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.

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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.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.