Desmond Waithe. How do we capture 43 years of friendship, music, laughter, and so much love? How do we honour a life so rich with talent and service? How on earth do we say goodbye?
What an honour and privilege it has been to share so much of our journey with Desmond, and to perform his incomparable arrangements of indigenous music from Trinidad & Tobago, the Caribbean and the African diaspora — both at home and abroad. He enriched us not just with his own skill, humility and good humour, but with the countless incomparable musicians he brought into our lives as well. For this, we are so grateful.
We didn’t know the beautiful relationship that would begin when Gretta Taylor and Desmond first worked together as the St Joseph’s Convent (Port of Spain) and St Mary’s College choirs toured Vienna in 1979. The following year, Gretta was bowled over by his acclaimed arrangement of Sparrow’s “The Slave” for Nutones at the 1980 Pan is Beautiful Steelband Music Festival. She insisted he arrange it for choir — and the rest is history.
He joined us as a chorister soon after completing the arrangement of “The Slave”, singing every genre of music and joining us on several international tours as resident arranger, chorister, and cuatrista. Over the years, the choir has performed about 50 of Desmond’s arrangements. And in 2019, we dedicated the entire second half of our Forward Home concert to showcasing some of our favourites — and to honouring the man, and the legend.
His final choral arrangement was of Nappy Mayers’ “Old Time Days”. It was a special request of his that we perform it, and include it in a project we’ve been working on about his work. We premiered “Old Time Days” as a virtual choir piece last month, and it includes a special tribute to our dear Des.
Desmond was a musician without equal — an accomplished arranger, conductor, and educator with an unprecedented body of local and regional choral, folk, and steelband arrangements. He had long and fruitful relationships with the Renegades and Exodus’ Exocubs, enjoying success at various music festivals in Trinidad and Tobago, France, Austria, and Germany. He also taught in the Music Department of the University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT) for over 10 years, and worked with a wide range of adult and youth choirs — from Sacred Heart Girls to La Petite Musicale and his very own Stentor Chorale. In 1993, we nominated him for a national award; he was awarded the Humming Bird Medal (silver) for Outstanding Contribution to Music in Trinidad & Tobago.
Our deepest condolences go out to his wife, children, siblings, and family, as well as to all those who knew and loved Desmond. And goodness, they are great in number. There will never be another like him. Rest in peace and power, dear friend — with your cuatro in hand! Thank you for the love, the laughter, the music and the memories. You are with us always.