Marjorie’s music-filled life
Marjorie Pettit’s father warned her that if she followed him into music, it would take over her life.
A professional violinist, he likened it to having “a lead weight around your neck for the rest of your life”.
Mrs Pettit, who is still teaching music and directing concerts at 79, prefers to describe the work as “all consuming”.
Earlier this month she directed the Bermuda School of Music’s Youth Choir and Chamber Choir and Orchestra in a Christmas concert at St John’s Church.
“I think it was one of the best we have ever done,” she said. “People were quite anxious to get going. We have not been able to do anything since 2019. During the pandemic it was really very frustrating, the lack of live music.”
She laughs to think how fast news spread of her false retirement in 2016.
“I used the word ‘retiring’, and people assumed I was retiring from everything,” she said. “In fact I was retiring from being director of the St John’s Youth Choir, but moving into another scene.”
Six years later directing concerts keeps her busy as do the piano and singing lessons she gives from her home.
“I do not have time for the garden,” she said. “I have to squeeze in time for my three grandchildren. It is difficult to keep everything going. I am getting older and beginning to think how many more years do I have to do this. Should I be spending more time with my family?”
She often looks to her husband Anthony Pettit for guidance.
“A lot of what I do is thanks to his encouragement,” she said. “He is in everything. He sings in the choir. He helps with administration. He helps me in every single way. If he got tired that would be the first indication that I could not go on.”
Mrs Pettit grew up outside Glasgow in Scotland. She attended the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, where she studied piano with Wight Henderson and singing with Ena Mitchell.
One year after graduation she was enjoying teaching in Scotland, but a little bored. All of her friends had left Glasgow or were getting married.
“I thought, ‘Is this all there is to life?’” she said.
She was interested in living somewhere warmer and started applying for posts in the Caribbean.
She arrived in Bermuda in 1966 to teach music at Prospect Primary in Devonshire.
Her first impression was that the island was very beautiful.
“I had very little experience with life,” she said, explaining how it had been her intent to stay only three years. “I was just 23. To me, Bermuda was literally another world.
“Fifty-six years later, I am still here.”
Her career has such a span that she is now teaching the grandchildren of former students.
“To me, that has been a great joy,” she said.
She met her husband a year after arriving.
He was a classics teacher at Saltus Grammar School and was also very musical.
“He played the piano in a concert at City Hall,” Mrs Pettit said. “Geoffrey Tankard was his teacher and asked me to turn the pages as Tony played, because he was not playing from memory.”
Mrs Pettit actually disliked doing this task but she agreed to do it.
“A few days later I was coming along Harbour Road and heard this toot toot from a bike,” she said. “It was Tony. We started to talk. I found that he was very musical. He had been to a school where they had very good choirs. He was a classicist and he was teaching Latin. I always loved the classics. We had such a lot in common.”
He proposed on New Year’s Eve at a fancy dress ball at the Hamilton Princess.
“I said ‘yes’,” she said. “He seemed like a nice man and I thought we could give it a go.”
The next day, however, they both had second thoughts. They took a Sunfish out and were so “discombobulated” they ended up on some rocks.
“This guy came along on a boat and said, ‘Where have you come from?’ I said, ‘Scotland,’” Mrs Pettit said. “He looked at the Sunfish and thought, ‘Wow, they are great sailors those Scots.’ He threw a rope. I did not have enough sense to tie it to something. I held on to the rope and was nearly pulled over the side. Meanwhile, Tony was trying to sort the sails out.”
They decided to wait to get married until after they had both visited their respective families in the summer – hers in Scotland and his in Oxfordshire, England.
They were eventually married in Henley by Mr Pettit’s father who was a minister.
Mrs Pettit left Prospect Primary after four years when their first child, Andrew, was born.
When she was ready to go back to work she took an opening as a music teacher at Saltus, and taught there for the next 16 years, leading the school choir.
“I loved that because it was all boys at the time and I was teaching in the junior department,” she said. “The best voices you can get for singing are unbroken voices. The 10 and 11-year-olds in that school were very enthusiastic.”
Today she counts many well-known people in the community as former students including Rebecca Faulkenberry, now a Broadway actress, and Jordan Robbins, who appeared in the Netflix show The Umbrella Academy.
“One of my first students at Prospect Primary was Ed Christopher, now the Hamilton Town Crier,” she said. “When I meet him in town, if he is with a bunch of tourists, he will say now this lady here was my music teacher. He is about 6ft 5in. I will always say to the tourists that he was that size when he was 11. He was the nicest kid who always had this big smile. He was very musical.”
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens each week. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them