Despite a frenetic workload in the last few months, celebrated Jamaican composer Peter Ashbourne was looking forward to making a rare appearance in Toronto.
He was also elated to be sharing the stage with long-time friend and jazz vocalist, Karen Smith, at the recent Wolmer’s Alumni Association’s Toronto chapter’s annual fundraising event, dubbed “The Great Luncheon Concert”, in Brampton.
Ashbourne, who produced nearly 700 commercial jingles in three decades, was instrumental in Smith’s rise to stardom.
A graduate of the University of the West Indies and the Berklee College of Music, Ashbourne conducted the Jamaica 50 Orchestra at the Independence Gala’s main performance and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra during its two night performance last September.
The British Orchestra’s program featured two of Ashbourne’s original compositions, “Jubilee” and “Ring Games”, which the European Union Chamber Orchestra commissioned during its 2004 Jamaican tour, and “Jamaika Folk”, which he penned at age 13.
He is also busy working on the production of a music theory book on Jamaican popular music styles and Jamaica’s first musical opera expected to open next summer.
Reggae Opera Mikey is based on the life of late Jamaican dub poet, Michael Smith, who was murdered at a political rally in Jamaica in August, 1983.
“This is something that has been on my plate for some time and my wife has been pushing me to get this project done,” said Ashbourne. “It’s an attempt at a fusion between the European classical discipline and the pop Jamaican music forms. It’s not an easy marriage.”
Adopted at age three, Ashbourne – who has never met his biological parents – entered Wolmer’s High School for Boys at age seven, started playing the violin at age eight and the piano at age nine.
His aunt, Joyce Ashbourne, was his musical influence.
“She was a music teacher who lived with us,” he said. “She realized that I had a good ear for music and directed me along that path. When I was about 15 years old, I decided I wanted to write music and I found out that I liked that very much.”
In addition to playing the violin and piano in both solo and ensemble capacities and writing, composing and producing, the multi-talented artist has been a studio musician and accompanist for several top Jamaican performers, including the late Bob Marley, Beres Hammond, Della Manley and Cynthia Schloss.
“I am comfortable in a number of genres which is unusual,” said Ashbourne, who is a faculty member at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. “If I was based in North America, I would have had to specialize in order to survive. But in Jamaica where the range of skills is limited, I have benefitted.”
Married to Austrian-born music educator and composer Rosina Moder, who he met while she was on a concert tour to Jamaica in the 1980s, Ashbourne was the musical director for the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup opening ceremony in Jamaica in 2007 and Beres Hammond’s “A Moment in Time” show the same year.
The father of two and MUSIC Unites Jamaica Foundation director is the recipient of the 2004 Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Music and the Order of Distinction which was presented this year.