As a nonprofit dedicated to social change, the Atlanta Music Project (AMP) gives children of low-income communities the opportunity to learn music, offering tuition-free training that would be otherwise inaccessible in their underserved school districts.
“It’s a serious issue in Atlanta,” Dantes Rameau, professional bassoonist and AMP Executive Director, said. “If you’re growing up in certain parts of the city, particularly south of I-20…you don’t have access to the same kinds of extracurriculars.”
Many public grade schools rely on local revenues, meaning that the amount of money allocated to a school may heavily depend on the community in which it exists. This leads to programming disparities within and across metro Atlanta’s school systems.
“Districts with more resources can…provide students with enrichment activities and supportive services [that are] missing in cash-strapped districts,” according to the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.
Public schools in areas of poverty are less likely to include extracurricular programs — especially music education — simply because it is not financially possible.
And that is where the Atlanta Music Project steps in to save the day.
A child’s right
Despite the lack of musical enrichment programs in our city’s underprivileged schools, AMP believes that music education is not a privilege, but a right, and that it can be used as a fundamental building block in childhood development.
“Music is a discipline [that] requires a lot of individual work—processing what you’re doing wrong and strategizing how to fix it,” Rameau said. “In fact, that process in itself — figuring out how you’re going to play your instrument better — is a process of self-improvement.”
Programs offered by AMP go a step further than a mere after-school extracurricular. The project encourages confidence and ambition in its students, with rigorous musical training in orchestral and choral programming.
“Everyone should be given this opportunity,” Rameau said. “It’s too valuable to not be standard.”
AMP understands that music is a powerful tool with an ability to shape principles and behaviors universally.
The musical road to social change
“There’s no better teacher of personal responsibility and grit than a music instrument,” Rameau said. “The instrument won’t sound so great unless you work at it…And if you work at it intentionally, you will get results.”
The Atlanta nonprofit provides its students with instruments of their very own and two hours of thorough instructions, led by AMP’s experienced teaching artists, every three to five days.
Most of the project’s enrolled students have no prior exposure to musical instruction whatsoever. In fact, most of the children have never even laid hands on an instrument.
“One of the most valuable things … about teaching with the Atlanta Music Project is watching the growth and development of the students,” Teaching Artist Keeyen Martin said in a recent GPB News article. “A lot of them [have] little to no knowledge of music…and over the course of a semester or over the course of a year, they evolve to a young musician.”
The initiative opens up new doors of opportunity for these youngsters, allowing them to tap into their creativity and express their inner artist that may have otherwise remained idle.
Students are taught either under the program’s orchestral unit or the choral program, known as AMPlify. Since many students have no prior music training, neither of AMP’s general programs require the children to audition.
“If a child shows commitment to showing up, we will accept them,” Rameau said. “But some kids are quite good…They work hard and they want to pursue music seriously — for them, we have an audition based program called the AMP Academy.”
The academy provides advanced, top-quality music training to AMP’s most dedicated students. It’s designed for the project’s existing musicians who want to further cultivate their craft with private instructions and two required solo performances per year.
To play and to strive
AMP is the birth child of Venezuela’s El Sistema, a globally acclaimed music program founded by José Antonio Abreu in 1975. Abreu’s initial motive was to improve the lives and futures of impoverished children through intense classical music training.
In 2009, Abreu was awarded the TED Prize, which helps progressive leaders with their intended social change. TED not only contributed $100,000 to Abreu’s mission, but the organization also granted him one “wish to change the world.”
Abreu’s wish was to implement El Sistema’s work internationally, specifically in the United States, by introducing a training program for 50 young musicians that showed advocacy for social justice and passion for their artistic craft.
Basically, Abreu wanted to create a fellowship of post-graduates to help spread his mission around the world—and fortunate for our city, Rameau was one of Abreu’s fellows.
The Sistema Fellows Program integrated classes, internships, and a two-month study in Venezuela—all of which helped Rameau better understand El Sistema’s philosophies and practices.
After graduating from the one-year program, he brought his knowledge to Atlanta and co-founded the Atlanta Music Project.
AMPed up for social activism
The City of Atlanta’s Department of Parks and Recreation graciously partners with AMP by providing centers in which after-school orchestral instruction takes place.
The students are transported from their public schools to the recreational centers. They are provided with homework help before music lessons and then given a warm meal before parent pick-up in the evenings.
In addition to contributions from the city, AMP encourages all Atlanta residents to get involved.
Atlantans with unused or lightly used musical instruments are urged to contribute to AMP’s instrument donation program, which is compensated with tax deductions.
For those interested in hands-on contributions, there is an AMP Street Team that donates time and energy towards students’ concerts and performances. The team of volunteers ensure that each event goes according to schedule.
The AMP Music Mentor program is a great opportunity for Atlanta’s young adult musicians that want to assist in teaching the project’s students. In exchange for their time, mentors are rewarded community service hours for high school graduation.
Making a [note]able difference
Mentors aren’t the only ones with graduation on the mind. Rameau said that for some students, commitment can take them from the very beginning all the way to a college scholarship.
AMP offers scholarships within the project as well, teaching the importance of long and short term goals.
In 2016, two students were granted a new pair of Allen Edmonds performance shoes through an in-house scholarship. Violinist Cierra Butler and cellist Danielle Liburd were awarded for their excellence on a submitted essay.
“It’s amazing to realize what options these kids would not have had if they weren’t given the chance to be a part of the Atlanta Music Project,” Rameau said.
AMP lessens the effects of unequal public school funding and instills the value of responsibility and hard work. The project demonstrates the El Sistema core value that “every child has limitless possibilities and the ability to strive for excellence.”
By enriching students’ lives with music education, the Atlanta Music Project levels the playing field for the city’s youth, no matter where they grow up or how much their parents earn.
“The fact that I was able to be a part of this life-changing program really humbles me.”
-Elizabeth-Anne Lamar, AMP Music Mentor
“AMPlify has given [my son] a lifeline. When everything else failed, this choral program helped him thrive through music.”
-Shiba Whitaker, mother of 2nd year AMP student
*from AMP official website