Music education requires kids to invest in themselves, inspires community to invest in them

Dantes Rameau is the co-founder and executive director of the Atlanta Music Project, and Aisha Bowden is the co-founder and director of AMPlify, the choral program of the Atlanta Music Project.

In this essay, the pair decry the elimination of orchestra and band in some Atlanta elementary schools. As the AJC’s education writer Molly Bloom reported last month:

The Atlanta school district has eliminated dozens of music teacher positions for the coming school year. That means many students will see cuts and changes in elementary school bands and orchestras when they head back to school.

Atlanta had been one of a relatively small number of districts offering elementary band and orchestra, Georgia Music Educators Association Executive Director Cecil Wilder said. Fulton County cut elementary band and orchestra in 2010, despite protests from parents and students.

The Atlanta school board voted in May to eliminate approximately 25 band and orchestra teaching positions, most of them at the elementary level. District officials later revised that number: District spokesman James Malone told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about 18 positions would be cut.

All elementary schools will continue to have weekly general music instruction, which includes chorus and a general introduction to musical instruments, Malone said. But twice-weekly band and orchestra classes will no longer be a given. Some schools may cut band and orchestra entirely. Others may offer privately funded before- or after-school instruction or ask their general music teachers to offer additional instruction.

Atlanta expects to hire about the same number of teachers this year as last — about 3,150. But this year principals were told they could choose how to “spend” part of their teacher allotment. That’s different from past years.

“In communities where there is a robust interest in band, it is unlikely that the principal chose to eliminate band altogether, ” said Associate Superintendent David White. In others, schools may have eliminated band or orchestra “because of a lack of interest or involvement.”

With that background, here is the essay:

By Dantes Rameau and Aisha Bowden

Recently the Atlanta Public Schools decided to allow their elementary schools to cut band and orchestra programs, further reducing the number of students who have the option to receive instrumental music instruction.

Yet, elementary school is the perfect age to engage kids in instrumental music instruction because that’s when they have more time and are more open to trying new things.

 The Atlanta Music Project brings music education to children in underserved neighborhoods. (AJC/  Bita Honarvar)

The Atlanta Music Project brings music education to children in under-served neighborhoods. (AJC/
Bita Honarvar)

Perhaps more importantly, music can lay the groundwork for pathways to success. Music education requires kids to invest in themselves, and that inspires others to invest in them.

We know this because as co­-founders of the Atlanta Music Project we have seen our students’ musical development open many doors for them that will be life changing.

The Atlanta Music Project was founded five years ago to provide intense music education to under-served youth right in their neighborhood. Our program builds after-school youth orchestras and choirs in communities where intensive music instruction is not typically available.

Thanks to their own hard work and determination, our students have been able to experience several amazing accomplishments. Among them: performances at the Woodruff Arts Center and the Atlanta Film Festival, joint concerts with the Morehouse College Glee Club and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestras of Atlanta, and filming a commercial for broadcast on ESPN during the Chick-­fil­-A Kickoff Game. Most music teachers can rattle off similar performance experiences of their own students.

These musical opportunities are crucial, not only because they allow children to shine, but also because they inspire the community to action. For example, taking notice of our students’ dedication and many accomplishments, an anonymous donor recently approached us to establish the Atlanta Music Project Endowed Scholarships at Clayton State University. Through this fund any Atlanta Music Project student can now attend Clayton State as a music major or minor, with all their expenses covered.

While the Atlanta Music Project serves a couple hundred students, we will never be able to reach as many children as APS can through taxpayer-funded public education. Our experience in the field of music education tells us the Atlanta community wants to help children develop into great citizens. And it helps when the community sees children doing great things to improve their own lives.

Let’s remember that when we eliminate instrumental music education we reduce the chances for kids to show their best selves and inspire those around them to action.

Reader Comments 0

14 comments
FritzA
FritzA

Music teachers in Fulton County have told me that the former Coordinator of Arts for Fulton, Jes Booth,  was involved in this debacle.  She helped to close down elementary instrumental music in Fulton and then moved on to work in Atlanta.  Not coincidentally, she left to work for the State Department of Education the same day that this was announced.  That's quite a track record that she's got going for herself?  

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

I took years of algebra that I forgot and do not use. Wish i had learned to play an instrument instead. I use spreadsheets many hours per week and mostly basic math for formulas (easy to look up new formulas needed). In our quest for the college prep diploma, we seem to have decided not to make sure that all students are proficient in the applied use of math (or language) as is needed to enrich their personal lives before pushing them on to college prep algebra, etc. May be better for students to MASTER the basics of academic subjects that will enhance their lives and leave time and money to support music, drama, art, auto repair, robotics, architecture, etc.. that interests students and makes them well rounded citizens. Interested students can move as far past the basics as they choose. If all we are is a prep factory for colleges, but most people don't finish college, maybe there is something wrong with our plan.

Elizabeth Talaska
Elizabeth Talaska

I would urge everyone to attend an AMP or AMPlify performance. The love the teaching artists have for their students is palpable and the kids light up under their direction. Schools aren't in the business of stamping the light and joy out of our children, and moves like this make me hope that each school that chooses to cut or reduce music is finding two or three other ways to imbue their students with a love and excitement for learning adventures.  

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I believe that all of the arts matter in public schools.  Imagination is enhanced.  Confidence is built.  With Atlanta's being such a strong film place in which to do business currently, the performing arts should be appreciated not only for their jobs' value but also for their value in deepening human understanding.  They should be funded in public schools in Georgia.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

The data is out there - music education matters!   So proud of the work that Dantes and Aisha are doing, and the results they're getting.   When will Atlanta support this program sufficiently so that it can truly scale?   It should be reaching many, many more students.  If the public schools won't make the investment in music education, then partner with organizations like AMP and let them manage it for you.  Bottom line is that our public schools need to stop this "addition by subtraction" approach to financial management.   Teach to the whole child.   Implement social and emotional learning into the curriculum. Offer all students a quality education and make sure that even those that are at-risk get the same access to a quality education as those who are  financially well off.    But don't eliminate music from elementary schools.

MoFaux
MoFaux

Music education is just as important for non-hearing-impaired (deaf) students as learning advanced math imo.  This is coming from a ramblin' wreck engineer.  It should be a requirement for graduation to learn proficiency in at least 1 instrument (or your voice).  I would love to see a candidate for office run on this instead of religious liberty or converting to the metric system.

Steve Wadley
Steve Wadley

The Atlanta Music Project is mostly privately funded. They deliver music education and instruction to the kids that need it the most at no cost to the family. Now more than ever it is time for the citizens of the Atlanta area to stand up and support this fine organization.

thenoticer
thenoticer

I know this allows for school choice of how to spend funds, but how embarrassing to look like you don't think music education is important. This is a major metropolitan school district, not some poor rural county on a shoestring budget. You CAN afford to give those children a well-rounded education. Everyone who has anything to do with the budget should be fired for poor management if this is how they allocate funds. Does Meria have kids? How would she feel if arts education of her own children were in the hands of some short-sighted administrator focused on raising test scores a few lousy points? Dumb ideas like this are what are creating the drive for charter schools, which are a short-term fix for a few kids. Meria, provide every child a good education starting NOW, or step aside.

Astropig
Astropig

Shameful- And indicative. Fewer contributors to making a well rounded student so that we can have more paper pushing educrat kings/queens.Should tell you where APS' priorities really lie.


Great job superintendent Carstarphen. You're earning every dollar!

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Astropig Would be great to see the exact amount and percent of the budget spent for classroom instruction without the indecipherable add ins some budgets use. We could then see all other as support for instruction and determine the need.

Astropig
Astropig

@AvgGeorgian @Astropig


This was an opportunity for her to show strong leadership.She could have made a statement that would have inspired her entire organization and set an example that would earned her some badly needed political capital.


Band and orchestra is of inestimable value in promoting excellence,teamwork and self sacrifice.It's a way for even the most economically challenged student to gain self confidence and a sense of accomplishment through their own efforts.I refuse to believe that in an organization as large as APS,that there is not administrative deadwood that can be eliminated to prioritize the relatively small cost of restoring these music professionals.


I saw where APS will spend $60 million more this year in their FY 2015 budget than last year. This is a major leadership fail.

flaneur_
flaneur_

Have SAT scores dropped noticeably in Georgia schools reducing their music offerings? Have community crime rates noticeably risen?



AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@flaneur_ Is that the only 2 goals for education? Do well on your SAT and stay out of jail?