November 27, 2019

Charles “Chuck” Murdoch: The Man from Manchester, 1936-2019

Chuck Murdoch, circa 1960.

When I was young piper, growing up in the ranks of the Manchester Pipe Band of Manchester, Connecticut, I had been taught for some time by two stalwart players in the band: first, my uncle Don Dixon, and then former Pipe-Major Mike MacNintch. Both did well by me and helped me progress as far as they felt they could.

Following those few years, my tuition in light music continued under another man, whose name in our part of the piping world needs no introduction: Charles “Chuck” Murdoch. Chuck’s tuition and influence would prove to be the springboard for my development, and my success both then and now in piping, and in many ways, outside of piping.

My story is by no means unique. Chuck’s influence reached far and wide for decades, and for untold numbers of pipers. As I happen to be in my hometown for (American) Thanksgiving, the first thing I did was head over to Uncle Don’s house to discuss and reflect. He played for Manchester since before I was born, and still does, so who better to help me compile thoughts and provide historical context? In gathering some historical data, I relied heavily on an article written by Nancy Tunnicliffe and Laura Neville in The Voice magazine, published in 2002, and cited throughout for reference.

Chuck Murdoch, 2014, at the capital district games during the Manchester Pipe Band’s 100th anniversary celebration.

Chuck was a native of Michigan, born of parents who had immigrated from Scotland. His tuition on the pipes came from Alec Matheson, and was then taught by George Duncan, who was pipe-major of the Ford Motors Pipe Band. Chuck obtained a degree in engineering from the University of Michigan and eventually moved to Connecticut to work for Pratt & Whitney, a well-known aircraft engine manufacturer. He met his wife, Claire, after moving to Connecticut, and had two sons, Doug and David, and eventually four grandchildren.

Chuck found his way to the Manchester Pipe Band around 1959. At the time, “It was a very good street band.”[1] In 1964, Chuck was appointed pipe-major. Around the same time, Chuck and his long-time friend, Roger Ritchie, a 70-plus year veteran of Manchester (yes, 70!) concurrently played for the Worcester Kiltie Pipe Band. Chuck learned from then-Worcester pipe-major Jim Kerr how to set up a band, and play the music “the way it should be played.” Indeed, Manchester would go on to reproducibly put out a notable pipe sound under Chuck’s leadership that many in our parts aspired to at the time. He would continue to lead the band as Pipe Major until 1996, racking up competitive accolades along the way that included the “Best Overseas Band” title at the World Pipe Band Championships in 1977.

Perhaps most notable in his tenure, his attitude and leadership drew players from all over the Northeast US at a time when people really didn’t travel to play in bands. A few people he attracted to the ranks over the years included my former piobaireachd tutor, Nancy Tunnicliffe, my aunt and uncle Kate and Don Dixon, Mike MacNintch, Brian Green, brothers Joe, Sean, and Kevin McGonigal, Jim Joyce, June Hanley and many more. Those who knew him would attribute this powerful attraction to his kind demeanor and his character as an absolute gentleman. (I’m told he never swore at band; if something was really rough he’d say it was “really stink-o.”)

The end of Chuck’s role as pipe-major did not end his involvement in piping. He remained an active adjudicator for years, and those who have received a score sheet from him would agree that few judges are as thoughtful or constructive in critiquing a performance. He also played regularly into the early 2000s, and won the over-50 MSR event at Maxville for well more than 15 consecutive years if my memory serves well.

Through many decades as an active member of our community, Chuck has touched and improved an immeasurable number of lives. I have no idea how many students he has taught, but wouldn’t be surprised if it numbers in the triple digits. He died November 26, 2019, at the age of 83. On behalf of all of those people, I would like to extend sincere condolences to Claire, Doug, David, and Chuck’s grandchildren. I and many others appreciate you sharing your remarkable husband, father, and grandfather, with all of us.

– Contributed by Eric Ouellette

[1] Tunnicliffe, N. and Neville, L., “A Pipe Major and a Gentleman: An Interview with Chuck Murdoch,” The Voice, Vol. 31 (3), 2002; 20-31.




Forgotten Password?