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Memorial scholarship honours beloved North Shore music teacher

Funds are being donated to a Vancouver-based musical theatre program in memory of Bernice 'Bunny' Pearce, who died Sept 6.
Former student Perry Ehrlich at the piano and Bernice 'Bunny' Pearce in 2011, when she was awarded the inaugural Thank a Teacher award through the Royal Conservatory of Music. | Mike Wakefield / North Shore News files

Bernice “Bunny” Pearce was known for sharing her love of music with countless students across the North Shore.

Now, Pearce’s legacy is being honoured with a perpetual scholarship in her name at Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!, a summer musical theatre program based in Vancouver. The fund is being donated by Peter and Lisa Hall, whose daughter, actor Natalie Hall, was a student of Pearce’s.

Pearce died Sept. 6 at age 89, surrounded by friends and family.

Gotta Sing program founder and director Perry Ehrlich said the scholarship will go toward two streams: children with financial challenges, and to award excellence.

Ehrlich, who’s musicianship blossomed after being a student of Pearce’s as a kid in Saskatchewan, explained that she went beyond instruction in her approach.

“She was developing a rapport with a student, and doing everything to foster their self esteem,” he said.

“I grew up being Jewish and musical in small-town Saskatchewan – that was not easy,” Ehrlich continued. “You know how they say in life, all it takes is one teacher to show an interest and to build in you the belief that you can do it, [that] carries you through life. That’s who Bunny was for me.”

After they both moved to B.C. coincidentally, the two reconnected years later after Pearce ran into Ehrlich's daughter at a Kiwanis music festival.

In 2011, Pearce won the inaugural Thank a Teacher Award through the Royal Conservatory of Music, after her entry was submitted by Ehrlich. In her career, she estimated that she had taught hundreds if not more than a thousand students. Up until suffering a stroke seven years ago, Ehrlich said she was still teaching around 40 students a week.

During her three decades on the North Shore, Pearce had a studio in Horseshoe Bay with a waiting room, a piano room and a room full of costumes. “She was into everybody’s lives,” Ehrlich said, describing her as a mother figure or “lovely aunt” to many who studied under her.

“The North Shore was so lucky to have her,” he said.

Ehrlich said that Pearce’s students – many on whom went on to compete at the provincial level – had a different attitude than many of the “frenemy” relationships found in the musical theatre world.

“Bunny had all of her kids performing music festivals, and they cheered each other on and the kids who won would say to the kids who lost, ‘I didn’t deserve it.’ And the kids who lost would say, ‘Yes, you really deserved it.’”

Anyone wanting to apply for a scholarship in the Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! program can send Ehrlich an email.