Music Teacher from Jamaica Composes School Song While in USA
When a school in Dunn, North Carolina, celebrated a building expansion this past winter, the ceremony included a joyful performance of the school’s song. The chorus, performance, and melody were all possible because of Herbert McLean, a music teacher originally from Jamaica. McLean started teaching at Dunn last fall as a program member with Educational Partners International (EPI), and he has already had a tremendous impact on the school.
Looking at photos and video from the groundbreaking ceremony, shared via the school’s social media, what’s remarkable is the joy evident on everyone’s faces. That’s understandable. The event was meant not just to spotlight the building of a new wing at Dunn Elementary School, but to kick off a series of countywide construction projects made possible through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) program. The federal government created the funding initiative to help public schools address the impacts of COVID-19.
Perfectly in tune with the jubilant spirit of that day were the school song’s lyrics. “Dunn Elementary is the place I want to be,” the 20-some members of the school’s student chorus sang. “Dunn Elementary is the school for me!”
After EPI celebrated the performance on an internal forum for EPI program members, McLean expressed his gratitude.
“I am honored to be given the opportunity to share my musical knowledge with Dunn Elementary School,” he wrote. “The school song came about because it was a promise I made to the interviewing panel back in Jamaica. It brings great joy to my heart when I hear the students sing the song; something to identify with.
“I will aspire to be the best I can be,” he continued. “EPI has given me the opportunity to represent this family. Why not represent EPI with utter excellence?”
McLean’s success serves as an inspiration for other program members. After seeing the forum post about the accomplishment, another Jamaican program member in North Carolina shared his excitement.
“Well done, Mr. McLean!” wrote Kingsley Wray, who teaches science at Warren New Tech High School in Warrenton. “You have established yourself and made your mark at Dunn Elementary. Continue the great work!”
In addition to creating both the school chorus and song, McLean has shared his culture this school year by creating a display and presentation focusing on mento, a type of Jamaican folk music that serves as a foundation for other musical subgenres. During that presentation, school staff learned to perform a song, “Hol’ Him Joe.” Recordings from that day capture a group of nonmusicians taking up rhythm sticks, maracas, and drums and keeping in tempo, pounding out the song’s beat together.
So, what is mento, exactly? The Jamaica Observer describes it as the “first widely recognised music from the island.” Mento “evolved into a new genre called the ska” – which, in turn, evolved into rocksteady, which “became the pathway to future genres like reggae and its various offspring.” In fact, a recent cover of the song McLean taught the school staff that day was recorded by none other than Ziggy Marley, son of Bob Marley.