Just south of downtown Atlanta lies the neighborhood known as Mechanicsville. Established as a mostly working-class neighborhood in the late 19th century, it has fallen on harder times. A 2009 report on City-Data.com said that it had a 60 percent poverty rate and a median household income of $13,226.
That makes it the kind of neighborhood that matches the bold mission of the Atlanta Music Project. Mechanicsville is the chosen location for the two-year-old organization’s latest initiative, AMPlify, an after-school choral program.
Modeled on Venezuela’s well-known El Sistema, the Atlanta Music Project provides intense after-school musical education programs for underserved young people, in their own neighborhoods, on the theory that developing their creativity, confidence and ambition through pursuit of excellence is a way to spark positive social change.
Dantes Rameau, AMP’s dynamic co-founder and executive director, is a bassoonist with degrees from McGill and Yale universities and a performance certificate from Carnegie Mellon. He was among the first class of Sistema Fellows at the New England Conservatory in 2010. And he is fully invested in AMP’s mission.
“I’m a musician, so I certainly believe in music for the sake of music,” he says. “But at the same time, music opens one up to a world of beauty, dedication and empowerment, such that it can become a natural vehicle for social change.”
His enthusiastic pursuit of that mission has gained him and AMP some distinguished supporters. “I consider Dantes and the Atlanta Music Project to be an important contributor to building stronger communities and better public schools in the Atlanta region,” says Joseph Bankoff, former president and chief executive officer of the Woodruff Arts Center, whom Rameau considers one of his main local mentors.
“While still very small,” continues Bankoff, “this El Sistema program approach has been shown to work miracles in building a sense of self-worth and to motivate personal achievement in students and stronger family bonds and communities where the program operates.”
Rameau and Aisha Bowden, AMPlify’s co-founder and director, note that the choral program takes inspiration from the Boston Children’s Choir and the group that inspired it, the 56-year-old Chicago Children’s Choir.
To date, AMP has offered its after-school programs in the Perkerson, Lakewood Heights and Edgewood communities. AMPlify will break new ground both geographically and musically. It is AMP’s first all-choral program and the first El Sistema-inspired one in Georgia. It will serve a total of 50 singers from first through fifth grades for two hours a day, three days per week. Acceptance is on a first-come, first-served basis; the only requirement is a commitment to attend consistently.
Bowden is a graduate of Howard University with more than 10 years of experience teaching music, nine of them in Washington’s inner-city schools. She moved to metro Atlanta to teach public middle school choirs in Cobb County while working as choral teaching artist for the Atlanta Music Project during its pilot year. Like Rameau, she is a Sistema Fellow.
AMPlify is in the midst of an effort to raise $20,000 in additional support through an online funding campaign, accessible here. Once that goal is achieved, the program activities will launch.
AMP has debuted another program this fall, the AMP Academy, designed to provide extended instruction and performance opportunities to its 20 most advanced students. In support of that program, AMP was awarded more than $122,000 in a grant from the Virginia-based Jack Kent Cooke Foundation in March.
For more information about the Atlanta Music Project, call 678-235-4267 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.