December 14, 2013

Retirement hame

Quartet is a charming movie set in a grand retirement home for gifted musicians. Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and others star in the poignant comedy, with support from actual elderly famous musicians from the British stage. They long for what they once were as players and singers, but, the key is, instead of sinking into decrepitude alone and forlorn, they do it together, sharing their wistful memories of great performances, professional rivalries, multiple curtain-calls and standing ovations.

Their home is a stately Georgian mansion called Beecham House, in the idyllic English countryside, and the viewer assumes that the famous retirees have the means to pay for their care, but it’s apparent that there are major contributions to support the place and the lifestyle the old residents deserve.

They don’t just sit around moldering. They teach. They perform. They compose. They have a good time and, when one of them is down, they band together to pick him up.

What a thing it would be for our most accomplished retired pipers and drummers to have a grand home to go to, to live out the last years of their life among others who also lived the life. Perhaps set somewhere in rural Scotland, it could be a renovated castle supported by the piping and drumming community and a combination of private and government funding.

In return for all those Highland fling performances of his tune, perhaps the Marquis of Huntley could gift us his Aboyne Castle. Just the place.

Imagine the atmosphere. The retirement house would be like a Piobaireachd Society conference every day, except that every person there would be able to back up the talk with a career of playing ability that qualified them for residency. The home for old great players would enable drummers and bandsmen and women to relive memories, stay current with trends, and debate the past.

As in the movie, there could be regular recitals and workshops, kids visiting to learn from the masters, and for the masters to learn from the kids. An annual gala would bring in the Highland aristocracy (there is one, you know) ready to rip a cheque from their sporran to help things along.

There would be healthcare on-site, treating uncooperative fingers and wrists, and doctors to look after the mentally infirm with the dignity that they deserve. But most of all, the place would be a last band of brothers and sisters united by their common love of the art.

Some great pipers and drummers are fortunate to have the savings and the friends and family to lovingly look out for them into their dotage. Sadly, though, too many of our greats drop out of our own consciousness, and conclude their lives lonely and detached from piping and drumming society.

There should be a place for our greatest performers and authorities to go, if they wish, if they need to, to share their experiences one last time, for themselves, for all of us.


  1. Nice idea but I hope they wouldn’t be doing much piping as they don’t like people going to the loo more than once every two hours! As my elderly relatives are discovering. Coughing’s bad enough, but blowing a hard reed?????? Nope, don’t think so. Mind you we’ve had the mutes for pipes, all manner of fancy bags and accoutriments, so why not undergarments for nonogenarian pipers? Not that you can’t be ninety and have a cast iron bladder. Apart from such practicalities, I think it’s a great idea. And a good use for all those castles going to waste.

  2. you know the way practically anybody that gets money and grant funding generally blow it or take outrageous liberties with expenses claims? all these large and small pipe band organisations and their cronies are bad enough as it is, just imagine what liberties they would take if funding for such a wonderful idea was granted, it wouldn’t see a term is my guess.

  3. Great idea, but do you think they all could just be friends? After reading the PM Reid letters and your interview with PM Ramsey, probably not, at least in the past when so much piping knowledge was thought to be “hard-earned, self-discovered & proprietary”. Now, I must admit things have changed in the past half century as illustrated most recently by the first 2 parts of your interview with PS Jack Lee and the Piping Center interviews with PM Rodey MacLeod, just to name a few. I guess we kind of have this “group home” in a virtual way with all the personal and group Skyping going on; even on-line competitions through Jori Chisholm.
    Kent Argubright MD



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