Best known as the conductor of The Marionettes, Gretta is the wife of Jeremy Taylor, Director of MEP Publishers and the mother of Caroline Taylor, budding actress and [a writer and editor at] MEP Publishers. For years, Gretta taught languages, GP and music at St Joseph’s Convent in Port of Spain. She was also director of the school’s choirs for several years. Self-effacing and modest, this supremely talented and outstanding musical director has been at the helm of The Marionettes for almost forty years. The Northerly asked Gretta to tell us a bit about her involvement with the chorale.
In what year did you join The Marionettes and in what capacity?
Late 1965 as a singing member.
Who was the conductor then?
There were two conductors: co-founders, Jocelyn Pierre and June Williams-Thorne-Roach.
How big is the choir? Are there more male or female voices?
At the moment there are about 90 female and 45 male members in the three choirs (Adult, Youth, Children).
Are any of the original members still singing with the choir?
Yes. Three: Joanne Mendes, Secretary, Murchison Brown, a former Mayor of Port of Spain, and Marlene Yeates Hunt.
What have been your major challenges over the years?
Choosing and sourcing music, and keeping the members motivated, as the stability of the choir depends on the goodwill of these members, who are unpaid.
What are some of the most memorable performances of the choir?
Your proudest moment?
A toss-up between Carmen and The Armed Man. It was no mean feat to pull off Carmen, a full-blooded 3-hr opera, which I found myself having to co-direct dramatically as well as musically, due to unforeseen circumstances… For The Armed Man it meant conducting and watching an accompanying film, reminding the choir of things musical, and timing the singing so that each piece ended in sync with the film. It was hairy to say the least. But the choir and orchestra, led by Leslie Clement, came up trumps. Everyone was ecstatic.
What has given you the greatest satisfaction?
The fact that in general the public respects the group; that as disconcerting as it could be, for instance, there’s the saying ‘Christmas begins with the Marionettes’; that by and large the members are committed and enjoy what they do; that after every show, people take the time to call – or write – to say what our concerts mean to them, and the difference it makes to their lives, albeit temporarily. Parents of rebellious children take the trouble to let us know how making music with the group has steadied them, helped them to grow. So maybe somewhere, somehow, we are doing something right.
Do you see yourself handing over the reins anytime soon?
We have certainly begun to prepare for succession. Thirty eight years at the helm is a LONG time, and as we all know, facts are stubborn things.
Is there anything that readers might be surprised to know about you?
I have a Masters of Arts Degree in foreign languages, and music was always a serious extracurricular activity, something I did ‘on the side’ while I taught from forms one to six. I have led the Marionettes Chorale for thirty-eight years. It has been an UNPAID position. I regard it as community service. (Young people nowadays expect to do nothing FOR FREE). My job is time and energy consuming. It requires a great deal of research and planning. But as I said, this is how I give to society.