Canadian-raised Dantes Rameau is a 28-year-old classically trained bassoonist who serves as the co-founder and director of the nonprofit Atlanta Music Project (AMP). Entering its second year, the program is one of hundreds of programs that duplicated the success of the El Sistema (“The System”), Venezuela’s globally acclaimed National Youth Orchestra System that has trained more than 1 million children worldwide, 70 percent of whom live below the poverty line.
AMP provides free classical music and choral instruction to some of Atlanta’s poorest children. Currently, the program operates an after-school and summer music program out of Gilbert House on Perkerson Road in southwest Atlanta, a cultural center within the City of Atlanta’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs. The Coca-Cola Foundation, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and the AOL Grant Program are also sponsors. Rameau was also chosen from more than 200 applicants to participate in the 2012 Class of LEAD Atlanta, the oldest sustained community leadership program in the nation.
You have entered the second year of the program here in Atlanta. Tell us what has excited you the most about it.
To take 40 children, most of whom have never touched an instrument, heard classical music or seen an orchestra, and expose them to a new genre of music. They learn music, but also leadership and teamwork skills, empathy and sensitivity. Most importantly, they get to see what discipline can bring. All of these attributes transfer to other areas of their lives. When we take them to see the ASO perform, they get to see the culmination of hard work and study. They think “I can be on that stage someday.” This also happens when the ASO’s Youth Orchestra and Talent Development team come to Gilbert House to mentor the AMP kids. We also teach jazz because we feel it’s important for the kids to know that all types of music are open to them, not only the ones they are used to.
How will the donation of musical instruments help the organization?
We are a nonprofit and charge nothing for our classes. Most of our children can’t afford an instrument. So, a large part of our philanthropic gifts are used for purchasing instruments, which are quite expensive. For instance, a decent tuba can cost $2,000 or a violin $300. Private lessons with a music teacher can run $40 to $50 an hour. For a child without means, there is no way they can be engaged in receiving musical instruction. We have had so many parents pull us aside and tell us that, without this program, they simply could not afford to offer this opportunity to their children. We can do more for more children if we can get instruments in good condition donated to us.
Has the second location in the Old Fourth Ward-Edgewood area been identified?
It has, but I can’t disclose it just yet. We have the support of a prominent foundation. The second location will have the capacity for 40 to 60 children in a robust after-school program. Since the opening of the first location at Gilbert House, the momentum has simply been phenomenal. We can’t thank Mayor Kasim Reed enough for his and Camille Love’s (City of Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs) support with space in Gilbert House and introducing the program to other benefactors.
What did you gain from the experience of the Abrue Fellows Program at the New England Conservatory of Music?
The Abrue is a postgraduate program for educators at the New England Conservatory of Music. I went to Venezuela to gain first-hand knowledge on how to make a program like this successful, regardless of external factors. I got an opportunity to learn how to run a nonprofit: fundraising, grant writing, how to build an active board of directors. In Venezuela, I saw how the impossible can be done when classical music isn’t heard in the home, when there is no money for tuxedos or music lessons.
Support the Atlanta Music Project’s first ever Musical Instrument Donation Drive, July 18 – August 6, 2011.