Julie Flanders, prolific creative and masterful spirit behind October Project’s poignant lyrics, sat down to discuss “The Book of Rounds,” OP’s latest endeavor. Performed by The OP Chorale (a group of singers from Yale, Julie and Marina’s alma mater), “The Book of Rounds” is an enlightened project that engages a collective healing process. In this interview, Julie discusses its conception and purpose in the world.
The Book of Rounds: Interview with Julie Flanders
In general, what is the power of a round?
Perhaps it is the simplicity and circularity. A round invites singing – anyone can sing its melody and anyone can sing its words. It’s childlike and yet it has enough beauty to merit repeated singing. It is at once familar and unique.
Most people are familiar with simple rounds such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” but don’t think of them as much more than a way to kill time on a road trip.
Yes, those simple rounds like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Freres Jacques (Are You Sleeping)” are quintessential rounds. We learn them in childhood and they last a lifetime. However, people from other cultures who learn them as adults delight in being able to sing along with others in a simple beautiful way.
A round begins simply and gains its complexity because many people sing it with staggered entrances. Even though people are singing the same song but beginining at different moments, the “round” still sounds beautiful – even MORE beautiful – with more voices – because it is built to work with that cascade of entrances. The melody stays harmonious.
The Book of Rounds is more than music, it seems to be a powerful tool. What is it’s intended function? What work do you want it to do in the world?
Well, in The Book of Rounds, each lyric is intended as a prayer – a circle of protection. Even if the words were said simply as written, they are intended to create a feeling of well-being and safety. They are meant to be said for others to create safey and care for loved ones. Or to create a feeling of well-being in oneself. I am a hypnotherapist so I know that the words we say to ourselves have a tremendous impact on our health, self-esteem and personal outcomes. The rounds were written as a fugue of positive messages that could be experienced very directly or very dimensionally as the voices and melodies cascade around one another, creating a kaledeiscopic effect of meaning and beauty. The music helps the words lift beyond their literal meanings and into an envelopping and transformative message that is meant to be poetic and universal. I would hope that a person who does not even speak English could feel these songs as sacred – as a language they could understand through their heart and through the positive feelings that the rounds are meant to evoke.
Also, the fact that the entire effect of the piece is created solely through Human Voices is very powerful to me. I still find it epiphanal and extraordinary that a small choir of people can raise this beauitful a noise. I would love The Book of Rounds to be sung all over the world in choirs and community choruses. I would love it to be sung and simultaneously translated into the beauty and movement of Sign Language, as it has been done at several performances. Interestingly, The Book of Rounds translates remarkably well into a kind of healing choreography when done in sign language. I would love these songs to bring voices together into a literal harmony (and harmonies) that can then be brought back into people’s behaviors with each other. I would hope these songs encourage people into their natural kindness and care for one another.
What inspired this collection of original rounds?
It was a kind of “daily practice” that Emil and I kept for a while – he would write musical rounds as I wrote lyrical rounds. We then brought a few of these pieces together with the idea that they would be like Modern Mantras – words & music that could be repeated by singers or listeners for an accretion of positive effects and personal transformations.
The personal element was that they were written for my son when he was young and going through some difficult environments in NYC public schools. I wanted to create a blanket of comfort and protection for him – but realized that the world is a hard hard place. These songs were meant as a softness in the midst of that psychic concrete.
How does a listener use The Book of Rounds? Do they simply listen? Sing along?
Listening is a perfect way to experience The Book of Rounds! And singing is TOO. Just finding the part that feels good to sing and singing along is great! Also, the words by themselves can be repeated like affirmations or a mantra. And the songs can be sung just as the simplest of melodies and still be effective. The Book of Rounds are very gorgeous and sophisticated arrangements of what are very simple songs. They can be sung either way.
Why now? Is the Book of Rounds meant to address current issues or eternal issues?
The Book of Rounds is very current. This is a time in the world where how we learn to live with each other is crucial to our survival as a global species. Harmony is a literal phenomenon. It is a way of people coming together – each holding a melodic individuality of beauty and grace – and all of those individual voices contrasting into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Of course beauty and grace are lasting treasures with both tremendous external and internal value. As for eternal value, there are many who believe that music represents the vibrational nature of matter and reality itself – so to “tune” ourselves to that in a harmonious way seems like a good choice!!
BUT even if we’re not talking about eternity – even if it’s just to feel so much better in the moment! The Book of Rounds is intended to create a delicioius soundscape of escape and arrival. Just a few minutes of listening have been known to smooth the rough edges of a day make the whole world seem better.
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Contact J.W. Harvey: James@OctoberProjectMusic.com