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Michael J. Murphy

Michael J. Murphy - Personal Retirement Story


When a Passionate Avocation Becomes a Retirement Plan

When I began to think of retirement as a university professor in 2008, of course financial considerations were among those foremost in my mind. However, it was my passion for music – and specifically “early music” – that led to an extremely satisfying retired life.

As a biologist who taught biotechnology as well as ethics in science, my career was fascinating and helped me escape the poverty of my family life (having 11 children placed a serious strain on my parents!). In thirty years with the State University of New York (the first five at UAlbany in a research lab and the next 25 or so at SUNY Cobleskill), I had the good fortune to teach some simply amazing students, perform National Science Foundation-sponsored research (in embryonic/fetal kidney development), and travel extensively - both for professional meetings as well as a Fulbright Senior Scholar to the Czech Academy of Sciences.

And while I occasionally still teach for the college (biotechnology in Nanjing, China) and for local organizations like the Humanities Institute for Life-Long Learning (Contemporary Ethical Issues in Science and Medicine), my avocation has always been music. 

"It was my passion for music--and specifically 'early music'--that led to an extremely satisfying retired life."

My music background was primarily vocal, having sung with various church choirs as well as with Albany Pro Musica, Schenectady Light Opera, Lake George Opera, and other groups. In looking forward to retirement, I decided to pursue instrumental music. While piano is the obvious choice for many of us, it was quite difficult to seriously pursue this instrument when I travelled and hiked so often.  In addition, it is not an instrument specific to early music. 

Fortunately, Old Songs in Voorheesville, NY offered instrumental classes and I began recorder studies. My teacher, Laura Hagen, is a University of Indiana, Jacobs School of Music graduate with both a master’s degree as well as the post-graduate “Performance Diploma.” She started me on an exquisite journey learning instrumental styles that ranged from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and the Baroque.

The recorder (“flûte à bec” in French) is the woodwind ”fipple” flute of the Middle Ages and also used in certain seminal compositions of the Renaissance and the Baroque  (the transverse flute arrived from Asia later and encouraged the development of the “traverso” and ultimately modern concert flutes). For more information on the history of the recorder, I recommend reading the major scholar in this field, David Lasocki of Indiana University (see also
Photo of flute @ bec (recorder) from Michael J. Murphy retirement story.Recorders come in a variety of ranges, including (from smallest to largest) garklein, sopranino, soprano, alto (treble), tenor, bass, great bass, contrabass, and subcontrabass. While I play the standard soprano, alto, tenor, and bass (SATB) recorders, the alto is the most versatile and my favorite instrument. The two standard “styles” of recorder include the Renaissance style (wider bore and louder sound) and the Baroque recorder (smaller bore and ideal for fast passages). Modern recorders (like the Eagle) have increased dynamic and pitch ranges (three octaves is not uncommon). In addition to recorders, my instrumental music background now includes a variety of early reeds (crumhorn, kelhorn, and rauschpfeiffe) as well as percussion. Because I have so much vocal background, I add singing into the mix when appropriate.

The Capital District of New York State is fortunate to have a local chapter of the American Recorder Society (the Hudson-Mohawk Chapter) and some quite fine early musicians. This has allowed me to perform in three separate consorts including the Bleecker Consort, Lycaeides, and our newly formed duo, Ivory Wind (see photos). Our music covers all historical periods, including ancient Chinese (Ivory Wind) through to more traditional “early music” as well as some contemporary pieces. We (Bleecker Consort) have even won a coveted spot on the Troy Music Hall noontime concert series in the recent past.

Finally, let me add that learning/playing a woodwind in my 60s has had enormous health benefits, including increased aerobic capacity and much more mental alertness. I look forward to taking baroque master classes in mid-July in Lunenberg, NS (Boxwood Festival) with Judy Linsenberg, Artistic Director of Musica Pacifica. This has been a marvelous complement to my other activities, including dance, history, tai chi practice and to my singing. What could be better?  I strongly advocate an approach to retirement that includes passionate avocations, no matter how daunting they may seem.Photo of Michael J. Murphy group, Ivory Wind

Photo of Michael J. Murphy ensemble, Bleecker Consort

Photo of some early musical instruments played by Michael J. Murphy.

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