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Sound System 101: Alpha Makes History Again With New class

Alpha makes history with first of its kind course in applied sound system performance.

The Alpha School of Music is pleased to announce the launch of a new course at the school and one that would be a first for Jamaica and perhaps the world. Starting this January 2023, the Introduction To Sound System Performance class will be a required course for second year students in the pre qualifying year Alpha’s Associate Degree of Music Performance programme. Believed to be the first applied sound system course of its kind in Jamaica and internationally, the course will teach the fundamentals of sound system performance in a group context, from setting up the equipment, to audio selections to mic work. As a unique Jamaican example of performance, the sound system fits appropriately within Alpha’s ensemble based curriculum and offers a proven methodology for training youth in audio technology, performance and production.

"The sound system is a key part of Jamaica's commercial music and entertainment ecosystem," said Alpha Bandmaster Gay Magnus. "It's important not just because it's the foundation of our popular culture but because it's also an important group activity at the forefront of Jamaican music and entertainment for decades. We're looking forward to the course and grateful to Dr Dennis Howard for accepting the position of instructor."

In the 1960s, when Sister Ignatius managed the Alpha music programme, she operated the Mutt & Jeff Sound System on the Alpha Boys School campus. She would use Mutt & Jeff to listen to new songs and discuss what makes ‘good music'. Students had a chance to also perform and operate the sound system. Grammy nominee Winston 'Yellowman' Foster says he first used a microphone on “Sister’s sound”. Alpha past student and drummer, Ilawi Malawi, a veteran selector for Brigadier Jerry’s Jah Love Sound System, credits Sister Ignatius with teaching him how to play on a sound system.

"The Introduction To Sound System Performance course is not just about the past," said Dr Dennis Howard, "it's also about the future. We will be using modern music technologies in unique ways to create new sounds and new ways of using and performing with the sound system. The class is inspired by the past but definitely looking forward to the future."

In 2017, local clothing brand Jamaica Nice partnered with sound system builder Tony Myers to create a new sound system with vintage looks. Consisting of a 'house of joy', mid frequency speaker box and steel horn, 'Mutt & Jeff Disco' designed according to vintage specs using new equipment. The Negril-based sign painter, Nurse, added his signature style to give Alpha's sound system a truly one of a kind appearance for a first of its kind learning experience.

Over the years, sound systems have been hailed as ‘cultural laboratories’, the ‘talking Gleaner’ (referencing the sound system’s media function) or, to use the name of Prince Buster’s sound system, “the voice of the people”, reflecting its social role. The sound system has been driving some of the most significant technical innovations in Jamaican music and played a role in the evolution of hip hop and EDM music internationally. Alpha students now have a front seat, perhaps the drivers seat, in what happens next.

ABOUT ALPHA INSTITUTE/Alpha School of music

Alpha's 130-year tradition of music education has produced jazz innovators, ska pioneers and reggae icons. We are excited to offer a meaningful and innovative music training curriculum to youth today. We need your help to make it possible. Thank you!


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