Music is the heart and soul of The Crowden School in Berkeley

The Crowden School’s innovative curriculum is molded around the intellectual, emotional and social benefits that playing chamber music brings to children. (Sponsored.)

Crowden school students playing music
Photo: The Crowden School

This story is brought to you by The Crowden School.

In a time when connections and relationships for developing children are more important than ever, students at Berkeley’s Crowden School are continuing to do what they love most — playing music in person together.

The Crowden School for grades 3-8 is meeting on campus two days a week, with academic classes online Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Chamber music for strings and piano is the heart and soul of The Crowden School, which was founded in 1983 and is acknowledged as the first and still only day school of its kind in the country. In chamber music, you play together in a small ensemble, learning teamwork, personal responsibility, and empathy in the process. The school’s innovative curriculum is molded around the intellectual, emotional, and social benefits that playing chamber music brings to children. As restrictions continue throughout the Bay Area, being able to meet in person and play music together all semester has provided a lifeline to Crowden School students and their families.

Kids playing music
Photo: The Crowden School

“After nearly 40 years of educating Bay Area youth, we’ve seen how playing music together creates unusually deep and lasting bonds in our students and alumni,” explains Principal Brad Johnson. “With all the challenges and restrictions of the pandemic, we’re seeing exactly how significant a role music can play—in keeping our kids engaged with learning, supporting one another, and finding joy together despite such challenging times.”

“The science on why and how playing a musical instrument benefits learning across all subjects keeps growing, from strengthening reading and mathematics skills to increasing physical coordination,” adds the school’s Music Director, Eugene Sor. “But these pandemic circumstances are revealing exactly how important the emotional and social benefits of playing music together can be for these young people.”

Eighth grader Jesse Distiller agrees. “It’s been really amazing being back on campus this semester. I had been struggling a lot over the summer with not being able to see anyone in person, and, thinking about all the music and concerts we had missed, I had got a little bit depressed. Even just going back two mornings a week has made such a big difference to me.”

The Crowden School has been meeting two days a week on campus all semester under the state’s youth enrichment guidelines, and after a massive effort by its faculty and staff to create extensive health and safety protocols. All students and faculty who come to campus are tested for COVID-19 weekly, with free onsite testing provided to students and their families. Everyone is masked, practices social distancing, and submits a daily health screening before coming on campus, among many other precautions. Students are separated into cohorts with staggered arrival and departure times, and Crowden’s building, a Berkeley historical landmark, provides plenty of outdoor space, outdoor hallways, and multiple entrances to make social distancing easier.


Above: Crowden School students often start their journey as beginners on a string instrument. Hear how much they accomplish by eighth grade.


While on campus, students rehearse in their music ensembles, and also enjoy P.E., Art, and Music History enrichment. Every other day, they participate in their academic classes online, including robust Math and Science programs, History, English, and Music Theory. School concerts have shifted online, with the community rallying together for concert “watch parties” in support of the students.

“Although the coronavirus has brought challenges we never expected, it is deeply rewarding to see our school’s educational philosophy — and the impact we have on our students using music as a tool to foster a lifelong love of learning — so firmly reinforced,” concludes Principal Johnson.

The Crowden School is now accepting applications for the 2021-22 school year. Students play either a string instrument (violin, viola, cello, double bass) or piano. Beginners are accepted as string students into third, fourth, and fifth grades. Financial aid is available, with 51% of current students receiving need-based aid. Musical children are strongly encouraged to apply regardless of financial ability. For more information, please join an upcoming virtual admissions info session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 6:30pm.

This story was written and paid for by The Crowden School, a third through eighth grade day school that provides a transformative academic education with chamber music at the core. To learn how your child can thrive with a Crowden School education, visit crowden.org/dayschool. Crowden’s Admissions Manager, Anette Skloot, invites you to join a virtual admissions info session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 6:30 p.m. Please RSVP to receive the Zoom meeting link.