The following article was featured in Durham Magazine's June/July 2017 issue. www.durhammag.com
Written by Amanda MacLaren | Pictures by Briana Brough
WHEN KATHY SILBIGER RETIRED FROM DIRECTING THE DUKE INSTITUTE OF THE ARTS - what is today Duke Performances – in 2007, one of the first things she did was buy a trumpet. “I had played [the trumpet] through high school back in the early 1960s, and started learning to play again,” Kathy says. “I joined the OLLI New Horizons Band, which is a program run through Duke’s Office of Continuing Studies, to get back into the swing of things.”
Kathy and husband Alexander “Lex” Silbiger, who had retired as the chair of the Music Department at Duke in 2002, moved to Croasdaile Village in 2012. “I already played in three or four other groups, and knew how much I enjoyed playing and what a great activity it is for keeping young in mind and body,” Kathy says. “So I thought it would be fun to see if there were other residents of this large retirement community [of] 600 residents who used to play an instrument like I did and might be interested in picking it up again.”
She held an information session, and five people showed up. “These folks, some of whom didn’t even have instruments, were eager to try, so I found some music we could play with this very odd combination – trumpet, alto sax, clarinet, trombone, euphonium – and we just did the best we could,” Kathy says. “Our first performance was to play some very easy Christmas carols for Croasdaile Village during the holidays in 2013.
“The name Rusty Pipes was suggested by Goldie Marrs, a retired band director (and our trombonist at the time), and it just seemed like the right description of us!” Kathy continues. “Goldie unfortunately passed away at the age of 91, a little over a year after we started, but she was an inspiration to all of us.”
Lex did not join the group at first, as he did not play any wind instruments, but when Kathy bought an upright electric bass for the band, she asked Lex to play it. “I had never played bass in my entire life, although I had some experience with other string instruments,” Lex says. “Starting an entirely new instrument at 79 was challenging, but I soon began to make rapid progress. I can now say that I have done few things in my life that have given me as much pleasure as playing bass with the Rusty Pipes!”
“I had never ‘led’ a group before and didn’t really have that in mind when I started this – I just wanted to play,” Kathy says. “But this has taught me a lot about how to work with intelligent and successful folks who happen to be seniors, who are learning a new skill or re-learning one. It’s given me a sort of ‘identity’ in the Croasdaile Village community, and I think it’s also inspired a lot of other musically inclined folks here to go ahead and get back into music-making in their own ways. … We also now have a large chorus, a flute ensemble and a recorder ensemble, and there are new residents moving in all the time who have musical interests. … It’s nice to know that making music is important to others as well and can give pleasure to our friends and fellow residents. We even have some groupies!”