COMPOSER, arranger and performer Marjorie Whylie is still basking in the announcement that she is to receive the Order of Distinction in the rank of commander (CD) for her outstanding contribution to the arts, especially music and theatre.

She told the Sunday Observer that she is humbled by the honour especially at this time.

“To tell the truth, it has taken me by surprise. Having received the officer class some years ago, I wasn’t expecting this, so I am humbled and honoured by the gesture. It particularly uplifts me at this time when I am cutting back my activities to know that my work is still recognised,” she said.

With more than a half-a-century of music under her belt, Whylie was reflective on her years which she revealed began when she started playing the piano at two-and-a-half years old.

“At first, I played by ear and then tagged behind my older sister to formal lessons at age six. I studied with Ena Helps where I began in the percussion section, then moved on to piano and did all the Royal Schools of Music levels. However, from age five, I was performing publicly at variety concerts, tea parties, etc. And by the time I got to St Andrew High School, I was playing for morning prayers and other school events and would provide the music for the boarders to dance to on a Saturday evening,” she reflected.

The 1960s saw her expanding her horizons playing pan as a student at the University of the West Indies and, on coming of the Independence, on showcase with Roots and Rhythms which would spawn the National Dance Theatre Company. However, it was her first job as a teacher of Spanish at Kingston College which would develop her love for teaching music.

“I started out just playing for prayers. That would later change into teaching music. I realised from early that you had to keep the interest of the boys or have your class disintegrate, so I had to be creative. I would have them listen to the life stories of great composers and folk music from around the world and then have discussions about what they had just heard. I then brought in my drums to spice up things,”

For many of a certain age, Whylie became a household name as the pianist on the popular television children’s programme Ring Ding hosted by cultural Icon Miss Lou (Louise Bennett Coverley). The programme hit the airwaves in the early 1970s and ran until 1982. She speaks highly of these years noting that she had worked with Miss Lou prior as orchestra leader for the National Pantomime and even alternated with her in several productions.

Her work over the years has been influenced by the likes of Dr Olive Lewin, with whom she worked at the Social Development Commission. She also speaks to the encouragement she received from Professor Rex Nettleford, whom she said kept on pushing and challenging her to arrange and compose music. Her work as a festival adjudicator, at the School of Music at the Edna Manley College, the Music Unit at UWI and the influence of bandleader Sonny Bradshaw, have all gone into making her a more rounded artiste.

“I have been particularly lucky with the opportunities which have come my way. I have learned so much and performing has informed my teaching and teaching has informed my performance. It has been the best of several worlds and all the challenges they brought have helped me to step up in the areas of arranging, composing, teaching and performance.”

Whylie cautions the local music fraternity against becoming complacent.