Like most music programs, Atlanta Music Project was hard at work the months leading up to their holiday concert. They rehearsed every Saturday morning, arriving as early as 9 a.m. with voices and violins, trombones and trumpets. But AMP students are exposed to an assortment of music, as vibrantly diverse as the musicians amongst them, all year long.
AMP empowers under served youth to help them realize their potential through music. The tuition-free program goes to neighborhoods where families either don’t have access or funds to attend music academies to build youth choirs and orchestras.
“If there are students interested in getting high quality music training, they generally have to travel or pay. Those are barriers that block out many of the families we are here for. So instead, we bring everything to them by going into the neighborhood with our teaching artists, instruments and unique performance opportunities, all at no cost to the families,” said AMP co-founder and director Aisha Moody. “We know what we are doing: we are a community of artists and educators. We grew up in the music world and it’s a part of us. We know that if you can just get here, we’ll do the rest of the work.”
AMP uses an immersion approach modeled after a program founded in Venezuela called El Sistema, and uses music as a tool for social change. Students first learn to play melodies and enjoy creating music before reading music and theory.
Most of the kids in the orchestra program had never touched an instrument before joining AMP. Through instrument “petting zoos,” they were able to test out instruments to see what they liked best, while staff might help nudge children in a certain direction to help build the sound of the orchestras.
“Sometimes the need of the orchestra dictates an instrument,” said Brian Kellum, director of orchestral programs and projects. “There are certain instrument families that are more needed than others, so we might gently nudge a child in that direction or go out into the community and look for a talented young artist.”
Since its inception in 2010, AMP has remained free for all musicians, but there is a strict attendance policy. Tuesday afternoons are reserved for wind instrument practice, Wednesday afternoons for string instruments, and all musicians stagger groggy into Sylvan Hills Middle School on Saturday mornings for full rehearsals.
“[Parents] take it very seriously and see the work that goes in. There is a lot of trust in what we are doing. They know that if they do make those sacrifices as parents, their kids will benefit in the end.” Kellum said.
Corey Jones, a junior at Charles R. Drew Charter School, said AMP gives him the challenges he was seeking. The trombonist, pianist and production student has attended summer programming with AMP for three years and joined the project’s new All Star Senior Orchestra last fall. “It feels good to be in a room full of people who want to play music, want to sound good, and do sound good,” Jones said.
Jones does not toot his own horn, or at least outside of the orchestra. A trombone teaching artist from AMP first taught the students the importance of teamwork amongst musicians. “Sometimes it can be confusing to understand your role in a team. Everyone wants to shine, but some people are meant to just support. Though my instrument is the second most powerful instrument in the band, it’s really a supporting instrument,” Jones said.
The All Star Youth Orchestra and Choir started last fall with four new ensembles: a Junior Youth Orchestra and Junior Youth Choir for middle school students, and a Senior Youth Orchestra and Senior Youth Choir based on musical skill. For the first time, AMP decided to ask for a registration fee for the program – a one-time $25 administration cost. Cricket Wireless made a $125,000 donation to AMP, which will go toward giving 100 students full scholarships to participate in the organization’s new ensembles.
AMP’s dream is to consolidate its rehearsal, offices and storage space in one location. The team dreams of a headquarters in south Atlanta complete with private practice rooms, large classrooms, office spaces and a performance hall to host smaller concerts.
For Moody, the future AMP home must reflect the musical mission. “Excellence is the standard here. They are insanely talented and very driven, so all they need are the right people to give them the right tools.”
For more information about Atlanta Music Project and upcoming concerts, visit atlantamusicproject.org.