How to Stitch a Song: A Kingston Symphony Orchestra project

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Last year, in 2017, I was invited by Evan Mitchell, the Musical Director of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, to create a suite of three wall hangings inspired by a special performance of classic music pieces, all of which incorporated birdsong. This project was so well received that Director Mitchell approached me once again this year with a new challenge: to use as inspiration four selected Strauss art songs.

Not one to resist an intriguing exercise, I accepted with pleasure! And thus began my six-month journey with Richard Strauss.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

A quick look at some of the links and information revealed that all four songs refer to death and renewal in some way, two of them composed at a time when the great artist was contemplating the end of his creative life.

I wondered about working with such a dark subject. Director Mitchell explained that “between the idea and imagery of renewal through the night and the optimism of tomorrow, there is a real cycle of evening through morning: a connection to the earth with our own progression of life. In the order they are to be performed, they go from openness, to existentially meditative, to intimately optimistic.”  What a beautiful way to approach life’s natural cycles! Because I’m working almost exclusively with the circular form lately, I was delighted that circles and spirals would suit the theme of death and renewal spectacularly well.

So… I listened (over and over), I read (different translations, history, conductors’ notes), poured myself a glass or two and began sketching. After some trial and error, I began to get a feel for the cadence of the music, the position of the voice within the piece, and the sounds of the instruments. From the best coloured sketches I developed small stitched trials. As I worked on them I noticed how well the rhythmic sound of the sewing machine and the repeated stitches matched the musical notes as they played. They looked good. The size and shape of the final versions practically chose themselves.

With these four pieces, the Great Strauss shares his graceful embrace of the progress of time, and his respect for life’s portentous passages. Working on the imagery drew me closer to the positive symbolism of the Circle: that in all of life, nature and art, there no such thing as a full stop. As with my previous project with the Orchestra, each piece took on its own unique imagery and style, enhancing my appreciation of the music.

These four framed textiles as well as other related works will be on display on the day of the Concert on October 21st at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, Ontario.

Here are the images! I’ve included the music for each, and the poem that inspired it. Enjoy!

An die Nacht (To the Night) – hear the SONG

To the Night 16×16″

The visuals for this piece were clear from the beginning: darkness dimming the bright colours of a passionate life. I accomplished this effect by using black sheer fabric arching over one side of the circle. I was surprised to note that the intensity of the dark side changes dramatically when viewed from different angles, very appropriate. On the dark side grow white spruces, and flowers on the light, as this might also read as the movement of the seasons. The leaf shapes mark the passage of time.

Out of the forest steps Night,
Out of the trees she softly steals,
Looks around her in a wide arc,
Now beware..

All the lights of this world,
All flowers, all colors
She extinguishes, and steals the sheaves
From the field.

She takes everything that is dear,
Takes the silver from the stream,
and from the Cathedral’s copper roof,
She takes the gold.

The bushes are left, stripped naked,
Come closer, soul to soul;
Oh, I fear that the night will also steal
You from me.
by Hermann von Gilm

 

Beim Schlafengehen (At Bedtime) – hear the SONG

Falling Asleep 16×16″

For this one, the concept of letting go, along with the idea of a soul returning to its home with the stars were the main inspirations. The beginning and the end come back to the same spot in the circle, flowing onward into eternity.

Now that day has exhausted me
I give myself over, a tired child,
to the night and to my old friends, the stars:
my watchful guardians, quiet and mild.

Hands – let everything go.
Head – stop thinking.
I am content to follow
where my senses are sinking.

Into the darkness, I swim out free:
Soul, released from all your defenses,
enter the magic, sidereal circle
where the gathering of souls commences.
by Hermann Hesse

 

Im Abendroth (Into Sunset)- hear the SONG

Sunset 16×16″

For this piece I couldn’t help but respond to the sentimentality of the words. Strauss refers to his beloved wife when he portrays an ageing couple at the end of their lives together. They admire a setting sun after traveling from busy, complex early years to the womb-like warmth of old age. The trill of larks can be heard in the instrumentation, marking their path.

We have passed through sorrow and joy,
walking hand in hand.

Now we need not seek the way:
we have settled in a peaceful land.

The dark comes early to our valley,
and the night mist rises.
Two dreamy larks sally
forth: our souls’ disguises.

We let their soaring flight delight
us, then, overcome by sleep
at close of day, we must alight
before we fly too far, or dive too deep.

The great peace here is wide and still
and rich with glowing sunsets:
If this is death, having had our fill
of getting lost, we find beauty, no regrets.
by Joseph von Eichendorff

 

Morgen (Tomorrow)- hear the SONG

Tomorrow 16×16″

In Director Mitchell’s own words, “Morgen (Tomorrow) has such an unbelievably explicit beauty that one can’t help but feel as though it isn’t an end but a new beginning.” The sweet harp/piano notes of this piece along with the imagery of beach and sky reminded me of quiet, dreamy steps along the shore in the morning. I decided to enhance this effect with repeated elements like circles and leaves, alternating with frothy surf against pale marine blue.

Tomorrow again will shine the sun
And on my sunlit path of earth
Unite us again, as it has done,
And give our bliss another birth…
The spacious beach under wave-blue skies
We’ll reach by descending soft and slow,
And mutely gaze in each other’s eyes,
As over us rapture’s great hush will flow.
by John Henry MacKay

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10 Responses to “How to Stitch a Song: A Kingston Symphony Orchestra project”

  1. Catherine says:

    Hi Lorraine, Only just got around to listening to these Strauss pieces – not in their entirety I have to tell you. Thank you for sharing your process. I love how you enjoy letting your projects take you to deep important places and how you ultimately bring so many strands together – not just the various artistic modes you reference and/or create (the music, poetry and your textile work) but your own intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic journey which is manifest through your writing. Thank you for sharing this and for doing the work you do.

  2. You are an inspiration! I’ve been slowly working on a similar project and theme and, as always, am in admiration of your art – so well conceived and executed! Namaste!

  3. Anni Hunt says:

    Amazing work Lorraine, I would love to see the previous one also. Maybe you blogged about it , I will look.Anni

  4. Shar says:

    Wow! I love seeing your work. It speaks to me on several levels. Thank you for sharing. Wish I lived closer. (Colorado) Involving various media is so effective.

  5. Tana says:

    So very cool!
    To match the music with art!

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