten other people, all of whom were black and, we assume, poor, because they had no markers. He played for one team called the Plutos, and then he played for the rival team, the Scrudles. Those were the two bottled water companies of the day.”

After Gaskill finishes her story and the procession begins to walk to the next site, chorus and audience members alike give Shively a spontaneous serenade of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

For the last piece, all 200 or so audience members filed in between gravestones, over the sloping peony-covered grounds of Rose Hill, to crowd around the resting place of another Bloomington luminary: composer Hoagy Carmichael. Swaney announces the piece: “We’re just gonna sing one number by him, a familiar one, ‘Skylark.’”

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