Veteran music teacher set to ‘retire’
Marjorie Pettit was exposed to music before she was old enough to walk or talk.
Her father Joseph Smith was a violinist who played with a theatre orchestra back in Scotland and she was always surrounded by music in her younger years.
“I woke up in the morning and could hear the violin so it was a natural progression for me to take up music,” she said. “I never wanted to do anything else.”
Mrs Pettit has spent the past 47 years — almost the entire length of her professional career — teaching music in Bermuda, including 15 years serving as founder and director of the St John's Youth Choir.
She has now decided to 'hang up her baton' — and will be leading her final Bermuda Heritage Concert on Saturday at St John's Church in Pembroke.
The concert promises to have more beautiful and diverse music than ever before and will feature former choir members, trumpet player Matthew Ross and singer Kerri-Lynne Dietz — who have gone on to pursue successful careers in music.
Mr Ross, who is a member of the Canadian Youth Orchestra, will play Hummel's Trumpet Concerto in E Major; while Ms Dietz, a talented young mezzo soprano, will sing operatic excerpts.
Other successful music students include Anna Clifford, who recently graduated from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire; and Broadway musical star Rebecca Faulkenberry, who is currently appearing in Spiderman.
Mrs Pettit said it's been one of her life's missions to inspire young people and teach them about “the magnificent repertoire of music that's available”.
She has tried to expose them to other genres besides pop music — and has taught them about 17th Century composer Johann Sebastian Bach — right up to contemporary rocker Sting.
“They also do some pop music, but the repertoire is basically classical and it's not something they are necessarily getting in school any longer,” she said. “It's a new experience for most of them.”
Mrs Pettit described music as an “enriching and wonderful addition” to a life and said she never wavered from her dream of becoming a professional musician.
She graduated from The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Scotland and ventured to Bermuda in 1966 to work as a music teacher at Prospect Primary and then Saltus Junior School.
She later became the music director of theatre groups like BMDS, The Saltus Concert Society and the Gilbert and Sullivan Society.
Mrs Pettit decided to start the youth choir after seeing that many schools had dropped singing as a class subject.
She said it's been a “great passion” working with children from age eight to 18.
One of the challenges has been finding material that can cater to the wide age gap, but she typically starts younger children off with simplistic music and progresses them to more challenging pieces as they get older.
A trained pianist, Mrs Pettit said she was stepping down due to her “advancing years” and in order to spend more time with her family and three young grandchildren.
But she admitted giving up the role would be a tremendous loss for her.
“I am feeling very, very sad [in lead up to my last concert] but I am looking to the future and thinking I know my study of music, and everyone's study, is endless. There are just so many other things to do.
“I will be continuing with my teaching so I have other things I want to explore [such as] piano repertoire for myself.”
A press release said the future of the choir was currently uncertain — and students, parents and colleagues admitted she will be sorely missed.
Mrs Pettit thanked her husband Anthony for his great support over the years; she also thanked the clergy for giving her the flexibility and freedom to execute the choir director role.
The Heritage Concert will be held on Saturday, May 18; with doors opening at 6.45pm. Tickets, $30 for adults or $20 for students, can be purchased at Bermuda Bookstore on Queen Street, Hamilton or at the door.