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    • J. William Flanders
    • I wrote my first song, a football march, at seventeen. (“We’re gonna fight on through for the old White and Blue.”) And my first poem, a love poem, at eighteen. (“Until that day when, by God’s grace, one heart will quicken to another’s pace.”) I didn’t write another song, lyrics and melody, for another seventeen years. Why? Our team lost; and the girl, well…

      Singing was another matter. From a very young age I was a member of a choir or chorus or quartet or octet. At Yale College I was an English major, with a particular passion for 19th century English poetry, and a member of the Glee Club, to which I owe my introduction to Europe. I went to Paris to study French, feasted on French and English ballads, and learned to play a simple guitar. Upon returning, married, to finish college, I began serious vocal training. Operatic aspirations (I had them) eventually gave way to another longtime preoccupation – religion. Seminary provided both theological study (and, finally, ordination to the Episcopal priesthood, in which I still reside), and much hymn singing, some choir directing, and challenging oratorio singing. I also took up the guitar again.

      In 1967, while a college chaplain, I wrote my second song. It was called “I’m Burning Up!” and clearly reflected unrest. Then, at a summer arts festival, I wrote a folk-hymn, “Blood Flow Down,” based on the lame beggar at the temple gate. Within a year I had written another dozen songs, including “Love Is A Verb,” which became the title of my first album, and helped me undertake a five year touring-and-singing-with-guitar career.

      In the mid-seventies I opened and ran The Singers’ Studio in Washington where I was living with my wife and children. By day I taught singing (in the beginning, to non-singers) and on weekends I brought in many of the best local singers, and also sang myself.
      My songs now were secular, some still with guitar, though many I played on the piano. Through accompanying my students, I came to have a knowledge of the broad scope of American song, and my own new compositions reflected that. I closed that wonderful establishment in 1981 with a staged-singing of my only attempt at a musical. It was based on Henry James’ novel The Ambassadors, and I continued to work on it over the next five years, finally coming to give it the title And There We Are. It was never professionally staged, but I did make a recording of the full score of 20 songs with five other Washington artists. For the next two decades I continued to teach singing. During this period I had a religious re-awakening, returned to attending and assisting in church, and also began to write what now were harmonized hymns, but with a progressive theology (see Religious Perspective).

      In the mid-90s, inspired by Leo Ferre’s melodic rendering of verses by the medieval poet Rutebeuf, and Richard Dyer-Bennet’s melody to Byron’s “So We’ll Go No More A-Roving,” I began to set classic poems to melody. Choosing poets from Shakespeare to Dylan Thomas and Millay and Frost, I eventually composed almost 40 songs, recorded on two CDs, Sweet Love Remembered and That Time Of Year, with the vocals accompanied by piano and either strings, oboe or flute.

      No longer teaching, I am now concentrating on arranging, for congregations and choirs, hymns and anthems I have composed over the past forty years, making them freely available to all interested persons, and adding new compostions as they come. Singing goes on, locally with fellow alumni singers, and in the U.S. and abroad with the world-traveling Yale Alumni Chorus.

The Holy Communion

Celebrant: God, you are with us.
People: You are always with us.
Celebrant: May we open our hearts.
People: May we know your presence.
Celebrant: In thanksgiving,
People: And in deepest honor.

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Who Is Our Neighbor?

Who is our neighbor? That’s the question:
Who is this person we’re to love?
The one across the street? Or next door?
Or in the apartment up above?

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Bath Water Or Baby

Our hymnals are full of great hymns. Great because the melodies and harmonies have survived, in some cases for centuries. Great because the lyrics, whether in their original language, or translated, or adapted, can often read as timeless poetry, lending themselves to effortless memorization.

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This, My Song

This, my song, a skeptic’s hymn,
ode to mystery within,
Sung to you no one can prove,
dwelling there, as real as love.

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Spirit Within Us

Spirit within us, Spirit we call Holy,
With us, not of us, God’s own self with ours.
Presence of power, Spirit to spirit given,
This be our prayer now:
Through us your will be done.

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Here Is Bread and Here Is Wine

Here is bread and here is wine,
Food and drink we savor with delight;
Now upon this altar blessed,
Moving us beyond our taste and sight.

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Within Our Life We Have Two Homes

Within our life we have two homes,
Known in our minds, and in our bones.
To one who often will return.
For one our spirits ever yearn.
For one our spirits ever yearn.

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God’s Dearest Work of Art

God’s dearest work of art
we long have called the heart,
The depth within from which begin
the prayers that we impart.

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Jesus, You Were Born at Christmas

Jesus, you were born at Christmas,
like us, a child of God.

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