Upward and Onward: The Alpha School of Music Shines at Annual Concert

On May 16, 2024, the Alpha School of Music (ASOM) held its annual Upward and Onward concert. This special event was held in the expansive Alpha Courtyard at the Alpha School of Music on 26 Camp Road, Kingston. Sponsored by Digicel Foundation, R Hotel, Bob Marley Foundation, Jamaica Nice, Bob Marley Museum, and Mercy Education, the evening was filled with the melodies of the Alpha School of Music Band and the Alpha Vocational Training Centre Band.


For the past few years, the Alpha School of Music has expertly honed the talents of budding musicians and contributed to the future growth of the nation’s music industry. Having grown out of the decades-old music programme at the Alpha Boys Home (which produced legends like Don Drummond, Lester Sterling, Tommy Mccook, Winston “Sparrow” Martin O.D, and Yellowman), ASOM provides an Associate Degree in Music Performance for musicians striving to enter into the commercial music and entertainment industry. The school boasts state-of-the-art training facilities and is the only tertiary programme in Jamaica that focuses on ensemble performance. 

The annual Upward and Onward concert (named after the school’s iconic motto), serves as an end-of-term examination for students who have dedicated the last few months to diligently preparing musical pieces from local and global musical traditions. The evening began with opening remarks by Mrs. Margaret Little-Wilson (Administrator, Alpha Institute) and Ms. Gay Magnus (Music Director, Alpha School of Music), who issued a warm welcome to visitors and specially invited guests including the Honourable Fayval Shirley Williams, MP (Minister of Education and Youth), Ms. Marcia Tai Chun (Chief Executive Officer, Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica), and Sister Susan Frazer, RSM (Area Administrator, Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica). What proceeded was a series of lively performances reflecting a wide variety of musical styles; with students effortlessly moving from genres such as Calypso to Reggae to Jazz and more.

The show had a strong start with performances such as a Calypso Mix and Rocksteady Medley arranged by Directors Shawn Richard and Joy Simons Brown respectively. With Alpha often being referred to as the “Home of Ska,” (due to the fact that most members of the famous Skatalites band got their start at the school), it was no surprise that a number of Ska pieces (arranged by Peter Ashbourne and Evad Campbell) were featured in the evening’s lineup. These included the Skatalites’ song “Freedom Sounds,” a Ska version of the Jazz classic “Fly Me to the Moon,” and a Ska Medley featuring hits like “Jamaica Ska” and “Simmer Down”. The audience was, of course, also treated to several Reggae performances including the Year Two students’ “Reggae Riddim medley” (arranged by Director Clayon Samuels), and a striking rendition of Bob Marley’s “The Heathen” (arranged by Director Evad Campbell). Emcee Gay Magnus noted the decades-long relationship between Alpha and the Marley family which started when saxophonist and former Alpha Boy, Headley Bennett (popularly known as “Deadly Headley”), played on Bob Marley’s first record: “Judge Not.” This association with the school continued throughout Bob Marley’s career as he collaborated with several other Alpha Boys in the recording studio. In light of this, the Bob Marley Foundation has been a strong supporter of Alpha and helped to sponsor this concert.

In a moving gesture, two pieces were played in tribute to the talented Desi Jones (drummer and founding member of Chalice Band) and Peter Morgan (lead singer of Morgan Heritage); both of whom have recently passed away, leaving behind an indelible mark on the Jamaican musical landscape from the 20th century onwards. In particular, the masterful “Drums in Conversation” tribute piece stood out as it featured only two musicians (ASOM Instructor Clayon Samuels and a Year Three student, Jonathan Gordon) engaged in an intense, back and forth drumming session. Later on, things took an international turn as the school’s Trinidadian Brass instructor, Leon Ince, directed the Caribbean Music Ensemble. Ince, who arranged the ensemble’s pieces, guided the musicians through an energetic performance of their Sweet Soca Medley which incorporated tunes from Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia, Barbados and more. For their rendition of the Cuban “Cogele El Gusto,” the ensemble was joined by the Cuban percussionist Ricardo Diaz (ASOM’s new music technology and Cuban drumming instructor), and members of his Cuban Hand Drummers class.

Clayon Samuels’ and Jonathan Gordon’s intense Drum Tribute to Desi Jones.

The evening concluded with the Year 3 class (currently the school’s most senior cohort), who were joined by their Director, Leon Duncan, as they serenaded the audience with multiple jazz pieces including “Blues March” and Idris Mohammed’s “Piece of Mind”. The band was fronted by its lead singer, Zuri Gordon (the school’s first ever female student), who made an appeal to audience members to encourage more girls to study at the Alpha School of Music in order to prepare themselves for careers in the music industry. Afterwards, persons were chosen to receive raffle prizes courtesy of the night’s sponsors.

The evening was enjoyed by all; with shouts from the audience that the students deserved full marks on their exam. This enthusiastic response is a testament to the talent and dedication of the students and staff; and speaks volumes regarding the quality of the training and the school’s contribution to music and music education in the country. In the words of Minister Fayval Williams, “This school is [] one of a kind. It provides Jamaica’s only tertiary music programme focused on ensemble training and so it is special in the landscape of education in Jamaica.”

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