"In Flanders Fields": On Experiencing Poetry Through Music

What makes art truly powerful is the ability to be interpreted – to provoke thought, to inspire conversation, or even to stir up controversy among diverse groups of people who respond to that art in different ways.

John McCrae may have written only one poem in May of 1915, but there is hardly one single or definitive “In Flanders Fields”.  The way each person responds to McCrae’s famous text is shaped by their own personal beliefs and experiences.  Our responses are also further shaped by the way we encounter it: how, where, and why we see, hear, or perform it.  The next time you encounter “In Flanders Fields”, think about how the way it is presented influences your response.

Enter the power of music. While poetry on its own is a subjective art, a poem performed through music becomes an even more complex phenomenon.  Music guides the way we see, hear, and experience; the same words set to music can take on an entirely different meaning. 

The Singing In Flanders Fields project encourages you to explore the myriad ways music can shape, guide, and redirect our experience, contributing to the countless interpretations people have drawn from McCrae’s short battlefield poem.

Not long after “In Flanders Fields” had been published, composers began to respond to and create their own commentary on McCrae’s words through musical settings.  This desire to interpret and re-interpret, to create art from art continues.  “In Flanders Fields” has now inspired over 150 musical compositions – some for choirs, some for solo singers, even some for instruments alone.  Each one adds a distinct voice alongside McCrae’s, entering into dialogue with the poet, creating a new and unique portrait of the poppies blowing amid the cross-marked graves, and further adding to the enduring legacy of one of the 20th century’s most influential poems.