Drum major and ward chorister with Down syndrome teaches others about inclusion through music

Jameson Jones is in the band at Westlake High School and is a chorister in his ward, bringing a contagious passion for music to others

When the Westlake Thunder Marching Band from Saratoga Springs, Utah, placed third in a major competition this month, perhaps no one was more thrilled than the honorary drum major, Jameson Jones.

Music is Jameson’s language, and it always has been. The 17 year old is a senior at Westlake High School and part of the school’s Life Skills class — a group for students with special needs. Jameson was born with Down syndrome and a natural gift for music.

He has played on the drumline most of the marching band season, and he was fun to watch while leading, said the band director, Randy Brady.

“He knows how to conduct in an expressive way and how to shape the music,” said Brady. 

Jameson doesn’t just lead his school band — he’s also a ward chorister in the Saratoga Springs Fourth Ward and leads the music in sacrament meeting once a month.

Bishop Justin Jackson said Jameson is full of love, excitement and positivity.  

“The energy and passion he puts into directing the music are contagious. I notice big smiles and sometimes tears when he contributes in this way,” Bishop Jackson said.

The ward music director used to serve with the Young Men and, knowing Jameson well, asked if he would like to lead once a month, said Jameson’s mother, Cindy Jones. 

“The passion he brings to the congregation is unbelievable. He is so joyful,” Jones said. “I’ve never heard ‘God Be with You Till We Meet Again’ in such a joyful way.”

Jameson Jones conducts music for his ordination as a teacher at his home in Saratoga Springs, Utah, in January 2019. | Cindy Jones

The gift and language of music

Jones said Jameson does not talk very well — at least for others to understand who don’t know him well. He was treated for leukemia when he was really young and it interfered with his speech development. But he loved music from the earliest age.

“He is naturally gifted. If you would take that veil of disability off him, he would be a maestro,” Jones said. 

Beginning with a gift of a drum set, then a violin and other instruments along the way, Jameson also worked to earn a music stand and a baton.

Every general conference, Jameson watches with his music stand and conducts along with The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square directors, especially Mack Wilberg. “He mimics that man,” Jones said. “He loves to watch the Tabernacle Choir, and he will sing with them and he will lead them.” 

Jameson Jones leads the music in his living room along with Tabernacle Choir Associate Music Director Ryan Murphy during April 2020 general conference. | Cindy Jones

He received a large hymnbook for Christmas one year because he loves the hymns, Jones explained. He’ll also lead or play along with the CD of hymns. 

One weekend Jameson played the hymns from start to finish. Jones said the Spirit filled their home. When he wants to communicate something, the words often come from the hymns.

Jameson was recently asked to give a talk in his ward, and Jones helped him practice the words and say them into the microphone. 

“His testimony was the songs. ‘With all my heart to Him I sing. I have music in my soul, and Jesus can hear the songs I cannot sing. I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers.’”

Inclusion at school and church

Brady said it made sense not just to include Jameson in the Westlake band program but also to embrace his participation — because he has seen it before. Brady’s neighbor growing up had special needs and was in his ward. Another boy in his stake had Down syndrome and was also in the school band.

“For me, it was good as a teacher to work with a student with special needs and find ways to get him incorporated in ways that were meaningful,” Brady said.

Brady said Jameson brought light to the band and positivity. 

“If every band kid were as dedicated and as passionate as Jameson, we would be light years ahead of where we are.”

Jameson’s parents — especially his mother — came to every practice to help if needed in any way. Jameson is the youngest child, with three older sisters. He graduates from high school in the spring and will then attend Alpine Transition and Education Center as he learns more life skills for adulthood. His family also hopes he will be able to serve a service mission in the future.

When he reads the scriptures with his parents, he reads the words he knows and echoes the words he doesn’t, said Jones.

Bishop Jackson said Jameson and his father bless the sacrament regularly. “Jameson is difficult to understand, so he and his father get through the prayer word by word after years of practice together.” 

With his father’s help, he also takes the sacrament to a woman in the ward at her home and blesses it for her every Sunday. 

Several Utah TV news stations featured Jameson when he led the Westlake Thunder at the competition on Nov. 5, and Brady hopes the attention will inspire others to try to be more inclusive.

“I think sometimes people are afraid because they are not sure of the needs or don’t know how to work with those students,” he said. “When we don’t understand something, we are afraid to try. I hope this can be an example to others that this is not scary, these students are like other students. They just have different needs you can learn about.”

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