Organizations: Atlanta Music Project
Kailah Corney glides her bow across the cello’s strings with lip-biting concentration, creating a startlingly deep and resonant sound.
Hooked on Symphonics: Kailah, a nine-year-old from southwest Atlanta, had never heard of the instrument until a few months ago when, during the orientation for the Atlanta Music Project, she picked one up. “It fit me just right,” she says. “Now my goal is to play in an orchestra.”
Her words are music to the ears of AMP director Dantes Rameau, a Yale-trained bassoonist who established the after-school program last February in partnership with Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs – part of Mayor Kasim Reed’s “Culture Club” revitalization efforts.
“We target at-risk, low-income kids in underserved areas,” Rameau says, “with the goal of social change through music. The discipline they learn in an orchestra seeps into their social and academic lives. For example, you won’t sound as good if you slouch, you have to work together and harmonize as a team before you can step up as a soloist – those basic lessons have enduring, long-term applications that can save lives.”
Bach to Basics: The training is rigorously structured. Five days a week, dozens of first- to eighth-graders convene at the historic Gilbert House for a homework period, followed by instruction on classical strings and woodwinds along with musicianship and theory, concluding with choral practice. The program employs eight teachers for cello, viola, violin, flute, trumpet, trombone, clarinet and chorus, with plans to add oboe, bassoon, French horn, tuba and percussion.
“The idea is to build an entire orchestra from the ground up,” Rameau says.
Echoes of Success: The AMP, a nonprofit funded with grants from The Coca-Cola Foundation, AOL and others, is an outgrowth of “El Sistema,” the methodology and umbrella name of the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras in Venezuela, where more than 70 percent of its 400,000 players live below the poverty line. Since its inception in 1975, El Sistema has incubated some of the world’s leading classical musicians, including Alcides Rodriguez, a clarinetist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
“When El Sistema first started, a lot of people didn’t believe in it,” Rodriguez says. “It seemed crazy and impractical to them – an orchestra for that socioeconomic group in the poorest parts of Caracas. But it gave kids opportunities and kept them – kept me – motivated in school. It has proved over time that it works, and I believe it will work in Atlanta.”