Derry Etkins – Guyana lost a musical giant

George Deryck Rodwell Etkins.    CineGuyana
George Deryck Rodwell Etkins.

George Deryck Rodwell Etkins, fondly called “Derry” a maestro, whose career spanned four decades and three CARICOM countries, as a composer, multi-instrumentalist and music educator, ended on May 23, when he passed away after minor surgery at the Georgetown Hospital Corporation.

Roger Etkins, told a virtual wake, organized by the Guyana Cultural Association NY, (GCA) on June 3, that his brother, Derry, lived the qualities instilled in him by their mother.

He said the strength, character and drive Derry had, kept him in the hearts of his many friends, and noted that musician’s legacy will live on.

Etkins who migrated to Barbados as a 19-year-old organist, and taught at the Christ Church Foundation School, St. Leonard’s Boys’ and The Alleyne School, was a member of the Telstars band, rehearsed near the Bayland, St. Michael, and played with Wendy Alleyne and the Dynamics & The Outfit, according to a Barbados publication.

After many years on the island, where he also made a name as an arranger and music commentator, Etkins, returned to Guyana and continued his illustrious career.

He was an instructor at the Cyril Potter College of Education, with the responsibility for rehabilitating the college’s music education program, his very last assignment.

The musical giant had indicated that his greatest desire was to see Guyanese music take its place in the world and to one day play his part by teaching Guyanese children to appreciate music more, traveled across Guyana delivering workshops to schoolteachers.

Etkins grew up in Plaisance in a home filled with music. His father sang with the All Saints Boys Choir in New Amsterdam. His mother was a mezzo-soprano. There was a piano in his home. His younger brothers played steel pans and drums, wrote President of GCA, Dr. Vibert Cambridge.

“He found his inspirations in many places. He was influenced by the soundscape of Plaisance — sounds of birds in the back dam, masquerade bands, steel bands, Cumfa drumming, and bhajans.”

This early exposure is evident in the titles of his many original compositions. Consider a few: “Coconut Broth,” “Roots Walk,” “Plaisance Back dam,” “64,” “Jig Saw,” and “Masquerade Sweet Suite,” said Dr. Cambridge.

The tribute said, “the musician had a performing track record stretching back to his days at the prestigious Queen’s College High School, (QC), where he was the arranger for Q.C. Syncoms. He was a member of Guyana’s other pioneering bands — the Graduates and Solo Sounds International. As a practicing musician during the 1970s, Derry performed in Brazil, Barbados, and Canada.”

“Between 1978 and 1983 he studied music with Sybil Husbands and Edith Pieters, emphasizing composition and arranging. As a certified music teacher, Derry taught in Barbados and the British Virgin Islands. Despite living abroad and working as a music educator, he remained an active musician and engaged in Caribbean and Guyanese musical life.”

Etkins, who returned to Guyana after the devastating hurricane in the BVI, composed, “Masquerade Sweet Suite,” premiered during the Masquerade Lives symposium organized by the Guyana Cultural Association of New York in Guyana during November 2012, according to Dr. Cambridge.

The musician who dedicated his life to giving back to his country, conducted music workshops for students at St. John’s de Bosco Orphanage and the Tina Insanally Music Foundation.

Courtney Noel, superstar composer of, “I love my Golden Arrowhead,” and other patriotic Guyanese songs, called Etkins an honest, self-assured, consummate professional.

Etkins’ guidance in preparation for the 75th Anniversary celebration of their alma mater Queens College, last year in Guyana, will forever be remembered, Noel said.

Prolific composer, singer and organist, Hilton Hemerding, said “Guyana has lost a dedicated musician, in my friend Derry Etkins. He will be fondly remembered by all who knew him and his sterling contribution to music in Guyana, Barbados and other Caribbean countries.

“I know he will be surely missed at the Lilian Dewar Teachers Training College where he enjoyed teaching the principles of music with the hope that music will once again be part of the school curriculum,” added Hemerding.

Friend, Gordon Burnett described Derry as an unapologetic connoisseur of everything Guyanese… the food, the music, the culture, the good, the bad. “He totally and joyfully enveloped himself in the Guyana experience and dared all and sundry to tell him different.”

“I will always be grateful for his friendship. On his way to eternity, may he find wonderment, joy and beauty in the celestial street signs, music, lemonade, and garlic pork,” said Burnett.

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