Published: April 26, 2023 By

O'Neil's headshotThe Susan L. Porter Memorial Fellowship is an award that provides scholarship support for a student doing exceptional research that supports the mission of CU Boulder's American Music Research Center (AMRC). The 2023-24 recipient of this award is O’Neil Jones, a DMA student in choral conducting and literature. Originally from Montego Bay, Jamaica, Jones’ goal is to bring Jamaican music to the wider world.

“I think the world would be very interested in some of this music,” Jones says.

Susan Thomas, the director of the AMRC, says, “I was struck by both his passion and his commitment but also by the really unique access that he has to the history and performance practice of a choral tradition of the Americas. His personal experience is really unmatched and very special.”

Jones draws much of his inspiration from his late mentor Noel Dexter, a Jamaican composer. “Mr. Dexter decided that he never wanted to sing about ‘in the bleak midwinter’ in a country where we’ve never experienced winter. And so he started writing pieces and from there, other composers saw that we could bridge our language with our folk forms, and create something that was uniquely Jamaican,” he says.

In addition to being inspired by Dexter’s artistry, Jones also has a personal connection to him. Dexter gave him his first voice lesson 12 years ago.

O'Neil Conducting a choir Jones says, “He also encouraged me by giving me a choir to conduct when I was 19 years old and said, ‘You have the makings of a great conductor. You can do this.’”

Through the Porter Fellowship, Jones will work on publishing pieces from Jamaican composers, primarily Dexter. Often, Jamaican music isn’t published or available to perform outside the island country. 

“I know of less than 10 pieces of Jamaican music that have been published,” Jones says. “We’re trying to create accessibility for peopleto say, hey, this music is accessible, the language is not that difficult, we can send you with these pieces.”

Jones also hopes to bring Franklin E. Halliburton, a Jamaican conductor, musical director and contemporary of Dexter, to CU Boulder to talk about Dexter and how Jamaican music came to be. “It’s lots of work, but I think it’s work that needs to be done because Mr. Dexter was a very humble person and even in his passing, the thing that he wanted people to know was that he tried,” Jones says. “He’s literally the only reason I’m even studying music here today. So I want to honor him that way.”

“I think O'Neil has a really clear understanding of how his research and his creative work will impact the field,” adds Thomas. “It’s always amazing when we see that from a graduate student. He’s definitely one of those people that came into CU Boulder carrying out the mission of the AMRC.”