Courtesy of Yale Alumni

Marina Belica and Julie Flanders, both class of 1981, embody the way Yale College can be a launching pad for artistic creation, friendship and humanitarianism. 

From their beginnings as first-year roommates in Vanderbilt Hall to their global success as members of the pop rock band October Project, the two women have exemplified deep dedication to fostering connection and catharsis through music. This year, their dedication resulted in their Worldwide Choir version of “Return to Me” being entered into the running for three Grammys, although it was not ultimately nominated for any awards. 

The Worldwide Choir includes so many people from around the world and was created during a time of such extreme duress — COVID Plus!” Flanders wrote in an email to the News. “We are proud that we didn’t give up. We are proud that we brought strangers together across  geographies that separate people from each other into something that — one voice at a time — added up to a big ole rapturous noise.”  

“Return to Me” was up for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance; Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella; and Best Music Video. 

“Return to Me” is an October Project staple and has been through many iterations before being recorded in a virtual choir format. Originally released in 1993, the song featured Flanders’ lyrics, Belica’s vocals and the third band member Emil Adler’s composition and production. The song has over 50 million views on YouTube and has been featured in various film and television soundtracks. 

The Worldwide Choir of “Return to Me” is a video and audio release that consists of 130 virtual performers from 18 countries. The piece was born out of extensive collaboration between the members of October Project, the choir singers, conductor Ryan Heller, video editor Ulrich Vilbois, visual artist Phoebe Cavise, composer Evan Ziporyn, cellist Maya Beiser, producers Ed Boyer and Bill Hare and vocal arranger Keiji Ishiguri ’10.

Ishiguri previously arranged a version of “Return to Me” for Yale a cappella group Redhot & Blue. It remains a regular part of their setlist under the new name “The Epiphanal Version.”  

“It’s been wonderful to work with so many other artists and to see “Return to Me” a cappella move from a college campus favorite created by a young graduate to a worldwide phenomenon of so many participants,” Adler told the News. 

October Project’s decision to create a global choral rendition of “Return to Me” was inspired by an effort to create unity and sustaining artwork amidst the global pandemic. As the “Return to Me” website states, Belica, Flanders and Adler “offer this song of comfort and solace to a wounded world.” 

The band hopes their art will rouse global empathy and move people to donate to humanitarian organizations listed on their website, including UNICEF and Voices of Children’s Ukrainian war relief effort.   

“The notion of music being a healing force is always there for us,” Flanders wrote. “Humanitarian work is a natural aspect of that. To share all the blessings of our lives with those less fortunate. We have certain commitments that have persisted throughout our lives as artists — love, beauty, fun, trying (impossible) things and making mistakes!”

Another commitment that persists in Belica and Flanders’ artistry is to the Yale community. Both women work hard to mentor young Yalies who are passionate about music.

Because Belica and Flanders were among the earliest Yale women — attending college during Yale’s first decade of co-ed education — they lacked a strong sense of female guidance and camaraderie from alumni. They are eager to give what they lacked to current and former students. 

“We’re proud that this project includes 31 Yalies across several decades of graduating classes, including a beautiful contribution from our classmate Evan Ziporyn, who arranged a stunning cello postlude at the close of the video performed by Maya Beiser, ’87 [MUS],” Belica wrote in an email to the News. 

Although The Worldwide Choir of “Return to Me” incorporated a network of talents across the Yale community and reached astounding global audiences, an intimate, two-person friendship lies at the heart of the project: that of Belica and Flanders.

The pair became best friends during their first year at college. Today, they continue to lean on each other for emotional support and relish in each other’s creative strengths. 

“The best part of collaborating with my best friend is the grace that emanates from our deep appreciation of one another,” Belica told the News. “We literally resonate with one another, as singers and as human beings.”

The Worldwide Choir of “Return to Me” and October Project’s new Angels In the Garden video are both official selections at this year’s Yale in Hollywood Film Fest which runs online from Dec. 1-3.

Elena is a Junior studying English and Education.