Reaching musically inclined, underserved youth is the goal of Atlanta Music Project, which is on track to serve 300 youth in grades 1 through 12 at six sites around the city. Now in its eighth year, AMP provides high quality, tuition-free after school music education for symphony orchestra and choir to kids.
“We go into areas that don’t have what we do – musically underserved – that’s our bread and butter,” said AMP co-founder and executive director, Dantes Rameau. “We get excited when we can help kids where the majority go to Title 1 schools.”
Through a partnership with the City of Atlanta, AMP’s orchestra program serves youth at three recreation centers: Perkerson Park, Gilbert House and South Bend.
The choral program, AMPlify, reaches East Lake and DeKalb County area students at Zaban Recreation Center and at The Kindezi School West in Adamsville. During the summer, AMP offers a day camp for middle and high school students plus a free concert series in the Sylvan Hills neighborhood.
Top performers (from choir and orchestra) can audition for the AMP Academy to receive weekly private lessons.
AMP is modeled after Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu’s youth orchestra network in Venezuela, known as El Sistema. For more than 40 years, El Sistema has provided community-based orchestra training for impoverished and underserved children.
Canadian musician Dantes Rameau attended the year-long Sistema Fellows Program to learn how to replicate the El Sistema model in the U.S.
“I definitely expected to start something. I knew that Atlanta had a lot of need for this kind of programing, but I also knew that it had a lot of potential for corporate support,” Rameau said. Having a free place to stay with his retired aunt and uncle in Atlanta sealed the deal.
Rameau found students here were eager to commit to attending classes and rehearsing at least six hours a week in exchange for an instrument, professional instruction, homework help and a warm dinner.
“Learning and performing viola with AMP means a lot to me because it gives me an opportunity show everyone what I am capable of achieving in life,” Nyasjah Brooks, a 10th grader at Carver Early College, said
Brooks has been with AMP since 3rd grade. She has attended Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp on full scholarship, and was selected for the National Take-a-Stand Orchestra in Aspen where she performed under Robert Spano, conductor of the Atlanta Symphony. Brooks plans on minoring in music in college.
“Those experiences are very powerful and teach our students that they can do something that is challenging and complex and navigate how to do that well. That growth mindset is very powerful,” Rameau said.
An example not lost on Brooks’ three younger siblings, who also participate in AMP.
AMP can also be a pathway to college. In 2015 Clayton State University established an endowed scholarship, providing college scholarship funds for AMP students who study music there.
“We have a way to tell 7, 8, 9 year olds – you can go to college for free if you work hard and you show some talent for music. I think that’s special,” Rameau said.
AMP also boasts more than 50 professional musicians with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in music to provide instruction on each instrument at multiple sites.
Atlanta native instructors Ismail Akbar and Kevin Smith both benefited from music in their own lives.
“When I was 13 I became a cello student in the Talent Development Program and received free lessons from cellists from the Atlanta Symphony. I look at my experience with AMP as ‘paying it forward’,” Akbar said. “I am also a believer of giving children correct technique when starting out on an instrument.”
His students have performed with world-renowned conductors like Gustavo Dudamel, an El Sistema alum.
“Music education helps kids develop their creativity and critical thinking skills, so I’d like to think that not only are they becoming better musicians but also better people and contributing positively to society,” Smith said.
Key supporters, like the Abraham J. & Phyllis Katz Foundation, Bank of America, Chick-fil-A, and MailChimp, agree and help cover AMP’s costs of teaching artists, instruments, concerts, curriculum, professional development, and operations.
“We want all parents of all backgrounds to be salivating at the chance to have their kid in our program,” Rameau said.
To learn more about AMP and its upcoming holiday concerts on Dec. 9 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Dec. 16 at Sylvan Hills Middle School, visit atlantamusicproject.org.