Which School for the Arts & Music?

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Seeking excellent music program for 8 year old

Dec 2012

I've been trying to get a good handle on Music Programs in the Bay Area and have not been having much luck. We want to transfer our 8yr old either into a Music School (if there's any that's more general than Crowden)in 2013/2014 or at the very least into a school with decent academics through K-8 that has an excellent Music program. Any advice will be greatly appreciated. Thanks Donna

Black Pine Circle in Berkeley, a K-8 school, has a fantastic music program. They have excellent teachers and put a strong emphasis on music. All the kids learn to play the violin and read music. They have several orchestras in the school (and a funky band in the middle school). If your child loves singing and playing music then BPC would be a great fit. Great school in every other area too!

You didn't say whether your 8-year-old is a boy or girl, but if he's a boy, you should really consider the Pacific Boychoir Academy (off Piedmont Ave in Oakland). It's a world-class music training and performance institution, with music integrated into the day school curriculum. The boys learn music through the most fundamental instrument--the voice--which lays the groundwork for musical achievement on any instrument and in any style. Plus, the academics are stellar--art, sciences, languages (Latin! Who learns Latin anymore?!). Really a gem of a school. Fan of PBA

Hi! For an elementary school with a good music program and solid academic program, you should check out Black Pine Circle in West Berkeley. The music program there was one of the main reasons we chose it for my son, who seemed not only musically inclined but also a quick study in math. Starting in kindergarten, the kids can take string instruments as an option (during the school day) and on top of that everyone has a regular music class 3 times a week. Drama and visual arts are also emphasized, and the arts are considered as vital to a basic education as strong academics. As the kids get older, there are lots of different ways to develop musically, with junior orchestra for 2nd and 3rd graders who have been playing an instrument at school since K or at home with private lessons, and then moving on to advanced orchestra, band, and chorus. At the middle school level they can participate in solo and ensemble concerts. We just had the school winter concert for K-5 today, in fact, and it was so fun to see the kindergarteners handling their instruments and the progress up to the 5th graders playing demanding classical music or rocking out in band. (The band teacher is especially great!) I really like how much a part of everyday school life music is, with a large portion of the school body toting around instruments from the youngest age--it's just the norm. Anyway, check it out. It's an independent school, but tuition is on the reasonable side among East Bay independent schools, under $20K, and financial aid is available. Sarah

I would strongly encourage you to take a look at Beacon Day School . It has very strong music, dance and art programs. The teachers are excellent, and they are extremely supportive and encouraging. Prior to Beacon, my son had little interest in music. Within months, he was not only learning to play various instruments, he was happily giving up some of his free time to participate in an ensemble.

As he has progressed to middle school, he is learning new instruments, more music theory, and being challenged in ways that perfectly complement the excellent academic courses at Beacon. What I also love is that, due to small classes, students who come in already playing an instrument (or already mastering a particular instrument) are challenged in new ways appropriate to their interests and skill-level.

Beacon is a fantastic school, and its music program is one of just MANY reasons it has worked out so well for my son. Check out beaconday.org for more information. Very Happy Beacon Parent

Walden Center and School at McKinley and Dwight in Berkeley has a fantastic music program led by Harry Gray, a very experienced educator and musician with a masters in music education and a PhD in music theory from Northwestern (http://www.walden-school.net/who-are-we/staff/harry-gray/). My child is reading music for vocal and recorder and getting a great grounding in music theory as well as having tons of fun in ensemble work. Kids also get to do musical theater in the Walden drama program led by Russell Wright, who has won the East Bay Express award for Best of the East Bay Arts Educator 3 years in a row. You might check out one of the school's many cultural events to get a sense of the joyous energy in Walden's arts programs--each child is respected as an artist, and grows up with a healthy sense of confidence in his or her ability based on well developed skills. It's wonderful to see a body of students so expressive, fearless, creative and thoughtful in their approach to performance. Walden Parent


Elementary or middle school with a great music program

Dec 2011


The last recommendation for music in schools is from 2008. Does anyone have any more recent experience or advice about an elementary and/or middle school with a great music program? Thanks!

The Crowden Music School in Berkeley is an amazing school in every way. My daughter started in 4th grade as a beginning violinist, and thrives. I have never seen so many happy, bright children in one school community, starting in 4th and going through middle school. This is an exceptional school in so many ways, academically, musically, socially, it is a utopia for us. You must take a tour! Very Happy Parent!

Well, you won't find a better middle school focused on music than The Crowden School ! It is a private school in N. Berkeley serving grades 4-8. My musical son is thriving! The curriculum is stuffed with music (instrument, ensemble, orchestra, chorus, and even music history) and the academics are top notch. Expectations are set high and the kids are all inspired to meet them. It is a unique and wonderful gift you can give your musically-oriented child. Check them out at: www.crowden.org Sharon

Escuela Bilingue Internacional (Pre-K through 5th grade, expanding to 6th grade for next year) has, among other strengths, a terrific music program. My daughter, currently in Pre-K, has thrived with the school's approach to music. She comes home every day belting out new songs. Her music teacher, Jackie Rago, is an accomplished musician who clearly has a talent for working with kids. My daughter is very fond of her and always makes sure to point her out to me at school. The recent Halloween performance was a real treat, consisting entirely of original compositions created in collaboration with the students. The kids threw their heart and soul into the performance, and it was spectacular. Lauren


Music programs in the private schools?

Dec 2008


I have a child who is very musically inclined. Do any of the private schools have good music programs? My son specifically likes drums, guitar and singing. When I was in school all they offered was flute and clarinet and bell chiming. Everyone says they have a music program but I want to hear from some parents about what the schools REALLY offer. Thanks! -Tamara

Have you checked out St. Paul's yet ? The music program there is extensive and is an integral part of the daily school program and school community. The school has seven staff members for the K-8 music program, and each teacher brings a wealth of experience. For instance, the school recently had a music program for grandparents' day, and I was struck by how each teacher offered something unique (e.g., one of the songs that one class sang was from the from the Caribbean where the teacher is from). Several of the teachers have been at the school for a long time (22, 20, and 17 years respectively), and all have so much enthusiasm and joy with the kids. It is very neat to watch these interactions. There is a K-2 choir, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade choir, and 6th grade acapella choir. They perform at grandparents day, the winter holiday program, the spring concert and african american culture night. The 6th grade choir recently performed at the Oakland Coliseum gospel concert. Beginning in third grade, the children also have instrumental music lessons within the school day. They specialize in conga drumming and other percussion instruments. The students learn music theory, basic music terminology, sing scales, etc. The after school instrumental music program includes classes in brass, violin, and woodwinds, as well as band. The whole school also gets together on Fridays for ''chapel'' where they sing together (the songs aren't religious but rather world music from many different cultures). The other thing I've noticed is just how much my child sings and dances at home since he has been at St. Paul's, which says a lot to me about what a key role music plays in the school. Just tonight he was singing a song about world peace as I was putting him to bed (very touching!). St. Paul's Mom

St. Paul's Episcopal School in Oakland has an AMAZING music program. There is a choir for K-2nd grade, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade and the 6th grade has an acapella choir. The choirs perform at grandparents day, holiday programs, the spring concert and at African American cultural night. The 6th grade choir performed at the Oakland Colisseum gospel concert. In the third grade they start an instrumental music program within the school day. They specialze in conga drumming and other percussion instruments. Students learn music theory, basic music terminology, singing scales, etc. What's really great is you can sign your child up for personal music lessons that take place after school on campus. They have guitar, piano and other string instrument instruction.

My son (in K) is a very shy boy and to see him walk onto the stage and sing in front of the school right there front row center brought a tear to my eye. He's gaining so much confidence. This is something I never thought he'd be able to do. He's already reminded me several times that he has to dress ''handsome'' for the holiday concert because ''This is a really big deal!'' Jessica

I'm not sure if you are acquainted with The Crowden School in Berkeley. We offer a truly unique program that combines the study of chamber music with a full academic curriculum. All students choose a string instrument, and we also offer a small piano program. Music classes include instrument technique, theory, composition, ensembles, orchestra, and chorus.

Crowden's academic program focuses on using critical thinking skills and project-based learning. In addition to the core subjects (English, math, history, and science), we offer French, music history, P.E. and art. The discipline and focus required for the music program is reflected in the approach to academic subjects.

Crowden graduates are well-prepared and well-rounded, and are accepted into their choice of high schools around the Bay Area. Beginning string students are accepted in 4th and 5th grade. Our next open house is on Wednesday, January 14th, 6:30-7:30 pm. We offer tours of the music program every Thursday morning. For more information about The Crowden School, please call 510- 559-6910 ext. 122 or visit our website at www.crowden.org. Heidi Mattson-Admissions Coordinator-The Crowden School


Strong music program for entering kindergartener

Nov 2006

My son will start kindergarten next year and is already showing signs of being gifted musically. I would like to find a school for him that has a strong music program (preferably in percussion and/or band) where he can flourish. So far we are torn between some small private schools where music is integrated throughout the curriculum but there may not be the opportunity to really be challenged or participate in band, and public schools where music is not so central but all kids learn recorder and choose an instrument in 3rd grade. I'm also looking for something that teaches music from a multicultural perspective. I'd appreciate any advice from parents of other musical kids.
music mama



Alternative/arts based public school?

Nov 2006

I'm just beginning the search for a public school kindergarten for my son for next fall. Maybe contrary to many parents I'm not looking for a school with good test grades, fancy facilities, etc etc, but am wondering if there are still schools that exist that have a play based kindergarten that is not pushing the academics? That has music and the arts as a central part of the curriculum throughout the grades rather than as ''extra curricular activity''? Is Berkeley arts Magnet really still alternative and arts based? My son is extremely creative and musical and the thought of him being stuck at a desk next year learning phonics is enough to make me want to homeschool him. Any recommendations appreciated!
searching mom


  • Crowden School
  • Malcolm X Elementary School (2 reviews)
  • Walden School

    Seeking arts-based elementary school for entering kindergarten

    July 2005

    We have an extremely bright, verbal, active 4.5 year old who will be five this November. All she wants to do is sing, dance and play imaginary dramatic games. She also loves to be read to and loves to talk to adults. We have decided to wait until she will be turning six to start kindergarten. She has done well in a play based part-time pre-school for this past year and will continue there this coming fall. Does anyone know of a good elementary school for this type of child? We cannot see her doing well in a traditional classroom. Any current info on the Walden Center School? Please help. need a heavy on the arts school

  • Walden School (two reviews)

    Other advice:
    My husband and I have a similar situation to yours; our children sound like they are on the same trajectory. Over the past 5 months we toured (in person!) 10 schools in the East Bay (right now we live on the peninsula). Some were schools we knew were not right for us but we wanted to hear all the offerings and truly get a feel for what was out there. I am also a fine artist so I really scrutinized the art programs of the above schools as that is a part of the curriculum that is extremely important to me and one which I feel (based on my child's interests right now) would really serve her well. The school that most impressed us as a good fit for a bright verbal child with creative proclivities was by far Prospect Sierra (in El Cerrito) followed closely by Park Day (in Oakland).