Ben Flanders: From French Horn to Baritone

Music has always been a part of the story for Ben Flanders, but vocal performance wasn’t the focus until fairly recently.

In 1995, Ben and his then girlfriend, now wife, Heidi moved to Cincinnati to attend the College-Conservatory of Music. He would pursue his studies in French horn, and Heidi would continue her work toward a degree in piano. After spending a few years living in Clifton’s basement apartments, Ben and Heidi purchased a home in Pleasant Ridge where they still live today. Heidi began teaching piano and violin, and Ben played French horn professionally for several years until a dental injury and resulting maxillofacial surgery caused him to reevaluate his career objectives.

In exploring possibilities, Ben went to Philadelphia to train in the Alexander technique – an educational approach emphasizing correct movement and posture to improve vocal performance – and began to think more seriously about singing. Not long after, he joined the May Festival Chorus back at home and sang for a couple seasons with the group. This is where he discovered his fascination with Russian music.

In 2013, Ben became a member of the Vocal Arts Ensemble, and his passion for Russian music continued to grow. He started a Russian singing group that initially met in his home, exploring the works of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky with his fellow vocalists. Before long, they incorporated Czech, Ukranian, and Polish repertoire, and evolved into Slavic Voices, a nonprofit committed to the study and performance of these often underappreciated works. Check out their brand new website to learn more about their work!

During quarantine, Ben has been keeping busy in part by Zooming to Ukraine to study Russian and Ukrainian with a friend there. He loves the folklore, the political subtext in Russian music, and the subtle ways that intonation and context inflect the language to create meaning. As far as performances are concerned, check out Slavic Voices’ recent livestream “Music for All-Hallows Eve” (which was performed without a live audience), and look for their upcoming concert, “Mussorgsky: A Biography in Song,” which will follow suit.

While Ben’s singing activities have gone virtual during the pandemic, Heidi has been able to continue teaching piano with a little creativity. During the warmer months, the couple rolled their upright piano out onto their home’s front porch to allow students who were comfortable with it to continue studying one-on-one in the open air. (The piano has since returned to the living room due to the cooler temperatures.) When it comes to rehearsing and performing during the pandemic, Ben is trying to err on the side of caution.

“I am the worst one to make decisions about safety, because I want to sing! I have a conflict of interest. Sometimes we don’t even know ourselves what our comfort level is until we’re right there in the moment. I try to adjust to suit the least comfortable person in the group, even if that means canceling on the spot.”

Ben has enjoyed his many years as a member of the Vocal Arts Ensemble, and the opportunities to meet new colleagues along the way – in particular, Kile Smith. Ben recently commissioned Kile to create a new work using the words of his mother Jane, an award-winning poet who published several books and served as the 1991 Elliston Poet in Residence at the University of Cincinnati. Ben looks forward to performing this work “Blue Lobster” with his twin sister Nell, the Princeton Symphony’s Georg and Joyce Albers-Schonberg Assistant Conductor, as a part of the Cincinnati Song Initiative’s SongSlam during their Winter Song Festival.

We are so grateful to have Ben Flanders as a member of the Vocal Arts Ensemble. Get to know him even better through his Spotify playlist of personal favorites.