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Swan Song

2012 February 23
by elizabeth_admin


Since I am sick and haven’t sewn in the last week or finished Katie’s dress yet, I thought I would treat you to bore you with some thoughts on music.  I think my BFF Cayce would agree with me here when I say that I can be a bit dramatic.  Oh and possibly my sister would agree too.  Oh and maybe everyone I have ever known.  Now if that’s not a dramatic introduction, I don’t know what is.

Back when I used to sing for my supper I had grandiose plans for my retirement concert.  I wonder if other singers do that?  I programmed the entire concert, down to the last encore song (because, of course, there would be more than one encore, right?).  I have always had a major love affair with song repertoire, German Lieder in particular.  While singing opera with an orchestra and other singers on stage is wonderful and exciting, I adored the intimacy and gem-like qualities of art song, poetry set to music.  German composers like Wolf and Strauss were my favorites.  But there was one Schubert song that I have always revered, An die Musik (poet: Franz von Schober).  Written for voice and piano, it is an ode to music with a hymn-like simplicity but deeply felt melodic line.  I loved this song so much I even undertook to learn the piano music for it so I could accompany myself whenever I felt like singing it (I am not a good pianist by any measure).

Here is the text:

An die Musik

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb’ entzunden,
Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt!

Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf’ entflossen,
Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir
Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen,
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür!

English translation (not my own):

Oh lovely Art, in how many grey hours,
When life’s fierce orbit ensnared me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
Carried me away into a better world!How often has a sigh escaping from your harp,
A sweet, sacred chord of yours
Opened up for me the heaven of better times,
Oh lovely Art, for that I thank you!


And here is Dame Janet Baker singing this wonderful song.

The funny thing is: I never had a retirement concert.  One day I was pursuing music as my career and then the next, I wasn’t.  There was no wind-down, no last concert.  I was unaware that my last concert was indeed my last concert.  So I never sang my last encore.  Ah, hubris.

So what does this have to do with sewing?  Well, honestly, not much.  But it started me to wondering what the sewing equivalent of a last encore song would be.  Would it be a one of a kind, complex dress like a wedding dress?  Would it be a sewn gift to someone you love? 

Or maybe there isn’t an equivalent in sewing at all since we never have to “retire”.  We can sew as long as we want.  Our audience is ourselves.  We can sew into our 80’s and 90’s if we want.  Never knowing which garment is to be our encore.

So, humor me, what do you think?  Does sewing have a swan song?  If so, what is it?


12 Responses leave one →
  1. February 23, 2012

    A last encore song?? You’re not thinking of leaving the sewing world, are you?

  2. February 23, 2012

    Ah, well … a fascinating post in many ways. Because I am older, I am hitting that phase of life when you realize it really will not last forever. My joints hurt, I can’t see without glasses and can’t hear as well as I’d like, either.
    What bothers me is that someday my eyes may not be good enough for me to continue sewing. I’ll probably wind down slowly, barring any unforeseen accidents.
    I don’t think I have quite the dramatic flair you do 😀

    I heard John Glenn on NPR yesterday saying that he had sold his airplane not long ago and it was very painful for him to let go of that airplane. (He’s had knee replacement and can no longer climb into the cockpit)

    I majored in music, followed very quickly by a second degree in accounting (I am not stupid) I’ve picked the violin back up when I missed it and played more. Actually, I guess I can relate to John Glenn becuase it was very painful for me to let go of music as a career and embrace the world of real jobs. But that’s life!
    As long as I have a creative outlet, I’ll always have that “opening to the heaven of better times”
    Beautiful song.

  3. Nadine permalink
    February 23, 2012

    Although I know someday I will not be able to do everything I can do now, I would hope I could always sew something, even if it had to be by machine all the time. If not, I would hope to be in a more advisory position on sewing, helping the next generation get their feet wet (so to speak) in sewing, and learn a few tricks. I happen to have many more dreams left to sew, and left with little time to sew them all. And also not enough money to buy all the stuff I would need to sew them, so I continue to need my job, as the lottery had not paid off, although it might be a tad easier to win if I actually played it. (lol)

  4. February 23, 2012

    I don’t know if sewing has one. I mean, I know some people who stopped sewing for many years, but somehow they always seem to come back to it…

    If you were going to have one it should be something magnificent though. An entire outfit, or an amazing gown, or a couture style coat, or a wedding gown with a 25 foot train… I don’t know. Somehow when I finish big projects I want to sew more, not less. I mean, I want to sew easy things like knit tops, but I still want to sew, so I don’t know if there would be a last thing for me.

    Also, I echo Janice – I hope you aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon (especially now that you have your lovely coverstitch). I would miss seeing all your lovely creations…

  5. February 23, 2012

    A few weeks ago, Carolyn (Diary of a Sewing Fanatic) was reflecting on a funeral she attended and wondering what stories/memories would be told about her at her own hypothetical funeral. And I can’t help thinking that, for sewists, maybe the better question would be: what would you want to wear to your wake/funeral (um, you being in the casket and all) since that really is the last bow. If I tragically died tomorrow, I would want to wear my awesome Vogue 1162 Belville Sasoon red silk dress. Thoroughly inappropriate to wear as a mourner, but as a swan song for my hobby and life nothing else would do for me. Hope that wasn’t too creepy. 😉

  6. February 23, 2012

    I hope not, I really don’t.

    Some years back, my dance troupe was part of a provincial show with a lot of more mainstream (ballet, jazz, moder) groups. It was a big venue, more “professional” than our usual, and pretty exciting.

    And I’m pretty sure that us (bellydancers) were the only adults performing. All the main-line dancers were in their teens or under—the next stage for them was either go professional (very rare) or drop out completely. (I remember saying “what do they do with all the ballerinas when they turn fifteen, take them out behind the studio and shoot them?”) It made me so sad and a little angry, that they were spending so much time and passion and excellence on something they would soon have no outlet for. While I know we can’t, and shouldn’t, all be professional dancers (or singers or belly dancers or stitchers), I really do feel like we need to be able to keep our passions with us throughout our lives.

    Even if you’d had that final retirement concert, would it have been the last time you sang? I doubt it. I’m sure today you sing to your son, to yourself, for your own pleasure if no one else’s. (Or I hope you do—I do, and seriously, no one other than me should be forced to listen to me sing!) I do think it’s sad that so much of our culture restricts performance to only the rare elite. Not that I begrudge them their excellence—it’s awe-inspiring—but I can’t help but think that there needs to be room for us amateurs to shine as well, to the best of our abilities (whatever they may be). Singing at a house party or a concert for thousands—dancing at a friend’s wedding or in an auditorium—stitching a wedding gown or a quilt for our grandchildren.

    Oops, that got a bit book-like. Great post! Feel better soon!

  7. February 24, 2012

    My GIL (my MIL’s mother) is now in assistive living. She can’t see or use her hands well enough to sew and my MIL is currently bringing me her last quilts to finish. I think her abilities left her in the last few years without enough warning to really produce one last beautiful piece. These final quilt tops aren’t nearly the quality of the work that she used to produce. I’m sort of hoping that this is the way it works for me to as I think I would find it much more depressing to watch your abilities deteriorate and slowly become less and less capable of coming close to what you are envisioning. It would mean not having enough warning to create that swan song, but I think I’d rather have the added years of enjoying being creative in the sewing field.

  8. February 24, 2012

    My mom is 77 and sews like a pro. These days she only sews bathing suits for the gym because she only likes her own style of suit. So maybe it’s not a swan song, but just a different tune?

    As long as you’re having fun, why worry? Live in the sewing now.

    Feel better soon.

  9. February 24, 2012

    What a beautiful post… Actually brought tears to my eyes… “Last times” that I don’t know are last times are one of those poetic bitter-sweet things in life…

    I figure I’ll keep sewing until the light finally dims too much in my eyes or my fingers fall off… You know in Little Women when Beth dies and Jo picks up Beth’s needlework with the needle stuck into it? Something like that. There will always be someone to pick it up and finish the work…

  10. February 25, 2012

    When Adele Margolis – of How to Make Clothes That Fit and Flatter fame – died at 100, she was still sewing her own clothes and had just written a book on sewing for the aging body which I really wish someone would publish because I think I’m going to need it. Active until the end would be my preference.

  11. February 28, 2012

    I hope I don’t have the knowledge that that last piece I make will truly be my last. How hard it would be to choose the right thing to finish on. I mean would I go for a magnum opus, assuming I have amassed the skill to do one, or something less intricate but wonderfully done?

    I hope to blithely continue on until I can’t and then just figure it out. I can then get to knitting by feel (which my gran did for years) to get my stitching fix.

    T’was a lovely post and I hope you are well better.

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