Poet and songwriter Julie Flanders was a voracious reader as a youngster. Stories like “The Secret Garden” and poems like “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” stirred her imagination. Hearing her work today, it’s obvious Flanders feels a magical draw to things with rhythmic pulses. She has proven herself as a songwriter and performer with the award-winning band October Project and is also the author of two books of poems, Joyride and Shadow Breathing.
Writing runs in Flanders’s family. Her father was a writer and journalist, and three of her four brothers also took up the craft. Flanders learned the beauty of celebrating things outside the normal from her mother and was always encouraged to pursue artistic endeavors. Support also came in elementary school, with Flanders’s third-grade teacher recognizing her creativity and talent for storytelling.
Flanders also started studying music during her younger years and knew it would play a role in her life direction. In high school, she began writing songs with October Project bandmate Emil Adler, who would become her life partner.
Flanders attended Yale University with plans to focus on music but soon realized the theoretical and mathematical aspects of the major did not interest her right-brain way of thinking.
Is My Music Still
“I loved feeling music, singing music, being in music, and not towards perfection but towards immersion,” Flanders remembers. “In October Project, I’ve always been the person allegiant to the non-singer, allegiant to the non-musician. When I got to Yale, I fell in love with poetry and literature again in a deep and significant way. That was my music and is my music still.”
At Yale, Flanders also met future October Project bandmate Marina Belica. During their senior year, the duo collaborated with Adler to write the musical revue Measure By Measure. From those beginnings, October Project grew to include other members and the eventual recording of the band’s first album, titled October Project. How the recording came to be can be traced back to a fateful night at the legendary New York City club CBGB.
“We were willing to play anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance, and were doing so at various downtown NYC venues,” said Flanders. “CBGB’s talent booker liked how different we were, booked us, and sort of just sandwiched us in between these hard rock groups. He said, ‘You know I kinda like you, you can play here,’ and it was a big place to play in New York. The first time we played there, our manager, who ended up being our long-term manager and got us signed to Sony, saw us there. He had been there to see a different band.”
October Project went on to tour with artists like Sarah MacLachlan and produced two music videos for their singles, “Bury My Lovely” and “Return to Me.” The latter was part of the soundtrack for the motion picture Blown Away. A second album, Falling Farther In, was recorded, and the band continued performing at multiple venues and on tours.
After parting ways with their record company, October Project took a pause in 1996 for the birth of Flanders and Adlers’ son and guitarist David Sabatino’s children. Flanders, Adler, and Belica reunited and began to play again shortly thereafter with David Sabatino and percussionist Urbano Sanchez, with the trio of Flanders, Adler and Belica being the band’s main lineup which has remained to this day. Together they released the EP Different Eyes (which just celebrated its 20th anniversary), Uncovered, a five-track acoustic EP featuring new material, and its companion, More Uncovered, in addition to two Christmas singles and the EP 3.
In 2015, October released an initial version of The Book of Rounds, a song cycle of 21 original musical rounds with lyrics by Flanders and music by Adler, that was in the running for the Grammy for Best Choral Performance that year.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the group produced a virtual choir of the song “Joy” from the album. The resulting Virtual Choir of Joy featured 163 participants from 15 countries, drew a YouTube audience of over 100,000, won a Telly and Anthem Award and found the group on the Grammy ballot for Best Choral Performance. The Book of Rounds: Choral Edition, recorded in 2021 with Chorus Austin and special guests was also a contender for Best Choral Performance Grammy that year. In 2022, their second virtual choir, the Worldwide Choir of Return To Me featuring 130 performers from 18 countries, was the only virtual choir on the Grammy ballot.
Continuing Power of the Written Word
During the resurgence of October Project, Flanders released her first book of poetry, Joyride. She credits both becoming a parent and losing her mother for the collection.
“It came from being a mother, and being overwhelmed and deluged with stresses and strains, my young child, my mother died, a lot of grief and no time,” Flanders reflected. “I’ve taught a lot of women that if you’re mothering, that is a lot of your creative energy. If you’re also working, that is a lot of your creative energy. You need to make little spaces for yourself to create.”
“As a parent, I think the greatest gift you can give a child is to demonstrate to them ways of belonging to themselves before they belong to the world through their self-connection. Whether that’s reading or journaling or listening to music, which is a powerful one for many kids, it’s like how do you get a child to know that their inner world is sacrosanct and they need to spend time and energy in that space that’s theirs alone, not to be shared until afterward. Then they can show the fruits of that.”
One of Flanders’s poems, Doubts, was recently transformed into an animated short by Flanders with fine artist Phoebe Cavise and a musical score by Adler (Flanders, Adler, and Belica also co-produced). The award-winning film is a light and serious reminder for audiences to believe in something better than their uncertainties. It appeared on the film festival circuit and is now available online, teaching young and old alike the valuable lesson that doubts will never be a friend.
Flanders is working on two more books of her work, and every April October Project holds an annual poetry contest to celebrate National Poetry Month. The band is also completing its next album, The Ghost of Childhood. They’ve recently partnered with Ukrainian sand artist Kseniya Simonova (winner of Ukraine’s Got Talent and Golden Buzzer winner in America’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent) for the music video “Angels in the Garden” which supports October Project’s Angels for Ukraine campaign to provide relief funds for Ukrainian families displaced by the conflict.
Flanders is also a coach and consultant who works with clients to grow their leadership skills, create life and business success and experience healthy transformations.
“I’m often involved with and very excited by the worlds of my clients who do such extraordinary, impossible, wonderful things,” shared Flanders. “I guide, coach, and mentor them and help support them to stretch what they think is possible for themselves so they can enjoy lives of greater fulfillment and expression and resonance. To me, it’s important that we don’t land on the planet and inhabit it. I think we’re here to grow, evolve, and help other people.”
Written by Erin Prather Stafford
Images provided by Flanders
Listen to Flanders’s chat with Girls That Create founder Erin Prather Stafford on the Girls That Create Podcast.
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