Derwin Lloyd Landis

1930 - 2010

Derwin Landis, violinist and violist, taught music in four Seventh-day Adventist academies and was a circuit music teacher at several Adventist schools in Southern California for many years. He was known for his enthusiasm, energy, and patience and enjoyed a reputation as an accomplished performer.

Landis was born in Shanghai, Shanghai Muncipality, China, on May 9, 1930, one of three children and the only son of missionary parents Chloe Belle Buchanan and Frederic (Fred) A. Landis. He graduated from Far Eastern Academy in Singapore in 1948 and then came to the U.S. where he attended Pacific Union College. While at PUC, he was drafted to serve in the Korean War.

He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps from 1954 to 1956 and was stationed in the Washington, D.C., area as part of Project Whitecoat at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. He also served as a Chaplain Assistant at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While living in the area, he met Adaline Erma Lewis, a dietitian, and they married on November 20, 1955 in the chapel at Walter Reed.

Minnie Iverson Wood, who had been his music teacher at FEA, was teaching at Washington Missionary College, now Washington Adventist University, convinced him to enroll at the college. Derwin completed a B.Mus. in 1958 at WMC and in his senior year was one of fourteen WMC students listed in Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. He then continued his music studies at nearby Catholic University, completing an M.Mus. in 1960.

The Landises moved to Arizona, where he had accepted a position as choir and orchestra teacher at Thunderbird Academy. Five years later, he was invited to teach at Orangewood Academy, California, again as choir and orchestra teacher, and, in 1969, he moved to San Fernando Valley Academy, where he taught for five years.

In 1977, he was invited to teach strings and conduct a full-sized symphony orchestra at Fletcher Academy in North Carolina. In his first year there, he took the orchestra on a highly successful eleven-state tour. Although they stayed there for only one year, both he and his wife, who worked as dietitian in the hospital at Fletcher, thoroughly enjoyed their stay.

In the spring of 1978, he was invited to return to Southern California to develop a circuit string music program in a network of Adventist schools. Simultaneously, he started the Southern California String Choir in that year and then directed it for fifteen years. Several of its members would pursue professional careers in music. On their return to California, Erma worked as a secretary in the Pacific Union Conference office.

Landis was well known in the Southern California area for both his teaching and playing. He had been a regular participant in Jascha Heifetz master classes and had as one of his instruments an older Italian Gagliano-Antonazzi violin.

He made several summer trips to China. In 1985, quite by chance, he became acquainted with young persons who were members of a string quartet. His wife would later relate the circumstances in which he met them:

While he was on a sightseeing tour in Guilin, he left the group and was walking down the street when a young man fell in step with him, attracted by my husband's large camera and wanting to practice his English. My husband responded by answering him in Mandarin, which surprised him and attracted the attention of those within earshot.

A group of young Chinese men who were lounging nearby on the grass overheard the conversation. One of them stood up and asked who he was. As the conversation progressed, they discovered they were both violinists. When the young man discovered that Derwin had studied in Jascha Heifetz master classes, he invited him to come and teach his group, which turned out to be a string quartet. This led to his later teaching a violin performance master class at Nanning University.

In 1989, Landis facilitated the Guilin String Quartet's coming to the U.S., where they attended Loma Linda University, La Sierra Campus, now La Sierra University, on a scholarship basis. Two of them completed performance certificate programs at LSU. The other two had previously completed degree programs in China before coming to the U.S.

All four now reside with their families in the U.S, with two playing professionally in orchestras and the other two teaching private lessons. While the Landises did not have any children of their own, the quartet members and their wives and six children refer to them as their American parents and grandparents. Derwin and Erma affectionately refer to them as their Chinese family.

The Landises both retired in 1996 and were living in Simi Valley when he died on January 3, 2010, at age 79. The quartet played as a prelude to and in his memorial service, which was held in the Vallejo Drive SDA Church in Glendale. Erma died on February 8, 2016, at age 94.


Sources: Conversation/interview with Erma Landis, 31 March 2010; Biographical material forwarded by Ruth Jones; Pacific Union Recorder articles; Online websites and references.



Former San Fernando Academy Students

Mr. Landis was instrumental in helping us who were his students develop our musical talents and careers. He was my very first voice teacher, and when I was 14, he had me sing my first solo, O Holy Night, for the Christmas Concert . . . He taught [my sister] Annette and me to sing classical duets, something we still do to this day, and he was the inspiration behind [my brother] Alex pursuing his lifelong opera career.

Just this past October 30th [2009], he was the Sabbath School superintendent at Vallejo Drive Church, where we attend; and Annette, Alex, and I were blessed to do a "mini" Handel concert for his Sabbath School Program; something he had been preparing us to do for several months. We did numerous selections from the Messiah and, of course, Mr. Landis accompanied us on his violin. He was a marvelous musician and he loved his violin. Annette, Alex and I are honored to have had Mr. Landis as a teacher and mentor . . . .

Mavis Britton Cordero

Mr. Landis was very helpful to me in choosing songs to sing and making sure that I had an opportunity to sing before a wide audience within the church. He was truly a special person, one I will always remember with good thoughts. I'm sure that the generosity of his time and talent, and his dedication to all of us he came in contact with will be remembered with fondness.

And one thing that he always said, and repeated, sometimes a few times in a row, seems as true now, maybe even more so, than when I first heard him say those words so many years ago: "Time is diamonds. Time is diamonds."

John Campbell

Mr Landis' patience gave me the opportunity to participate in band at a time when I had no musical experience. I was the band manager, learned percussion (Randy Porter, Cici Baca), and had music lessons as well. Landis was a truly dedicated man. He gave his all to his students.

Norberto Quiroz