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Charles (Chuck) Couper Murdoch '58

Charles (Chuck) Couper Murdoch, 83, of Vernon, CT, formerly of South Windsor, CT and Stuart, FL, beloved husband of Claire Murdoch, died peacefully on Tuesday, November 26, 2019 in Stuart, FL, surrounded by his family. Chuck was born in Croswell, Michigan, son of the late Charles Nelson and Jessie (Couper) Murdoch. He grew up in Saginaw, MI and graduated from Arthur Hill High School. He went on to obtain a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1959 and was a member of Delta Chi fraternity. Upon graduating Chuck took a job with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in East Hartford where he had a long, distinguished career. He began his career near the beginning of the jet engine era and was instrumental in the development and certification of many engine models, some still powering aircraft today. Chuck was a longtime member of Wapping Community Church of South Windsor and also a member of Stuart Congregational Church in Florida. He served on many boards and as Deacon at Wapping Church. He was an accomplished bagpiper and Pipe Major of the Manchester Pipe Band for over 30 years. Under his leadership the band won numerous awards competing in the U.S., Canada and Scotland. He was well respected as a teacher, mentor, and role model to young bagpipers through the years. Chuck was also a piping judge who traveled all over the U.S. and Canada. He was a member and Judge Emeritus of the EUSPBA (Eastern United States Pipe Band Association). Chuck played pipes for many functions and in many different venues over the years. One of his highlights was for a PBS production leading the band with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall, and John Williams asked him if the orchestra was satisfactory! For years he played in many area churches including Wapping Church on Christmas Sundays, Manchester's Trinity Covenant Church Christmas Musical and for 30 years at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford for their Boar's Head Festival. Chuck and his wife Claire wintered in Stuart, Florida during their retirement and enjoyed 53 years of marriage together. Chuck also enjoyed traveling, golf, reading, bridge and rooting for the Michigan Wolverines and his New England sports teams. A kind, caring, loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather and friend to many, he will be dearly missed. Along with his wife Claire he leaves his sons, Douglas Murdoch and his wife Marybeth of South Windsor and David Murdoch and his wife Rianna of Cambridge, MA; his grandchildren, Melissa, Brian, Stella, and Jack; and his sister-in-law, Joan Harpel and her husband James of Glencoe, MN. He was predeceased by his sister Doris Kusch. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, December 14, 2019, 2 p.m., at Wapping Community Church, 1790 Ellington Rd., South Windsor. A private burial will take place at Wapping Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Treasure Coast Hospice Foundation, 1201 SE Indian St., Stuart, FL 34997 (Treasurehealth.org/donate), Cure PSP, 1216 Broadway, 2nd Floor, New Your, NY (PSP.org) or a charity of your choice. Samsel & Carmon Funeral Home has care arrangements. Please visit www.carmonfuneralhome.com for online condolences.

 

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

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