Retirement stories: Channelling the Middle Ages

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For Dr Carol Williams, a former Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Monash University, retirement means having more time to pursue her interest in early music performance.

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I’m in a medieval performance ensemble called Acord, and we’ve been together since about 1978. Our favourite period is the 1200s and we have a series that we’re running out of Liddiard Gallery in Chadstone (Melbourne). I play harp and rebec, and sometimes I sing as well.

The rebec is a three-stringed bowed string instrument. It comes from the Middle East and was probably introduced to Europe via the crusades in the 11th century. It sounds a bit like a fiddle, only coarser, and like a fiddle is played on your shoulder. I really enjoy playing the rebec because it’s a bit uncouth and not very well behaved!

Acord performs about five or six times a year. Our concerts are fairly serious ones—they’re not particularly light-hearted but they are scholarly. For example, we recently did a concert which looked at the music that Dante Alighieri liked.

I use my skills as a historian and a medievalist to give some context to what we’re doing. We provide pictures, programs, full translations and a bit of explanation of what we’re doing, sometimes a little bit of theatre, so it’s a good introduction to early music.

I’ve always been careful about keeping time aside for performance, but it’s a lot easier in retirement because you don’t have those calls on your time —things like preparing for teaching the next day—which take you away from things that you want to do. So I’m very pleased to have more time in my retirement to do the things that I would like to be very good at.

The best thing about retirement is that there’s a great deal of time in the day and over the weeks where you hardly experience stress at all. I can’t emphasise how wonderful that is. I’m still writing, I’m still researching, I’m still responsible for research programs and things, but I can do it on my terms. It’s fantastic.

My grandchildren feature in my life a great deal. This morning, for example, I took one of them to school and I’ll take her to school tomorrow and pick her up from school as well. I’ll often have the two older ones at my place for dinner four nights out of five during the week, so that’s lovely.

It’s great fun being a grandparent, much more fun than being a parent. You lose your inhibitions and you can actually get down on the floor and get stuck into the garden and take the kids along with you, go to playgrounds, give them special treats—it’s great fun.

I also go to the gym a lot. I go once a day so I’ll be there six times a week to do classes and Pilates and Yoga and personal training, all that kind of stuff. I enjoy doing that—it keeps me fit at least. Every day I’ll be doing two or three hours at the computer doing some research, writing and stuff like that. So retirement, for me, is pretty busy!