Music fraternity mourns Noel Dexter
Best known as the man who was at the helm of the University Singers for well over a decade, renowned Jamaican composer and choir director Noel Dexter died yesterday, sending tremors throughout the local music fraternity.
Dexter, 80, was director of the University Singers at The University of the West Indies, Mona, from 1997 to 2012.
Franklin Halliburton, who has been the choir director since then, said that the choir is deeply saddened by Dexter’s passing.
“There is a general sense of mourning among the choir. We have lost a father. He was the most humble individual that we’ve ever met. What was so amazing about him was he was a genius. He was a great man, and when you were around him you knew you were in the company of greatness, but he never acknowledged that at all. He never lorded it over you. He was a mentor, a friend. He encouraged, he guided, and he guided all of us. Jamaica has really lost a bright mind,” Halliburton told The Gleaner yesterday.
Born on December 21, 1938, Dexter grew up in Port Antonio, Portland, where his interest in music was piqued around 10 years old when he returned home to see a piano his father had bought.
Althea McKenzie said that Dexter’s death is a significant loss for her, having joined the choir on his invitation back in 2004.
“The voice that I have now is really primarily because of the training I received and the attention that he gave. He had this ability to see in us something that we perhaps didn’t see in ourselves and that others didn’t even recognise in us,” she said, indicating that she had not begun to process the news.
Similar sentiments were shared by fellow choir member Lorenzo Smith, who joined the group in 2003.
“He was more than a musical director. He was a mentor and a friend. He was always enquiring about my well-being and that of my family. A man of class with a gentle touch, he always had a hearty laugh, especially when he recalled his youth in his beloved Portland,” said Smith.
Musician and judge on TVJ’s All Together Sing, Michael Sean Harris, said he had a good relationship with the late choir director, indicating that his contribution to local music was significant.
“I don’t think Jamaica is going to fully, really understand all the things he has contributed to this country in terms of the songs he’s written and the people he’s touched – the University Singers, that was him for many years and the people who have come out of that, all his contribution … . He’s really a part of the fabric of the Jamaican musical landscape, especially with the classical and folk music,” he said.
In his early years, Dexter was involved with the Little Theatre Movement’s National Pantomime, composing and playing the music in the production.
Throughout his long career, Dexter composed several Jamaican hymns, including The Right Hand of God, Freedom Song and Make A Joyful Noise.
Dexter, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Arts & Culture in the Gleaner Honour Awards for 2015, is survived by his daughter, Carol Dexter, and a grandson.