For over 140 years, the complex known as Alpha has positively impacted many lives. Subsequently, what was once Alpha Boys School has now turned into the Alpha Institute. Now young men between the ages of sixteen to twenty-five have a chance to hone their musical skills.
Alpha has always been a school for training boys to manage life through their love for being creative. The school graduated some of Jamaica’s best names in the entertainment business. Names such as Don Drummond, Lester Sterling, Johnnie Osbourne, Yellowman, and Leroy Smart originated from Alpha. Of course, these are a drop in the bucket of names of those who shaped the image and sound of Jamaica. Alpha is proud of its legacy of first-class bandleaders. Lenny Hibbert, Jackie Wilcox, and of course, Winston “Sparrow” Martin, the Bandmaster Emeritus, are some of the people who travelled the world, introducing everyone to our extraordinary quality.
Today Alpha boasts an expanded curriculum including disc jockey training, recording and production, Pro Tools and radio techniques. Successful students at Alpha usually leave the school with the advantage of walking into a professional career in the entertainment industry.
Margaret Little Wilson
We caught up with Deputy Director Margaret Little Wilson for her feedback on the changes at the school. Her sentiments were so beautifully powerful; we couldn’t leave any of them out:
I’ve seen so much transformation in our students. We interview the prospective students with their parents or guardians and ask them to give us the good, the bad, and the [indifferent]. We want to know exactly what we are dealing with. I don’t take these interviews as routine. I seriously want to know what has kept back this young man, that he is who he is at this age.
Generally, the boys are dropouts from general high school for more than one reason. Either they are not achieving academically or they are just disruptive. Many of the times, disruptive behaviour is because they are so way behind that they are lost in what is happening. And so they create distractions and get into some serious trouble. But when you drill down and hear the stories, and you can appreciate what is happening and the cause and effect, then you know you have something to work with.Ms Margarett Little Wilson – Deputy Director at the Alpha Institute
Alpha and Today’s Impact
Over the years, the 46-acre property gained the ‘school of hard knocks’ label. Now, this state of the art institution stands above all others with an environment built on and for success.
The initial work of a Sister of Mercy, Sister Martha Milna, who created a curriculum for the school with a focus on ensemble music, added a missing piece to the school’s offering. The institute now has an Associates Degree in Music Performance. Directed by the new bandmaster, Gay Magnus, the programme is shaping up to add orchestra and symphony playing to the repertoire. Gay fills the gap between gaining the fundamental music skills to becoming a well-rounded and sought after music professional. The degree prepares each student for the business behind music. Most importantly, the Alpha School of Music concentrates on ensemble and band studies to open the students to a wider demand.
Alpha works to keep music education under the banner of Mercy Education as a flagship for music worldwide. Adding Gay’s knowledge, skill, and abilities to the mix means that Alpha will be moving upward and onward, as the motto says.
To prepare youth to follow and reap from their dreams, Alpha hired Cleon Samuels as the Senior Music Instructor. Cleon has a talent for reaching the boys and creating masterpieces with them. Through his guidance, the school became champions in the Jamaica Best School Band (JBSB) competition in 2019. His approach is knowing how to manage and optimize each student’s skill with an instrument. After experiencing the care and guidance of Mr Samuels, the student moves over to Ms Magnus.
The approach at Alpha closely ties to the Mercy education philosophy of “Courageous action and selfless spirit”. Strengthened by compassionate souls, understanding human nature, specific to the individual created in the image and likeness of God, the principle stands firm.
Ms Little Wilson best sums up the feeling you get when you are on the compound; “Outta road before I came here, there was just something missing in my heart. There was just a little hole in my heart that just filled up being here at Alpha. And I tell people that I love my home, but I jump up every morning looking forward to being here.”
Our Community believes in Alpha
The newly refurbished school became a reality because of the many hands on deck. Many people have put in blood, sweat and tears into what we see today. They have all played their part in continuing the legacy. Some of the companies that gave Alpha financial assistance are the Digicel Foundation, American Friends of Jamaica, the Bob Marley Foundation, Sandals Foundation, Jamaica Social Stock Exchange, Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), and individual donors. Although there are many financial donors, these are the ones GNJ chose to highlight.
Other vocational training received at the institute are barbering, woodwork, landscaping, and food preparation. One of the little known truths about Alpha is that every student receives free dental health care. There is an active dental clinic within the property.
Tuition at the Alpha School of Music is $150,000/year, supplemented by scholarships and allotments. The full program lasts 4 years. In the last two years, students earn an Associate’s Degree in music performance.