Davina Henry, Staff Reporter
Cultural models from community and school need to be replicated
After 50 years of producing remarkable sounds, dancehall has risen to the fore as the popular music of the day.
What that has meant is that many of our popular artistes never learnt the finer elements of music.
There might not be any who have learnt to read music, and still not any who play instruments. But more than that, there is the problem of having persons who have to choose as early as 15 to go with music or nothing else.
"Can you imagine if somebody with the talent of Vybz Kartel didn't have to make that choice?" asked Professor Carolyn Cooper during a recently held Gleaner Editors' Forum.
Cooper was pointing out to a room full of cultural aficionados at The Gleaner's North Street headquarters that one of the problems of producing artistes and artists at a high level is the fact that there aren't many legitimate places for them to hone their talent at a young age.
"We do not have to reinvent the wheel," opined Herbie Miller, director/curator of the Jamaica Music Museum.
Miller agreed with Cooper, but thought the model for producing such spaces was already present.
"Put an Alpha Boys' [School] in every parish," Miller told the room.
If Jamaica's music history is looked at over the last 50 years, Miller must have a point.
There can be no doubt about the contribution Alpha Boys' has made over the last five decades, having produced many of the country's great musicians in a great many genres.
There was also consensus among members of the forum that many of the nation's children are not being properly exposed to the history of Jamaica's culture, leaving the future of that culture in limbo.
Outside of Alpha Boys', Miller also lauded St Annie's - a school known for producing great musicians - and the Tivoli community cultural project model for the work those institutions had carried out and the successes they achieved.
Home for wayward boys
Alpha Boys' School was founded in the 1880s as a home for wayward boys, providing them with an education and practical training in various vocations, music being the most prominent.
The music programme at the school matured and gained unique stature during the jazz era of the 1940s and '50s. This period saw the training of the majority of Jamaica's top hornsmen, many of whom would go on to be instrumental in the development of the island's first indigenous pop music: ska. Alpha graduates went on to feature prominently in the emerging musical styles of rock steady and then reggae.
"While music might be the thing we look at Alpha and recognise it for, everybody that leaves Alpha knows something other than music, They know everything that they can make a living off," Miller said.
Journalist Barbara Gloudon stated that Alpha Boys' School had produced not just good musicians, but some of the most exemplary gentlemen across the face of the earth.
Alpha Boys' School has produced some of music's top performers, including Oscar Clarke, a trumpeter who toured with Louis Armstrong's orchestra; Tommy McCook, a saxophonist of Skatalite fame and a leading name in reggae; and Don Drummond, the world-renowned trombonist who gave to Jamaica Eastern Standard Time, Reload, Occupation and many others.