Mr Noel Dexter, a great but humble man

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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Reflecting on the life Jamaican musicologist, composer and director Mr Noel Dexter took us to the following comment made by late United States President Harry Truman: “In reading the lives of great men I found that the first victory they won was over themselves... self-discipline, with all of them, came first.”

Mr Dexter's achievements are no doubt the outcome of enormous self-discipline. It takes a steady focus and dedication to one's craft to produce the type of work he did.

His arrangement of Psalm 150 — O Praise Ye The Lord — as well as his composition of the Jamaican Christmas song, Sing De Chorus, contributed to his status as a legend in local music. It was therefore fitting that he was the recipient of many accolades, among them the Silver Musgrave Medal and the Order of Distinction from the Government of Jamaica.

That he was the University Singers' musical director and conductor for near half a century was, in itself, a remarkable feat. Throughout that time he shaped the choir into one of the finest in this region, while nurturing and developing the musical talents of many Jamaicans.

One of those fortunate enough to have benefited from his tutelage is Mr Franklin Halliburton, the current conductor of the University Singers, who told this newspaper on Sunday that he had suffered a huge blow with the passing of his 80-year-old mentor.

“I am really at a loss for words,” Mr Halliburton said. “I knew and understood that he was ailing and he was also at that age, but I was not prepared for this. Noel Dexter was my greatest musical mentor who shared with me and taught me so many things... He was truly a giant.”

Mr Halliburton also described Mr Dexter as a perfectionist and stickler for detail who demanded nothing but excellence. In some instances, people with those characteristics tend to be egocentric and condescending; however, Noel Dexter was the total opposite. He was indeed a very humble man who never let the high recognition he received overtake the respect he gave to his fellow human beings.

We recall that in 2004 when the Bronx Concert Singers celebrated his work at Hostos Community College in New York, that group's musical director, Mr Geoffrey Fairweather, a Jamaican and long-time friend of Mr Dexter and his wife Beverly, was effusive in his praise for his fellow choir director.

“As an old friend and colleague of Noel Dexter, I am thrilled to be able to pay due tribute to this outstanding Jamaican musician,” Mr Fairweather said. “Noel and I have been conducting choirs for decades, and I can say that I am always challenged by him and the standard of choral excellence that he has achieved.”

Mr Fairweather also noted that one of the features about Mr Dexter's compositions was the way that he infused Jamaican flavour into his rhythms and melodies to add just the right spice. “His music is never vulgar, always sweet,” Mr Fairweather so correctly stated.

Mr Thomas Carlyle, the 18th century Scottish philosopher, once said: “No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” He could easily have been making a prediction about Mr Noel Dexter, a man who never, despite his immense talent, sought praise, but who let his effort speak for itself.

Jamaica has lost a great son. May his soul rest in peace.


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