The list of top-ranking musicians who have passed through the gates of the Alpha Boys School, now known as the Alpha Institute on South Camp Road, includes musical greats such as Johnnie Osbourne, Don Drummond, and Tommy McCook. The institute, a Sisters of Mercy sponsored institution, has a long history of helping young men take control of their future through a mix of social services, academic and skills training, including music. Now, 139 years later, the Alpha Institute is looking to expand its student base while engaging with its rich and impactful history to develop opportunities for students in the tourism and entertainment industries.
The Sandals Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Sandals and Beaches Resorts, recently constructed restroom facility on the compound at a cost of over $2.6 million, strengthening the institute’s capacity to deliver an innovative vocational curriculum to more students while developing student work opportunities that target the tourism and entertainment sectors. Located at the entrance to the music department and a focal point on campus, the new facility allows Alpha to accommodate more visitors interested in learning about Alpha’s widely respected music legacy and social mission. The new facility also makes it possible to plan fundraising events and charitable studio projects to raise additional revenue that will sustain the training programs.
Alpha Institute Administrator, Margaret Little Wilson, outlines that there are always visitors wanting to spend time at the institution to learn the musical history but the institution was challenged due to its limited restroom facilities.
“Bathroom spaces were something that had to be targeted if we are looking to expand on our services. In opening up our compound for tours, that means we had to address that situation and we are ever so grateful to the Sandals Foundation for funding this project. It is a start. It is hoped that as time goes by, we will be able to expand this because we do hope in the very near future to open the Alpha Institute School of Music to bigger and better things.”
She continued, “With Kingston having been designated the creative city it will mean that more visitors will want to come to Alpha because our history speaks for itself, our legacy is so huge and we have so much history to share.”
The new building, according to the Sandals Foundation, will also be part of the educational experience for guests, students and staff on the compound, sporting a beautiful and informative mural painted by local artiste Matthew “Eye Dealist” McCarthy which speaks to Jamaica’s distinct sound system culture as well as music performance and music technology traditions in Jamaica, including Alpha. Inside the facility, guests will be able to read up on albums recorded by Alpha past students who are among Jamaica’s top musicians.
“This project was particularly exciting for us because it not only supports the Alpha School of Music to achieve its sustainability goals but it is also about being able to showcase reggae music and Jamaican culture to the world. Tourism has always been a driving force for sustainable development for the country and with Alpha playing such a significant role in the country’s musical history, it is only right that they too get to tell their story to visitors to the island,” said Heidi Clarke, Executive Director of the Sandals Foundation.
Clarke continued, “We are also hoping that the boys here will be inspired by the progress being made, to create more music and to take their dreams to the highest point. We are always looking to invest in sustainable programs much like the Alpha Institute which share the same vision and will positively impact the lives of our young people for years to come.”
Alpha’s Music Director, Andre Adman, is looking forward to getting started. He says the potential benefits are broad. “Tourism and entertainment are key drivers of employment and a natural landing spot for musicians like these training at Alpha,” said Adman. “Fortunately for students, Alpha’s inspiring legacy is drawing visitors and Alpha is investing in music performance and technology. The Sandals Foundation upgrades will unlock special training and work experiences around real tourism products and entertainment services. This is great for Alpha, great for Kingston and certainly great for our students.”
Another aspect of the upgrading efforts by the Sandals Foundation included facilitating the donation of 11 electric guitars, guitar bags and guitar amps by accomplished U.S.-based musician and instructor, Glen McCarthy and facilitating the donation and repair of a Knight Upright Piano. In 2014 from over 32,000 nominees, the Grammy Foundation recognized Mr. McCarthy as one of the top ten music educators in the United States and Adman says the institute is honored to have Mr. McCarthy’s support which ensures that the young men have up to date music equipment to work with.
The Alpha Boys School transitioned to the Alpha Institute in June 2014 and continues to expand its services and offerings, particularly in music. Alpha’s new recording studio, production lab, and disc jockey program complement its respected theory and performance curriculum. In addition to winning the 2018-2019 Jamaica Best School Band competition, music students are recording audio, live mixing at events and practicing sound design. Alpha’s holistic and comprehensive curriculum make Alpha a leader in music education in Jamaica.