Siege Diaries 8/25/2021

Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What new path can I blaze today?

Funny this should come up. I’m spending some time today with organizing a Speechcraft for Toastmasters, helping out a club that I mentored when they first formed to get back up to strength. I’ve conducted the Speechcraft program before, but this will be the first time using the new online curriculum. We were originally going to start September 14, but with my plans for Montreal I’m confirming it’s OK to start a month later.

Sometimes a path is somewhat familiar, but takes a new route.

And then there’s the latest embroidery. It’s kind of amazing where this one took me. I went from planning to use existing blackwork designs for the fills to designing two of my own. But here’s the backstory.

This is the tenth Shostakovich embroidery I’ve done. I didn’t originally synch them up with the corresponding symphonies, but starting with no. 7 they’ve had some kind of connection. Symphony no. 10 is famous for being the one that was finally released after Stalin’s death and a gap of eight years since Shostakovich’s last one, the unexpected Symphony no. 9. In the interim, he (and several other composers) had been censured for “formalism”. Shostakovich lost his teaching position and just about every source of income other than what he could make in film music. This is the period in which he composed in dual streams–the public works, which were acceptable as “Soviet Realism”, and the private works composed for “the desk drawer”, some of which (the Violin Concerto and the Symphony no. 10) were among his masterpieces.

The Symphony no. 10 is probably best known as one of two works where Shostakovich’s musical monogram, DSCH (or D, E flat, C, B) is prominently featured, particularly in the third movement and then again in the fourth. The second movement–a furious, short scherzo–is widely believed to be a “portrait of Stalin”, and if it is not, it is certainly a portrait of a certain kind of brutality. There is a moment in the final movement where the theme of that movement returns, only to be musically smacked down by the DSCH motif. And, it turns out, there is another theme in the third movement, another musical monogram associated with a female composer who had been a student and who he seemed to have a bit of a crush on. So the Tenth is a symphony of hidden meanings. It’s also probably his tightest, most cohesive symphony.

I have a long association with Symphony no. 10. While I first heard Shostakovich–the finale of the 5th Symphony–in high school, it took until about 14 years later that a work of his really resonated with me, and it was the Tenth. So I put a little more thought into this one than usual.

I had decided to adapt a photo of Shostakovich from sometime in the 50s as the centrepiece of the work. Having learned that the name Shostakovich was derived from the word for “six”, I decided to surround it by a six-pointed star. I briefly considered using blue for the fill, but a blue six-pointed star tends to be associated with Israel, and that wasn’t quite the right imagery. Red, on the other hand…a five-pointed red star is of course stereotypically Soviet. So this one would in some way remind the viewer of that, but subtly warping it into a symbol of the composer himself.

And that’s where the fill came from Looking through blackwork patterns, none really caught my fancy. I started doodling on graph paper, and before I knew it, I’d designed a fill based on the DSCH initials. There were even little circles recalling the whole notes in Shostakovich’s own rendition of his motif, which I’d placed at the bottom of the piece. Rotating the design around created some interesting patterns.

Then, there was the matter of the background. I briefly considered stripes, but again, a six-pointed star on stripes also has certain connotations. Once again, I started doodling, and soon I had a kind of star motif based on four musical notes. The pattern turns out to fit in a 10 x 10 square, in another nod to the Tenth Symphony. I started stitching the “stars” on the lower left, and continued the pattern up and around, tearing out stitching three or four times when I misaligned something. As a result, the pattern matched up when I came around full circle.

The final step was some couched gold bullion, which I’ve had in my stash for years. I’m really pleased to have finally used it.

The piece took a lot longer than I’d originally figured it would, but I have to say that blackwork is addictive. I’m extremely pleased with it, and happy that I got a chance to work with the technique. Since I don’t do 16th century things, making a blackwork shift or coif isn’t something I ever had any reason to do. This project definitely scratched that itch.


I’ve been meaning to share this for a few days now. I hadn’t realized just how much more complex a theatre organ was than the regular variety as found in a church or concert hall. I’ve heard this particular organ played several times, most recently a couple of years ago when I went to see Casablanca while in Columbus for the Origins game convention.

A few days ago on CBC I heard a bit on a documentary about a band called Sparks. I’d never heard of them before, but this song (from 1974) blew me away. It reminds me a little bit of that other towering 1974 work, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, perhaps crossed with Queen.

And they’re still around. This one dates from 2017.