Among AMP’s long-time supporters, the Chestnut Family Foundation was created by Ben and Teresa Chestnut of Atlanta. Ben Chestnut is the co-founder and CEO of the global software company MailChimp.
Atlanta Music Project co-founder and CEO Dantes Rameau said the gifts came with few stipulations.
The anonymous gift “came out of the blue,” he said, from “a donor that has supported music education for a long time.” It is the largest gift in the AMP’s 13-year history.
Together the grants will have a dramatic effect on the organization said Rameau, providing a $500,000 endowment for the purchase and maintenance of new instruments, as well as funds for the immediate purchase of a suite of new pianos.
They will also create a second $2 million endowment to support tours abroad and allow AMP musicians to participate in international music competitions.
“Because of this funding our senior youth orchestra and our senior youth choir will both be able travel this year to perform,” said Rameau. “I’m really proud of that.”
Established in 2010 with co-founder Aisha Moody, AMP was modeled after Venezuela’s La Sistema, a music education program that has been adopted in communities around the world.
The project began by providing after school care, academic tutoring and music lessons to 24 children from among Atlanta’s poorest neighborhoods. In 2010 Rameau told an AJC reporter, “If we can get an at-risk kid in first grade, from a neighborhood with high dropout and teen pregnancy rates, and hang onto him through high school, we’ll have 100 percent graduation rates and a person ready to join society meaningfully.”
The program now serves 700 students a year, from kindergarten (and a few pre-K students) through the end of high school. Some college students maintain a connection with the program by returning to help teach younger children, or to fill an empty chair in the orchestra.
AMP students perform in two youth orchestras and two youth choirs. Younger students in grades 1 through 6 study in preparatory choirs, string orchestras and concert bands.
The group’s musicians have performed with Atlanta hip-hop star T.I. in one of NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts, and with Christian rapper Lecrae. In 2019 the organization opened its new 7,500-square-foot headquarters and performance space in a former grocery store in the Capitol View neighborhood.
In 2021 the project was one of two Atlanta groups that received part of philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s $2.7 billion gift to 286 different organizations.
An immediate result of the $4.6 million gifts will be an improvement in the sound of the AMP orchestras, said Rameau.
Many instruments played by AMP students have been donated, or are school instruments. The resulting sound of this mixture of old and new string and wind instruments is what Rameau calls a “hodgepodge.”
He said “this funding will allow us to purchase high quality student-level instruments for junior and senior youth orchestra.” A consistent quality of instrument will “lend a more unified sound, especially from the strings,” he said. A better instrument also provides confidence for the student player.
Finally, the new gifts will pay for a new suite of pianos to replace those that have been loaned to the organization and two older pianos that were donated. This means a purchase of a new Steinway seven-foot grand, two Boston baby grands and two Boston vertical pianos. (Boston pianos are designed by Steinway.)
Rameau said that the point of AMP is not to develop the next first violinist for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, but to help children acquire skill, confidence and expertise that will serve them in all areas of life.
Learning classical music is tough. A child with the discipline and motivation to master a Bach prelude will acquire habits that can help them in their careers, and with the usual challenges of growing up.