Dantes Rameau is co-founder and executive director of the Atlanta Music Project: Music for Social Change, which brings music education to at-risk children throughout Atlanta.
What is the Atlanta Music Project?
The Atlanta Music Project provides intense music education for at-risk children right in their own neighborhood. Our after-school youth orchestra and choir programs take place five days a week, and we provide every student with an instrument, classes, and world-class teaching artists and performance opportunities.
By virtue of their ZIP code, most of the kids we serve face a mountain of challenges that impede their chances of success in life. The Atlanta Music Project seeks to arm our students with skills that will help them overcome these challenges. Since we launched two years ago, we have observed that when kids join the Atlanta Music Project, they immediately begin to develop a stronger sense of self and a feeling of belonging to a cause. Our music ensembles empower our students to make a difference for themselves and their neighborhood. Naturally, this leads to an increase in our students’ motivation, discipline and academic engagement.
What was the inspiration for the Project?
It was inspired by El Sistema, Venezuela’s renowned system of youth and children’s orchestras. Founded in 1975, El Sistema serves more than 300,000 youths each year — the majority of whom come from impoverished backgrounds — and is widely recognized as one of the best music education programs in the world. The program’s most famous alumnus is Gustavo Dudamel, who was named music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the age of 26. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra boasts another famous El Sistema alumnus in bass clarinetist Alcides Rodriguez. Both myself and Aisha Bowden, choir director for the Atlanta Music Project, have completed residencies with El Sistema through the New England Conservatory of Music’s Sistema Fellows Program.
You require a real commitment from the students, including two hours of practice per day …
Yes. It’s partly because we want our students to be safe and off of the streets after school. But then again, our students could be doing any number of after-school programs. So why spend two hours doing music? Quite simply, the intensity is what enables our students to experience a sense of accomplishment. Doing something at a high level is fun, but getting to that point requires work. Our rigorous schedule allows us to quickly get our students to a point where music-making is fun. Most importantly, along the way they come to understand the correlation between hard work and success.
Do you think there are other life skills students gain from the Atlanta Music Project, and music education in general, that transcend the musical world?
Being in a music ensemble is very similar to real life. As adults, we go to work every day to make a living and hopefully contribute our little piece to making the world a better place. For Atlanta Music Project students, they get up every day and practice their instrument individually in order to prepare their part to bring to the ensemble rehearsal. In rehearsal they develop the ability to work with their colleagues and teachers to put together the best performance possible. Through this process of music preparation, our students are living out what it means to be committed, responsible and productive citizens. I can’t wait to see where our students are seven or eight years from now. I wouldn’t bet against their future success!
What led you to partner with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra?
In order for our program to succeed, our students need to be aware of and interact with the best musicians in the world, who can be found in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It’s not just about our students being around a world-class orchestra, it’s about surrounding them with excellence. When young people are surrounded by excellence, they realize that they, too, have the tools and the capability to do big things, whether that is in music or in other fields. And being such a prominent institution, when the orchestra puts a stamp on music education, people listen. That makes our jobs at the Atlanta Music Project much easier. And as they get older, hopefully our students will become Atlanta Symphony enthusiasts!
Edited and condensed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Alex LaPierre.