Kathy and Lex Silbiger have found that music has continued to be a part of their lives after they retired from their positions at Duke.
Kathy Silbiger, former director of Duke Performances and Lex Silbiger, former chair of the music department, now live in Croasdaile Village, a retirement community in Durham. The couple, who have lived in Croasdaile for four years, coordinate a band of fellow residents called “The Rusty Pipes,” which performs both in and outside the community.
The pair met at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where Kathy Silbiger was studying for her graduate degree in arts management and Lex Silbiger was teaching at his first full-time regular faculty job in music. In addition to teaching, he directed a small ensemble group that she auditioned for, playing recorders and the cornetto, a wind instrument.
Kathy Silbiger said that in her role as an administrator at Duke, she had to give up playing music, but was eager to start playing again after retiring.
“I devoted all my energy and time to the job,” she said. “So I basically did not play music from 1985 until I retired in 2007. But of course the whole time I was around music and artists because I was bringing them in, sitting in on their rehearsals, feeding them and raising money to bring them, so I was envious that they were getting to make music … When I retired, I said, ‘okay, my turn!’”
Lex Silbiger said he and his wife went to a music store together the day after she retired and bought a trumpet.
“I was worried she would be sitting at home,” he said. “Us academics, we keep going after we retire. I do research and things, but that’s not for someone who’s essentially administration.”
Since their retirement, Kathy Silbiger has become very active in local musical groups and plays in multiple ensembles and bands. However, she said she noticed a void in their community.
“I thought there must be other folks who probably played at some point in their past, or would like to play,” she said. “So the first week we were here, I met with the activities director and said, ‘I think I want to start a band.’ And so that’s what we’ve done.”
The Rusty Pipes includes approximately 20 retirees and practices in the Silbigers’ music room almost every Monday.
The Silbigers said the band members try not to take themselves too seriously, and typically will play for church groups, other retirement communities and at farmer’s markets.
The band tries to add humor to its repertoire, Kathy Silbiger explained, adding that they had recently done a polka rendition of the chicken dance.
“You aren’t going to see us in Duke Performances,” Lex Silbiger joked.
Kathy Silbiger said some of the challenges of conducting an ensemble of senior citizens include making adjustments for hearing impairments, “attention problems” and dealing with the challenge of not being good right away. She added that many of the band’s members had not played since high school or were learning for the first time.
“I say everything like three times, really loud,” Kathy Silbiger said. “They are back being a student again, and they feel like they ought to be able to do this, really well, right away, because they’re a successful person.”
The Silbigers said that the residents of Croasdaile Village have benefited from their involvement in the band, and that most surviving members who joined the band have stuck with it.
“It’s kind of fun to learn a new instrument,” Lex Silbiger said. “I’m past 80, so to learn something new is very exciting.”
Kathy Silbiger added that she thinks playing music is a good way for older people to stay active.
“Staying active like this is really important. And getting out is really important,” she said. “When you come into a community like this, it could happen that your world would close in and this would be it. But when you’re a part of a group like this that goes out and does things, I think it helps keep you part of the real world.”