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Iliana Semmler

Iliana Semmler - Personal Retirement Story

Editor's Note: Iliana passed away on June 17, 2016.

To make sense of my retirement story, I have to go way back, to my early days in college in 1949, two months after I'd turned seventeen.  I registered at Swarthmore as a pre-med major, but various circumstances, most of them non-academic, caused me to drop that idea.  So, in the spring of my freshman year, I applied to Oberlin Conservatory and was accepted there.  I was going to become a pianist, like my father.  In the course of my year there, while I learned a lot and enjoyed the music program, it became evident to me that I would not be happy practicing an instrument for as many hours a day as would be necessary.  So I returned to Swarthmore, hunted around for a major (since I had to declare one in my junior year) and settled on political science, the field in which I received my undergraduate degree.  In the process of choosing courses for my remaining two years at Swarthmore, I chose as many English courses as I could, determined to get my graduate degrees in that field.

The itch for both medicine and music did not leave me when I made that decision.  I managed to satisfy the itch for medicine to some degree in choosing William Carlos Williams, poet and doctor, for my dissertation subject and by developing and teaching a course in Literature and Medicine at U. Albany.  The music itch was not so easily satisfied, however, so when I retired, I set about concentrating on music.  Fortunately, the Music Department at U. Albany was very hospitable to me, and I was able to audit all the music theory courses offered, in addition to some period courses, a course in opera, and a course in counterpoint.

And then I set about doing the thing I should have done thirty years earlier, writing a memoir of my father's life.  My father was a professional musician: composer, conductor, pianist.  Research into his life is keeping me very busy, as is writing about his life as I personally remember it.  (I am currently facilitating a course for the U. Albany Emeritus Center in Memoir Writing, which is providing an impetus and opportunity to write about my memories of my childhood and the role my father played in it.)  If I'd started this work in 1977, the year that my father died, the whole process would have been considerably easier because a lot of the paths into his life have been obliterated by the deaths of people who knew him.  Nonetheless, I am able to find quite a bit of material, some from the few friends who are still alive, some from the internet, and some from the papers-and there are a great many of them-he left behind.  I've also signed up to take Sibelius, a computer-driven music-notation course, in order to convert as much of his music as I can from manuscript into print format.

In addition to all of that, my husband, George Hastings, and I find time to travel to various places; in the last ten years we've gone to Greece a number of times with the group led by John Overbeck of the U. Albany Classics Department, and in the last two years, we've gone to Hawaii.  There's more than enough to keep one busy: concerts, book clubs, plays, and so on.  Both of us serve on the Executive Board of the Emeritus Center, and both of us have taught several OASIS courses.  I've managed to bring music into play in one OASIS course I taught, "The String Quartet in Literature."  Together we went to Russia under the auspices of the Tula Alliance and taught classes there in English and American Literature for a short time.  In addition, with another member of the Executive Board, Ray Ortali, and a colleague at Albany Medical Center, Jeffrey Ross, I taught a course we called Opera 101 through the Emeritus Center.

I'm not sure who said that once retired, one is kept so busy that it's impossible to understand how there had been time to work in addition to all the other activities one becomes embroiled in, but whoever it was that made that point really hit the nail on the head!  No time to sit in the old rocking chair and stare out the window!

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