COME Monday — National Heroes Day — renowned musician, composer and arranger Peter Ashbourne will receive an Order of Distinction for his 'dedicated and outstanding service to the development of many genres of music in Jamaica'.
Ashbourne says he will humbly accept the honour. His work spans the gamut of classical to popular music in Jamaica.
"Very few people know that I played piano on Eric Donaldson's popular festival song Cherry Oh Baby," says Ashbourne.
"I can still remember the night down at Dynamic Sounds when Tommy Cowan rushed out of the studios. 'Come Peter you can play piano, we need a piano player' and that was it," he recalls.
He is also proud of the string arrangements he did for singer Beres Hammond on his Soul Reggae and More album. Ashbourne is credited with work for the national pantomime and has written for the American Wind Symphony Orchestra.
This summer he worked on the Jamaica 50 and Independence celebrations. He was musical director for the Digicel Stars television show as well as conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchastra during their two-concert gig in Jamaica last month. He aslo a staged an excerpt of his reggae opera, Mikey, recently.
Ashbourne is a little critical of popular Jamaican music, particularly dancehall, which he says is somewhat stagnant.
"The interestng thing about Jamaican music is that it bats higher than its weight. This is due to the very high bar set by the pioneering musicians of the 1960s and 1970s who really established our music on the international scene," he reasoned.
"Dancehall, which has been very creative in the past, has to get bigger and better than before in order to make an impact. Artistes are currently resorting to the bizzare in order to have impact, but this is only temporary. There is just too much gimmicks as opposed to solid content which can have an emotional connection," Ashburne added.
The musician will be using the next few weeks to complete the scores for reggae opera Mikey, based on the life of poet Mikey Smith.
"The performances of Mikey were a lesson in logistics. I wrote nine scores in seven days," he said. "That was really taxing. So now I am going to pace myself in order to be ready for the full-length production whenever we raise the $8-million required to stage it. Unfortunately, it seems we will have to find sponsorship outside of Jamaica and premiere the production overseas before bringing it home."
However, his dream is the formation of a National Symphony Orchestra as he believes Jamaica has not fully embraced the powerful capacity which music has to bring about change in some of its most troubled communities.
"This is a 20-year project. The level of professionalism and competence required does not come overnight it takes time and resources," says Ashbourne.