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WOLF: 50 years is quite the long coffee break for B.C. man

COLUMN: Dunnett returns to playing musical instruments after five decades
Ed Dunnett, playing clarinet for his grandson. (Contributed photo)

Ed Dunnett is making up for lost time.

I was fascinated by Dunnett’s story, after he sent in a letter (‘Value of playing music for developing minds’, May 15), detailing his resumption of playing musical instruments after a 50-year ‘coffee break’.

“One of the regrets I have from high school is giving up playing clarinet and then trumpet after my second year,” he wrote. “I got into playing a lot of sport. Music was the casualty. That was a mistake.”

Five decades later, he decided to correct that mistake, taking music lessons again and he quickly realized what he had been missing.

He noted playing music teaches three valuable life lessons.

The first is the pursuit of perfection via practising and guidance, he noted. The second is ‘learning to connect with other people in a very positive way,” which he did through driveway concerts during the pandemic, and sharing old tunes with residents of longterm care facilities in PQB.

The third was that music a strong thinking exercise, something he wasn’t really taught until university, he said.

The letter was inspiring. It even made me think about (I haven’t acted on it yet), firing up my long-forgotten rudimentary guitar skills.

I took guitar lessons as a youngster, but it was like torture when, like Ed, all I wanted to do was play sports.

I still have my acoustic guitar from all those years ago. At least I believe so, I haven’t been in the nether regions of the crawl space in forever. If I stumble across a stray guitar in the wild, I instinctively play ‘Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me’ as an opening exercise, then a little of ‘Smoke on the Water’, which represents my entire repertoire.

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Looking to further that inspiration, I asked Mr. Dunnett a few questions.

Tell me a little bit more about your music background. When did you start?

In high school.

Did you come from a musical family?

Listening but not playing.

What instruments did you play?

Clarinet and trumpet.

What school (and city) were you in?

Fettes, a private school in Scotland.

What made you stop?

Too much pressure to play sports.

Over the years, did you ever think about getting it going again? How close did you come?

Not until retirement but then I tried to make up for lost time.

What finally made you decide to get going again?

It was silly to stop. Now I had time, why not start again?

How did it feel to start playing again?

Tricky at first because it’s not so easy to learn at my age but I stuck with it and it paid off.

How long have you been playing for in your second run?

Ten years.

Can you describe some of the highlights?

Driveway concerts and some online concerts during COVID. Smiles from residents when I play old songs at longterm care centres.

How important is music in your life?

Very. It’s never too late to start.

Any advice for folks out there who might be thinking about doing what you did?

Get an instrument and sign up for some lessons as I did. There are many opportunities in this area.

Some fine advice indeed. It’s never too late to rekindle an old passion.

PQB News/VI Free Daily editor Philip Wolf welcomes your questions, comments or local story ideas. He can be reached at 250-905-0029 or via email at

Philip Wolf

About the Author: Philip Wolf

I’ve been involved with journalism on Vancouver Island for more than 30 years, beginning as a teenage holiday fill-in at the old Cowichan News Leader.
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