We Music: Celebrating the Legacy of Desmond Waithe
by on August 25, 2023 in Featured Story News
Desmond Waithe and Gretta Taylor embrace at Marionettes Forward Home

Desmond Waithe and Gretta Taylor embrace at Forward Home in 2019

Celebrating a national treasure

Just in time for annual Independence celebrations, with its heightened focus on our national heroes, a special feature on the life and legacy of accomplished musician and educator Desmond Waithe will premiere on local television and livestreamed online.

Waithe, who passed away in April last year, was a widely respected composer and arranger who tutored and mentored many during his remarkable lifetime.

Titled We Music: Celebrating the Legacy of Desmond Waithe, the feature was executive produced by the Marionettes Chorale, with whom Waithe shared a more than 40-year relationship as arranger, chorister and cuatro-player.

It is scheduled to air as follows: on TTT on Sunday 27th and Wednesday 30th August at 8pm and 1.05pm respectively; the Marionettes YouTube channel on August 31st at 6pm; and on Trinity TV on Saturday 9th September at 8.30pm.

Waithe’s pioneering work in calypso and folk with ensembles such as La Petite Musicale and Stentor Chorale among others, led to the emergence of the “calypso chorale”, much like a genre in itself.  The late educator also made an indelible mark on the steelpan fraternity, having served as musical director and/or conductor of several steelbands like Exodus, Renegades and Starlift. He enjoyed international success with some of the steel orchestras at music festivals locally, as well as in France, Austria and Germany.

It was Waithe’s celebrated steelband arrangement of the Mighty Sparrow’s Slave that led to his longstanding relationship with the Marionettes, when in 1980 the choir commissioned him to adapt his masterpiece for voice. It was an association that would continue until the time of his passing — one filled with memorable local and international tours and performances of Waithe’s masterful choral arrangements of Caribbean music.

In light of his tremendous work, the Marionettes nominated Waithe for a national award, and he was subsequently awarded the Humming Bird Medal (silver) in 1993 for his outstanding contribution to music in Trinidad and Tobago. Similarly, his 2022 posthumous award of an honorary degree of letters from the University of Trinidad and Tobago was championed by the Chorale, through Dr. Roger Henry, Marionettes’ Assistant Musical Director.

The process of coordinating, researching and pulling all of the right material together for the television feature was led by Assistant Artistic Director, Caroline Taylor as the project’s producer, together with Tracy Farrag (co-producer), Maria Nunes (videographer), and Daniel Bishop and his team at Heaven Sent Productions, who edited and mastered the production.

Taylor had the unenviable responsibility for condensing more than 15 hours of musical recordings and rich interviews (with Desmond himself, Gretta Taylor, Dr. Roger Henry, Dr. Leah Brown, John Arnold, and others) into two hours.

“We aimed to chart Desmond’s musical journey, showcase his range of choral arrangements and performances over some 40-odd years, and speak to his legacy — particularly his calypso chorale legacy. It could easily have been a mini-series given how much material there was just on the choral part alone,” said Taylor.

“It was probably the most complex and challenging video production we’ve ever worked on, but in the end, one that evolved into a wonderfully rewarding experience,” she said.

Taylor and her team worked diligently during the pandemic restrictions in 2021 to access, digitise and remaster the Chorale’s audiovisual archive, before launching fully into the production of We Music. Work on the feature came to a halt after the team experienced considerable difficulty in attempting to record Waithe’s endearing arrangement of Richard Nappy Mayers’ Old Time Days.

“Because of the constraints at the time, we were forced to work virtually — an incredibly long and tedious process, as Desmond’s arrangements are quite intricate, and teaching those notes and rhythms via Zoom became an exercise in patience, perseverance and problem-solving,” Taylor explained.

However, everything changed when the team received word that Waithe’s illness had progressed. Not only did they want to include what was likely to be his final arrangement for the Chorale, but also capturing the musician on camera, conversing about his own monumental life and work was critical. With renewed vigour and shifted perspectives, the team went on to complete the job.

“Through all of the challenges, though, there were many magical moments. That day in September 2021 when we recorded the interviews at Central Bank Auditorium was profoundly special, as many of us had not seen one another in person since the start of the pandemic, and Desmond was there with us,” said Taylor.

“Another huge moment was finishing the virtual choir production of Old Time Days and sharing it with Desmond as it approached completion. It was incredibly meaningful, too, sending him a playlist with the interviews from the production featuring industry colleagues and choir members that he could see and hear in his final days,” said Taylor.

“Most of all, we wanted Desmond to know how much we loved, cherished and admired him, and would forever honour him. We believe he knew that,” she ended.

We Music: Celebrating the Legacy of Desmond Waithe is well worth the watch — not only for friends and for well-wishers who knew the musician personally, but also for the national community whether one is a music enthusiast or not.

“We hope people will be inspired by Desmond — the man and the artist — and appreciate the complexity and magic of his local, regional and diaspora arrangements, while understanding his wider national impact. We’ve done this to honour his legacy, as a man who dedicated his life to calypso and folk music — preserving them, interpreting them, and keeping them alive,” said Taylor in closing.

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