The Crowden School

Community Subscriber

Private School
85 students
Email: admissions [at] crowden.orgPhone: (510) 559-6910
1475 Rose Street Berkeley, CA 94702-1255
Editors' Notes: 


The Crowden School is unlike any other school in the country, a 3rd–8th grade day school with chamber music at its heart.

Since 1983, our ensemble-based curriculum has instilled in our students the creative, collaborative, and critical-thinking skills to succeed in life. The study of music alongside a challenging academic curriculum offers our students a unique educational experience with transformative results. In our small classes, you will find students who are actively engaged with learning, whether they are making music or discussing books, solving equations, or playing soccer.

The cooperative and emphatic communication skills our students learn while playing music together, and the fun they have in doing it, carries over to all aspects of their lives. Crowden School students are lively, curious, and confident learners. Our alumni are well-rounded leaders, ready to meet the artistic and intellectual challenges of the high school years and beyond—whether they go on to careers in microbiology or music.

For children who love music, Crowden offers a supportive home and community for engaged learning and growth. At The Crowden School, music changes everything.

Parent Q&A

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  • Crowden music school?

    (8 replies)

    Hello neighbors,

    I understand Crowden had major issues a few years ago with the firing of the principal, prompting teachers/students leaving etc. I also understand that there has been attempts to rebuild of the school since. My child is interested in music and we thought of Crowden but I have concerns given the current state (very small enrollment) of the school and particularly the academics aspect and new faculty.  If there are current parents or recent parents who has/had any experience, could you share, either on this forum or privately?

    Thanks very much.

    My son is going to Crowden for 6th grade. He absolutely loves it. The academics are strong and the small class size is excellent. The students are kind and bright. The teachers are all caring and personable. We don't know exactly how the school was before but he did attend camps there. It seems like a bit smaller population. It is a wonderful school.

    Hi, I'm the parent of a 5th grader who has been going there since 3rd grade.  They love Crowden, and so do we.  Great community and great teachers.  I encourage you to check it out!



    I have two very happy kids at Crowden. One in 7th grade and one in 5th. Both have been there for three years now and have received an excellent education.

    It is true that the outgoing executive director made a number of regrettable decisions in 2021. Several families left because of her. We and other parents decided to stay and get more involved. Changes have been made and the new leadership team is wonderful. The musical directory is a force of nature and adored by our children. The academic director is caring, competent and extremely hard working.

    My family is very glad that we are part of the Crowden school. It is a magical place full of learning and music!

    My daughter started at Crowden this year in 7th grade. She has had very little previous experience with violin (only a few months of community lessons) and she was a bit behind academically.  In two months since she started, she has been making more progress in math and reading than she made in an entire year of 6th grade. She caught up to her grade level and is exceeding it in both math and science.  The small class size allows teachers to pay individual attention to all kids. As for the music part, because she is a beginner, she practices with kids of the same level. It doesn't bother her a bit and the entire music faculty is very supportive. 

    We had the same concerns when we started, but honestly, I think the school learned its lesson and took measures to be much more inclusive and oriented towards students' socioemotional learning.  My kid was very stressed at her previous school, but now she is really thriving. What I love the most about Crowden is that their students appreciate knowledge for its intrinsic value and not because they need to get a grade.  

    I would highly recommend Crowden. Yes, the school has been through a rough patch, but personnel changes in the schools administration, together with a real desire to correct past missteps and concerted effort to make real change, is resulting in a renewed (and renovated) version of Anne Crowden's commitments to kids learning and playing together. The problems that occurred last year sprung from disharmony between the certain members of staff/faculty and the executive branch rather than the day-to-day of school life. The specific events that triggered the crisis were very much confined to one year of the school. Our child is in the lower school and so was pretty isolated from the fallout. Things seem to have settled down. So, what is there to recommend? The school prides itself, and the evidence bears this out, on providing excellent academics, buttressed by a really thorough-going music performance education. Ensemble playing and ensemble classroom learning are core aspects of its distinct offering. Kids have technique and ensemble classes every day, and are really challenged by the anticipation of several concerts throughout the year. The academic teaching is generally excellent, particularly in the lower grades. By the way, only 4% of students who pass through Crowden end up becoming professional musicians (alumni go on to study a range of subjects at college), but saying that, you'll be really quite amazed at the standard of the musicians that graduate from Crowden. There's quite a bit of homework and practice, so you'd need to be prepared for that. Let me know if you'd like a chat about it all. 

    Crowden is doing well. My son is there now and new students are enrolling in several different grades throughout the year. The parents are involved, the faculty is passionate, and the kids are engaged in school. Even in the smallest classes, the students have a great experience because they work with students across several grades.

    As for academics, I feel like Crowden has offered the best education of any school my son has attended. The smaller class sizes have meant that the teachers have been able to focus on each students' interests and capabilities. 

    Our family has enjoyed more than a decade (cumulative) of schooling at Crowden. The music opportunities woven into the school day are second to none. Our eldest child graduated 8th grade essentially a whole year ahead of their BUSD peers in both Math and Sciences and the grounding in “meta cognition” at the 3rd & 4th grade is a fabulous foundation for learning with agency.

    Starting each day with 2 hours of world class music instruction & chamber ensemble is such a lifelong gift. The class sizes are small and while we’d wish for a more extensive social cohort, the staff’s attention & connection to each child at the school is outstanding. School counselor is also an asset for families to stay connected with their child’s social / emotional development.

    We love the school and our children do, too.

    We enrolled our daughter in 3rd grade at Crowden last January. What a special place! We didn’t know the old Crowden, but what we’ve seen is a school committed to self-reflection and continuous improvement, using the “crisis” as an opportunity to make the school better, more inclusive, more open, more responsive, more communicative, etc. 

    Our daughter has been absolutely thriving at Crowden. She is so happy… all the kids seem happy. She’s learning so much, not only musically and academically but also socially and emotionally. She’s always singing or humming. Crowden is a special place and unique in the country. If your child loves music and can handle some academic rigor, and you have the opportunity to send them to Crowden, I don’t think you’d regret it. We were uncertain at first, but after 3 days of her being there, it was so obviously the right decision, we’ve never looked back. 

  • Updated feedback on Crowden?

    (1 reply)


    I'm looking for updated perspectives about Crowden for our music loving family. What do you/your child love? What could be better? How competitive is it once you're in? Do kids hang out/develop friendships with classmates outside of school? Do kids feel like they can make friends easily? How well does staff deal with social emotional issues? Are different genres of music other than classical music appreciated and taught? Thank you for your time!

    Crowden is a wonderful place for the kids. My son really enjoyed his time there from 6th grade to 9th grade. It is hard to find a middle school that kids would miss and want to go back and visit--Crowden is the exception. My son is still in touch with many kids from Crowden, even though he is a rising junior in high school now. Every kid is different, therefore there is no guarantee that Crowden would be a good fit for your child, nevertheless, we found the teachers to be very supportive and classmates to be caring. And we continue to join Crowden's community music programs every year. Yes, it is an academically rigorous program, on top of daily classical music training, so the workload could be heavy if your child is ambitious.

    8/28/2021 update:

    The Crowden School has recently fired its beloved principal who has been teaching there for 25 years. The whole school is falling apart with teachers quitting left and right. Thus I rescind my recommendation and will not be recommending Crowden School to anyone anymore. 

Parent Reviews

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If your son is has any interest at all in music (piano/bass/cello/viola/violin) than The Crowden School in Berkeley is a wonderful small school with kind supportive kids and excellent teachers. My son's sixth grade class has only 6 students in it. Other grades are larger but I don't think any currently exceed 12 students..

Our child is in their fourth year at The Crowden School, and it has been a great fit for our family. Crowden plays such an important role in our child’s life that it’s difficult to summarize for people who might not be familiar with the school. But here are the main things that we love about TCS:

1) The music. Students at all levels of experience — even beginners — work with highly skilled professional musicians who are passionate about music and music education. The first two hours of each day are devoted to music: a rotating schedule of technique, orchestra, ensemble, and musicianship classes. The students perform regularly in groups (chamber orchestras and ensembles), and the whole school community cheers on their efforts. The love for music is pervasive, and creating music in small ensembles makes it more cooperative and less competitive.

2) The teachers. The music, academic, and enrichment teachers whom we have encountered have been almost uniformly excellent: engaging, enthusiastic, caring, and knowledgeable. The small class size provides lots of time for individual attention, and no one gets left behind. We’re amazed by the thought and care that goes into planning each class — even the PE and art classes follow detailed syllabi. The academics are challenging but not overwhelming, and we’re confident that our child will be well prepared for high school.

3) The students. Even before the pandemic, the number of students in each class was not larger than 15. The students all know everyone at the school, and no one gets lost in the crowd. It often feels more like a very large family than a school. With few exceptions, the kids we’ve encountered at TCS have been kind, enthusiastic, and supportive. They all seem to love reading, too, and it's a joy to see the students recommend and share favorite books just for fun.

Our child enjoys going to school, delights in their classmates, loves playing and listening to challenging music, and is excited about their academic classes. We had high hopes for TCS, and the school has exceeded our expectations. We’re certain that it has been the best possible middle school experience for our child, and we recommend it without hesitation.

We have a fourth grader at the Crowden school. They love it!  They have made friends across all grade levels, and are constantly engaged and excited to go to school. As parents, we're very happy with the academic program; there are knowledgeable and caring teachers, small class size, and fascinating and socially aware curricula   As far as the music, our child started cello with no experience in the third grade and 18 months later is practicing the first movement of a concerto- it's amazing what two hours of music a day, five days a week can do. 

Crowden gives parents the opportunity to give a life-long gift to their child. What other middle school anywhere gives the child a gift that will enrich the rest of their lives? Crowden kids hear complexity and emotional depth in the greatest Western music that others without training cannot. They understand the subtle history of styles, and they'll have the option to join an ensemble for the sheer joy of it later in life. To be sure, a few Crowden graduates go on to become some of the most distinguished string players of their generation, but for most kids, including ours, Crowden is not a pathway to a professional music career. It's about music entering into the core of who you are. It means singing together, playing together, being awed together by outstanding visiting performers. The Berkeley City Council was right to honor the Crowden Music School. It is a national treasure, a testament to the commitment of our wonderful community to the arts, and the most challenging, age-appropriate activity for 9-14 year olds. Our recent graduate had not played the violin when she joined. But the  joy of her instrument will be with her now for the rest of her life even if it comes from simulating a virtuoso in a concert hall. 

I really encourage parents to consider giving their kids the gift of music. 

Just the shortest note on the academics. Almost every kid in our daughter's class got into their first choice for private school, but many also went to our great local public schools. The kids are prepared by the academic curriculum, and know from playing difficult pieces that something that seemed impossible at first can be accomplished by working diligently on smaller parts of it. It's a life-long lesson. 

9/4/21 Update:

It is painful for me to explain, and I do not want to do any harm to a school that I once loved. But like yishanchen, I too must retract the fulsome praise in my recommendation of the school.

9/4/22 Update:

I am happy to update my posting on 9/4/21 and restate my enthusiastic recommendation for the Crowden Music School and Crowden Music Center with the change of leadership. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

April 2015

We are considering The Crowden School for our child (as a fulltime school) and wondered if any current parents could give us a reality check. I wondered about it being so small socially for the kids. Is this is an issue? I noticed in the 8th grade class that there were only 8 kids (at least the day we toured). That seemed very small. Also we were wondering if the children are well behaved and respectful of teachers. Since so much that the school is offering is great, we would love to hear from parents about these questions.

 I was a Crowden parent for several years, several years ago. From what I saw, the students generally behaved very respectfully toward the teachers, with the exception of a few notable incidents involving problem kids and occasional weak teachers. Socially, I have to say the small size was indeed a challenge. In every class there seemed to be students who had ready-made social groups because they had old friends or siblings attending the school, which made it hard, even in the first year, for ''outsiders'' to make friends with them. Many of the parents were busy professionals who seemed to have little interest in making new friends, and it felt like they conveyed that attitude to their children. A lot of students may have had their main social groups elsewhere, for example in special interest clubs or church groups - which was great for those whose families could provide it. Others were loners who seemed to do without a lot of friends, whether because of their personalities or lack of opportunity, it's hard to tell. You should be OK with, and prepared to help your child navigate, any of these options. But the students were usually civil with one another and there was a good feeling of teamwork in the classrooms and in the performances. The school as a whole, while talking about cooperation and ensemble work, definitely cultivated a competitive environment through honoring the better musicians with more and better opportunities to perform. You need to consider carefully whether that atmosphere would work for your child. While many students, like most typical middle school kids, were often moody, the music and performances seemed to provide them with moments of great joy and energy, and they generally kept out of trouble and increased greatly in poise and self-confidence. Good luck finding what you need. --Big advocate for music education

My daughter started at Crowden for 5th grade. Yes, it's a very small school and I was a little concerned about that for social reasons as well. It has been wonderful being part of a small community. The students and teachers really get to know each other. The environment has been very inclusive, welcoming, and positive for my daughter. The Back to School barbecue gave everyone a chance to meet before school started and all the concerts throughout the school year has given us plenty of time to socialize with all the families as well. At the barbecue, several students from various grade levels recognized her as someone new and immediately came over to introduce themselves. My daughter can get pretty shy, but she felt welcomed and quickly made some new friends. Many of the kids get along really well with each other. We've volunteered at various events, including field trips, and I found the kids to be very respectful of each other and the adults. I must admit that wasn't the case at the Catholic school she previously attended. Crowden has many great things to offer. I'm confident you and your child will love the school as well. Happy Crowden Parent

Dear potential Crowden parent - When choosing a school there are many factors to consider, and my husband and I both felt that no matter which school one chooses, a family will always have to supplement the education at school with some outside activities.

We have found that the close friendships our kids had at their previous school have remained, there are friends and socializing through soccer and dance – and new, very strong friendships have been forged at Crowden. Just last week my almost 14yr old said ''we are all good friends in my class.'' Furthermore, there is a wonderful fluidity of friendships across grades such as I have not seen anywhere else.

The school is certainly small, but the opportunity of having such an extraordinary school right here in our town outweighs the disadvantages in my opinion. For 9-14 year olds the musical experiences coupled with academic teachers that challenge and respect individual learning styles is worth everything. Yes, now about to enter high school, my son is thrilled at the prospect of a large school. But he has been treated and nurtured as an individual up till now, so I think he'll have the self-respect and self-confidence to excel.

Overall I have not seen issues with respect the other way - students for their teachers. As musicians, they have heard us perform and know that we are all extremely professional and engaged in our work; the academic teachers command respect, and in cases where behavior is inappropriate, we have an awesome school counselor who understands how to relate with kids and develop their social skills.

The expectations are high at Crowden, but I think the rewards are unsurpassable. If a child loves music - whether with an eye to it as a profession, or as a skill that is worth honing- Crowden can be a life-changing place. Parent of 2 at Crowden

We have been at Crowden for 8 years. One child is a graduate, and the other is about to graduate. Crowden has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for our family, an incredible gift for my kids. The comprehensive music training and emphasis on collaboration provide a positive framework for middle school, which helps instill confidence in kids. The study of chamber music just does something to their young brains. Yes, the classes are small (typically 8 to 15 per grade), but that is part of what makes Crowden unique. Kids from different grade levels have many opportunities to mix together. Ensembles, chorus, and music theory sections are made up of mixed grade levels. Crowden is a close knit community, and older kids look out for younger kids. The best part about the small class size is that teachers can truly know and understand your child. This has been a godsend for my son. Re: respect for teachers... Children who attend Crowden want to be there, and so I have not seen this as a big problem. Crowden is not for everyone, but if you have a musically minded child, who you think would thrive in such an environment, then give Crowden a try. Both the music and the academic teachers are passionate about what they do, and this passion is contagious. The bar is set very high in all areas, and the kids rise up and succeed on so many levels. Alums often return to visit. I don't know of any other middle school whose graduates want to go back. Happy Crowden Mom

Nov 2014

Re: Quiet girl - public v. private middle school?

Your post reminded me of my girl a few years ago. She did well enough in school that no one paid too much attention when she started to not only disengage, but feel like it wasn't worth it to make the effort. Her teachers never quite knew why she played by herself most days. Nothing terrible happened, but nothing great did either. We saw her self-confidence plummet.

That all changed once she started at The Crowden School in Berkeley. The program integrates a chamber music curriculum with a full academic program. The students must work cooperatively and are actively engaged in the creative process and problem-solving whether rehearsing an ensemble piece, running a food drive, going over math homework, or designing background scenery for a performance. The academic program makes my daughter want to know and do more, and music has opened up an entire new world for her.

She entered the 5th grade with only a half year of lessons under her belt. The progress she has made with two hours of daily music instruction has been beyond anything I imagined for her. But the true difference is in her confidence. She takes leadership roles, speaks her mind, and feels safe to be herself. I consider her to be a fairly typical kid entering into the middle school years with all usual complaints about homework and a healthy dose of girl drama. But no matter what challenges she faces, she feels like the school has her back. She knows that teachers see her and she loves her classmates on good days and bad. I highly recommend taking a tour of the school to see both the music and academic classes. Since you mentioned it, they do have a financial aid process and if this is the right place for your daughter, you should go for it. Quiet Mouse Singing Now

Nov 2013

After a few months, the school seems to us a very special place. The families are outstanding. The musical instruction is probably the second best in the country, next to Julliard. And the school culture is not cut-throat as it must be at Julliard. Our daughter came in not knowing how to play her string instrument and is already performing difficult pieces. The school can take a novice and raise the skill level to the sky. The music faculty has to be the most overqualified faculty in the country for this level of instruction. Our daughter also loves the instruction in musical history, which includes the history of instruments. The academic curriculum is challenging. She has been so excited that algebra has already been introduced at the beginning of fourth grade. From the fifth grade on, there is a special math teacher who supplements the curriculum. The class size is small--10-12 students. The fourth grade teacher is rigorous and organized, and is a Bard graduate. All homework is graded, and grades and comments on assignments are posted at least weekly on a private website. The kids are uniformly smart and polite. They seem to be very happy. The principal has a Ph.D. in English Literature from Cal, and revels in teaching Shakespeare to the upper-school students. Anonymous

Jan 2013

Re: Which private elementary for highly gifted child?
You might consider touring Crowden (4th-8th grades) in your search for a private elementary school to serve the needs of your gifted child. Because the school and classes are so small, teachers can (and do) differentiate learning and class curriculum for each student. Teachers in both the music and academic faculties are highly trained, thoughtful, funny, kind, curious people who encourage intellectual experimentation and risk-taking among their students. They mix with the children at lunch and recesses, playing chess, soccer, or just hanging around interacting with them. The teacher-student ratios are extraordinarily low, which as you know is very important in schooling a gifted child. Many parents have remarked that Crowden comes as close to offering all the benefits of homeschooling one could hope for in a school environment. We've had teachers write different tests to meet the needs of each student in a class or use a different teaching materials for subsets of students performing at different levels.

There is a natural affinity between music and math and many of the school's students are strong mathematicians and perform in very the highest percentiles on standardized tests (in math, and other subject areas too). Music instruction isn't tied to grade level and students can (and are encouraged) to rise to their level of ability and capability. Some of the world's finest musicians pass through the school and work with groups in master classes and other forums. Students have musical (and other) skills that they can use to make and create, and they use these skills to put together extracurricular musical ensembles, compose, or undertake other independent, creative projects, which can be very satisfying, especially for a gifted kid looking to channel ideas and energy. Crowden is a very happy, special place that serves the needs of a variety of children, particularly the gifted set, extremely well. Enthusiastic Crowden Parent

Sept 2012

What is the Crowden School like? I was impressed by the maturity of some middle schoolers I met, and I would like to hear from parents who have children in the program. I understand this is a music program, do the children have time for other activities, sports, dance other arts? Are the academics strong? What is the middle school experience like? It looks like a small school, how well are they prepared for high school? Interested parent

Crowden is a small school, and the best place to weather middle school that I can imagine. The social dynamic is very inclusive, no pressure to conform. I have had two children attend Crowden and they are very different from one another, but both have thrived there. Though it is clear that the music program is exceptional, I want to emphasize that the academics are superlative. My daughter just started at a very well regarded private high school this Fall and is the top of all of her classes. High Schools beg for the kids from Crowden since they are known to be leaders, creative and self starters.

My son was attending a very well regarded prep school for elementary school and wanted to switch to Crowden because the academics were so much stronger! For him, the music is a bonus, but he loves the class discussions with his peers, how much the teachers respect their abilities and the fact that they can focus on learning instead of discipline in such a small classroom. Can you imagine middle school with little to no pressure to become just like everyone else and instead find your own unique voice? That is Crowden. What a boon it has been for both of my children. kdm

Our daughter started TCS in the 4th grade and picked up a violin just about a month before school started. She has played the piano since age 5 or so and was attedning a montessori school up to 3rd grade. She is now in the 6th grade and we are very happy with her musically and academically. We always wanted her to have a role model, older students to look up to and she definitely have that. The students at TCS are very respectible and interact with each other at all school events and also during the school. Our daughter has been so happy to go to school each day since 4th grade and I am sad that she is half way done at TCS. I understand that each child is different so if you are interested in sending your child there, I definitely recommend that you go and check out the school during the music classes and the academics as well. All concerts are open to the pubic as well at no cost. Good Luck with your search and hope to see you at TCS. If you have any other questions, you can email me. Very happy at TCS

The Crowden School is a wonderful place! The music program is completely engaging and geared to the level of each child. The academic program is excellent. The music and academic staff are dynamic and demanding and very attuned to the kids. The building is charming and quirky, but beautifully maintained. While at Crowden students do all the things other kids do (soccer, ski team, karate), with a disproportionate participation in outside music activities, of course. Crowden grads proceed to high school very well prepared and go on to top colleges. Most, but not all, students go on with their instruments. Some become musicians. All are life-long music lovers.

I'm interested in your comment about the evident maturity of the students. That could be partly due to the kind of child who self-selects to go to a chamber music school! However, I think it's also a product of the music education. Chamber music requires personal responsibility and accountability to your group and performance develops poise. Through learning their instruments, I think Crowden students learn the direct relationship between preparation and outcome - something that might otherwise develop a lot later.

I wish every child had the opportunity to learn in a place like Crowden and don't understand why more people aren't beating down the doors to get in! I can only attribute that to some wariness of '' chamber music'', but I can assure you that it's completely accessible and joyful. You should visit! Happy Crowden Mom

Dec 2011

Re: Elementary or middle school with a great music program
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: Sharon

Jan 2011

Re: Middle School Options in Oakland/Richmond/Berkeley
In response to the question of middle school options near Oakland/Richmond/Berkeley, I want to add praise for The Crowden School in North Berkeley. My daughter, a young cellist and singer, transferred from public school at the beginning of this year as a 6th grader, and we feel like we have found utopia! Crowden is a small community of 4th-8th graders who all study classical music for 2 hours at the beginning of each day, and then continue into their academic studies. While there are several extraordinary young musicians in the school, many children enter 4th and 5th grade as beginners on their instrument. Both the music and academic faculty are extraordinary, and my daughter has absolutely blossomed. While standards are high, the children are supported and encouraged, and known intimately by their teachers. Financial aid is available, and I encourage middle school parents to contact Crowden for a visit. -Sarah

I read your question regarding middle schools... I hope this information is still useful. We (our family) were in a similar situation last year. Our 5th grader son was trasitioning from Cornell elementary (in Albany) to Albany Middle. Our son has always showed a strong predisposition towards music, in particular playing various instruments. Now he is doing 6th grade at The Crowden School in Berkeley; needeless to say we are all very happy with the choice. The school does 4th to 8th, but our son has addapted extremely well, even though he started a little late. The school has string, piano and chorus, and most of the time the students perform in more than one instrument. Academically the curriculum is very rich, very demanding but at the same a lot of fun... the students actually play music first thing in the morning (8 - 10) before the academic day starts...

Anyways, if your daughter has that musical spark... then I would strongly recommend you find out more about the school. I'd be happy to talk to you on the phone is you need more information! By the way today is Thursday the 20th, there is Baroque student's concert going on at 6:30. It is free, you should go and check it out. Best regards, Nestor

Jan 2010

Don't let the music conservatory aspect of The Crowden School scare you away. My daughter is currently a 6th grader at The Crowden School, where she started last year. She has had a great experience there, especially this year, both academically and musically. When she expressed interest in TCS (starting in 3rd grade), I was initially reluctant because she's no musical prodigy, and I wasn't sure, at such a small school, they would be able to handle her academic needs (she's extremely bright).

Happily, I found out that TCS is interested in fostering musical development in a wide range of kids and my daughter's musicianship has grown tremendously in the last 1.5 years. Some kids come into 4th-5th grade with almost no musical experience at all (rank beginners) while some (especially in the upper grades) are very accomplished. There is no stigma attached to being a beginner or less advanced. Most students are required to take a string instrument. There is a piano program, but you need to be more advanced to do that program. Some students do a combination of piano and a string instrument. Their musical program includes playing in ensembles, technique class, theory, chorus, and music history. There are a lot of opportunities to perform, even for the least advanced students, and the kids learn to present themselves professionally on stage. My daughter has developed a lot of stage confidence and poise.

Academically, TCS has some fine teachers. The 4-6th grade science teacher does amazing hands-on experiments with the kids, had them keeping lab books even in 5th grade, and makes the topic relevant. (She did a fabulous unit on nutrition that got all of us talking at home, too!) I've heard good things about 7-8th grade science, too. My daughter is absolutely thriving in English (this is the first teacher, ever, to really challenge her). They are reading interesting books and he has the kids do interesting creative writing assignments. Math, while not perfect, is decent. I wish there were more individualization, but it's still better than what we've experienced in the past. She is doing some algebra this year. The teacher (who also teaches 7/8th grade science) is good.

I don't know much about 4-5th grade since the 5th grade teacher changed since last year.

If you have a child interested in learning about music along with a decent academic curriculum, it's worth looking at TCS. I would be happy to talk to anyone interested. Madelyn

May 2008

I would like to hear from current and recently graduated Crowden School families about their experience at the school. It sounds like a wonderful environment for musical kids (two hours of music daily), small class size, etc. But I would really like to hear about the academic environment - specifically for a child (entering fourth grade) who is consistently at the top of their class and reaching for more challenge. What is the approach on mathematics, social studies and science? Are kids too sheltered at Crowden because of its small size? What is the school's expectation of parents as far as volunteer hours and after- school commitments such as concerts, groups, etc.? Thanks very much. -Musical Family Mom

My daughter started at Crowden in fourth grade this year. She is a high acadmeic achiever, as are virtually all the kids in her class, if not all, as far as I can tell. She has been absolutely delighted by her academics and is very excited about how much history she has been able to study, she has done science projects, written poetry, read many books, and she now loves geometry after having been bored by it. She commented that it was really great to move from schools where it would take a whole week and twenty explanations to get one new concept across to on explanation, one common run through, and viola! They have good conversations and the pace of learning is quick. There are many families of Cal faculty and the expectations are high, but in a smart way. She doesn't have endless amounts of dull homework. They also learn french.

She is like a different person after her year there, calm, more focused, interested in her studies and music. It is a friendly place in our experience, and because of all the performances there is a 30 hour per year volunteer commitment which doesn't seem too difficult to meet, particularly if you like going to concerts. We have made many friends through the school, so it is really something the whole family will become involved in. It is a unique, and incredibly special place. If your child (ren) like music, I can't imagine a better place. Very pleased Crowden family

We are parents of two children at Crowden, a fourth grader and a seventh grader. We were drawn to the school for the music and the atmosphere but have been equally satisfied with the academics. The school makes me think of a good small liberal arts college; excellent student oriented teaching, by often over qualified faculty, who really try to impart their love of their subject to the kids. Students at Crowden tend to be quite bright but not necessarily nerds. While they are required to spend a lot of time on their music, (private lessons, practice and concerts), most students still find time for their chosen extra curricular activities. Class sizes are small and incoming 4th graders quickly become part of the Crowden family in which everyone knows each other. The transition between lower school and upper school is seamless which eliminates the stress of changing campuses... The school days are scheduled so that the first two hours of everyday are dedicated to music (technique, chamber, orchestra...) and the balance of the day is for academics. The administration has creatively arrange the school week to give many subjects at least one double period time slot in order to do more in depth work. This is particularly important for subjects like art and science but also helpful for history, english and PE. The kids are uncommonly close, probably due to the small class sizes and the understanding they gain from playing music that by working together they can accomplish wonderful things. This attitude seems to extend to all aspects of their school and social life. Crowden kids go on to local public high schools or the best private high schools in the area and by looking at the alumni list it seems they often continue on to the top universities in the country. Small schools often require more of a commitment from the parents than large schools and Crowden parents are generally quite involved. Volunteers are needed to make sure the concerts, plays, field trips and outreach programs all function well. I would say if you are thinking about Crowden you should come to one of the concerts, it is hard to not be impressed. Sincerely, A Crowden Parent

Nov 2006

Re: Alternative/arts based public school?
I would suggest you look into the Crowden School in Berkeley. Music-based. Not sure what grade they begin, but they would surely be a good resource for you in your search. What an inspiring search -- bravo!

September 2005

I would love to hear from parents whose kids are in the Crowden School right now and also from the parents or kids who have graduated from Crowden after the 8th grade. I am really keen to know about the transition experiences from Crowden to High School, the kind of high school typically a Crowden student goes to, the difficulties, if any of moving from an musical environment to a regular High school etc. After being in a school where music is the main focus, how prepared are the students to face math and science etc in High School etc. I have a young child who is very musical , at the same time she is also academically very gifted. While Crowden seems a good idea, I want to be sure she also gets a sound education and not have difficulties transitioning to High School.Any thoughts in this matter would be greatly appreciated. Anon

We have two children currently at Crowden and our oldest is a grad. Crowden is a music school, but the academics are creative and demanding. An interesting group of children decide to attend Crowden and they bring the same enthusiasm to their academics as they bring to their music.

The academic faculty is creative and exciting, with a tremendous love for their field, the school and the students. In the church basement days, the school hired PhD and graduate students to teach in their fields of expertise. More recently, the school continues to hire faculty with PhDs and graduate credentials, but looks also to experience and love of teaching.

So, putting together the self-selecting nature of the students and the strong teaching, Crowden students go on to an impressive collection of high schools. In the competition for limited spaces at many private high schools, the music education (and discipline it implies) is a unique distinguishing factor. Bay Area private high schools know about Crowden. Many grads go to Berkeley High, CPS, Head Royce, International High, Lick, Marin Academy and San Domenico, as well as University High, Athenian, and Maybeck. Our grad is thriving in high school. She does not desire to become a professional musician, but continues to love music and plays in a youth orchestra.

There is nothing else like this school if your child loves music. Come visit, and I hope you love it like we do. Crowden Lifer

April 2005

I have two Crowden kids in my family (one graduate, and one still there), and I couldn't be happier. The school is grades 4-8 and has two hours of music every morning. I found the ''music thing'' really intimidating before I knew much about it, but it's not a school just for violin geniuses. They welcome complete beginners, and are really supportive! The academic program is very strong (and includes French, a LOT of hands on science, math, history, PE, English etc) and commitment of the teachers helped my son go on to high school very well prepared. My younger daughter was bored to tears at her last school, and she's just blossomed in the 4th grade with Ms. Matteson. Crowden has just undergone an extremely positive change of leadership, and I recommend the place highly. I think they accept applications year-round. The phone number is 510-559-6910. The website is
Proud Parent of Crowden Kids

January 2003

We are thinking about Crowden for our daughter, who loves to sing, and plays two instruments, but is by no means a prodigy. She also loves writing, drawing, science and running and climbing trees. She is perfectly happy at her current school. At the same time, music clearly feeds her in a special way.

I am concerned about whether Crowden's intense focus on music would leave no time for other pursuits, and that its small size might mean that she might not experience a sufficiently wide range of activities and personalities that she might need to expand her horizons in middle school.

I'd love to hear from families who are currently or recently at Crowden. What are the pros and cons? - Intrigued, but Debating...

Crowden emphasizes music over academics. My daughter was a recent student there and ended up playing her instrument 30 hours a week. There were music classes at school such as orchestra, chamber music and bowing instruction. After school she had lessons, coaching sessions and many performances. She also loves science, math and writing and her skills in those areas slid below the norm as there was precious little emphasis on these subjects. The science teacher did not even use a text. The academic classes tend to be undisciplined and even chaotic. (Visit a few and see for yourself.) The art instruction is centered on designing sets for plays and some parents send their kids to outside art teachers to develop their drawing and painting skills. The school is very small and there is essentially no selection of friends. If there are conflicts or gossip, there is no privacy. The children are quite competitive and many are prima donnas. There are pros. Your child will learn how to perform on stage with flair and confidence. Her skills as a musician will improve dramatically.

In response to the question about whether the Crowden School is too narrowly focused on music, I have to say that for my daughter, who was not a prodigy, was slow to learn to read music, and not ferociously committed to a musical career, Crowden was wonderful. She is now a sophomore in high school, so it has been two years since she was there, but our experience was the best of any elementary school either of my kids attended (and there were quite a few). The community is wonderful, the concerts will make you weep, and I think having something like music to wrap yourself around in the middle school years is a brilliant educational move. It sops up some of that middle school hormonal energy that gets played out in unfortunate ways in most other places. The kids at Crowden really become musicians in the best sense of the word. And I will be forever grateful to Crowden for the fact that now my daughter will always have music in her life. She plays in high school and, like her grandmother before her, she will be able to pick up her instrument when she is 60 and play with friends, or go to the symphony with an educated ear. You don't have to want a CAREER in music to go to Crowden. Most kids DON'T go on in music. But it is such a great education for life. They see, very concretely, how practice and hard work get you where you want to go. The kids play a LOT of chamber music and they are constantly mixed up so they get to know kids in the other grades very well so there is a great sense of community. There are some real prodigies there, and everyone knows who they are, but the fact that the kids are constantly mixed up and not fixed in some position permanently with respect to their ability makes for a much nicer environment than most kids involved in classical music experience. Somehow Crowden has gotten this reputation that it is solely for the real prodigy and this just isn't true. Kids have to have a basic aptitude for music, and some musicality, but they don't even have to have played an instrument when they start in fourth grade. They get incredible instruction. The school has it's quirks and foibles like any small private school, but I wish I had another kid so I could send her to Crowden and we could have another five years there! I'd be happy to reply to any other questions about Crowden. Vickie

My son is a 5th grader currently enrolled in Crowden. He is not a prodigy nor are most of the kids attending Crowden. The curriculum at Crowden focuses 2 hours in the morning on musical pursuits and the rest of the day on core subjects. It is a very fun and normal bunch of kids. It has a big family atmosphere there and I urge you to bring your child in for a look. My son visited for 1/2 a day when we were in the process of checking it out and was taken up under the wings of the then 4th graders. The staff and faculty are top notch and most everyone starts on the same level of musical prowess. Some only beginning their instrument studies the summer before they enter. My son is very happy there. Call Marcia King at: 510-559-6910 to arrange a time to come in and look around. And put this date on your calendar-Feb.27th. The upper school will be doing an Opera written and preformed by the students called Cerberus. Deborah

One year ago, I was the person checking out Crowden for my daughter on this same site. She is now a fourth grader at the school and we have been very pleased with the transition. Before, she went to a top Catholic School and did quite well. I knew the music would be superior but I have been very pleased with the academics as well. They now use Singapore Math and she is about a grade ahead of her old school. The science in fourth grade, four hours per week, is better than what my son had in middle school. Even though there is no science text, the teacher uses unit packets. Last week they built their own radios. This month they are going to do some dissecting. The english and social studies are taught with a different approach then I am used to. Instead of spitting back facts on tests, they have to analyze the passages and write their interpretation of what is happening. The new art teacher is phenominal, they have been learning to draw from perspective and have sketching homework. She is an experienced artist and has a great curriculumn which develops across the grades. PE is also four hours a week-intense soccer and tennis so far- from a high school soccer coach. French is also four hours a week. My daughter is not a prodigy and probably will end up a scientist like her parents. We consider the music an extra which will round out her busy life of girl scouts, dancing, and soccer. She loves the small classes where ''you can actually get called on every time.'' Minuses could include being too small for friends but the dean of students has been receptive to any problems and they do mix the kids up in music groups so they are exposed to others. We wish we knew about the school for our high schooler. Another potential minus is that it is A LOT OF MUSIC for some kids and they have to enjoy it. So far my daughter has thrived there. I also sat in on the upper grade english and math classes when I was looking since I knew the curriculumn at all the private schools in the area. I found the work covered by the English teacher to be high school level with a relaxed but business approach. I urge you to check out the upper grades and also see where the kids end up in high school-the top schools in the Bay Area. I hope they can keep the new math and art teachers for years to come. Greg-proud father of a Crowden Student

I am in fifth grade at the Crowden School and I love it! The School is pretty small( about 80 kids) so I know everyone and am friendly with most of them. Crowden helped me get over stage fright and now I am also less shy.I love the academics, especially history and science. In History we do reports on people who are interesting( I'm doing a report on Thomas Paine right now) and also in-class writing.In Science, it's true we don't use textbooks, but we do more hands on things, like experiments (testing the pH of lemons and limes- which is more acidic?) and projects( we all brought in samples of grass and designed a poster using a computer and a microscope). And sometimes we use worksheets.In music, I have fun too. We do orchestra, chamber music, boeing class,etc. and it's lots of fun. And my classmates and I are not geniuses or anything. We just like music. And I know some people just came for the academics, and just started an instrument. Of course, no school's perfect, and neither is Crowden.For instance my classes can get chaotic once in a while but they're not ALL the time. Plus, at Crowden, since there are such small classes, we get more attention from the teachers, so we learn a lot more. And also, since there are only 13 kids in the class, I get to know people that ordinarily I would never know, and learn their good side. If you are thinking about sending your kid to Crowden, PLEASE do, so your kid will have the same wonderful experience that I'm having.:) - A fifth grade girl

March 2002

I would like to reply to the posting about the academic program at the Crowden School. I am a father of a fourth grader (so this is her first year at Crowden). Previously, she went to Kensington Hilltop. She has played the violin since she was six, but that is not the reason we are sending her to Crowden.

Since I am not a musician myself, I was skeptical about sending her to a music-oriented school. I changed my mind when I went to an open house and spoke to parents who had no thought of encouraging their children to become professional musicians. I was extremely impressed by the upper and lower school English teacher (the upper school English teacher has just been appointed academic director). They were assigning books and assignments that were extremely challenging and which require students to write and think at a level much higher than those of the public school (or of many private schools we had considered).

In the year that our daughter has attended Crowden, I have been struck by the way in which she is excited by academic topics for the first time. The history, English, math and science assignments encourage creative thinking as well as mastery of the particular subjects. Because the classes are small, the teachers devote a great deal of time to the needs and interests of particular students. For the first time, we do not see a need to supplement our daughter's academic curriculum. We had no experience with the previous (founding) administration, but my general impression, gained through conversation with former students and parents, is that the current administration and faculty are less rigid, more inclined to take individual needs into consideration. It also seems that the musical program has become less competitive, more attuned towards cultivating an appreciation for music (performance, theory, history) than towards developing professional musicians. In both music and academics, the students seem tremendously supportive of one another.

I am aware that some parents have found the academic program too demanding. It is true that expectations are high, yet our daughter has found the relative informality stimulating, and we have appreciated the benefits that come from allowing teachers great freedom in the crafting of their own curriculum. The boundaries of ''age-appropriate'' curriculum are quite wide, and the championing of state-guidelines is often part of a reluctance to encourage motivated (or potentially motivated) students to work up to their potential.

In short, our first year's experience with the academic program at Crowden has been entirely positive. If I were going back to middle school, this is the sort of place I would want to go. Eric

There was discussion some weeks ago about the Crowden School. One or two positive messages were sent, but there is a different side to the school that prospective parents should know about.

The school specializes in musical training, especially stringed instruments. In this, they excel. The teachers are professionals and the students learn to become good musicians. Students play their instruments for three to four hours a day if you include practice, school instruction, coaching, and private lessons. Students graduate skilled, poised, and confident. They learn to perform on stage, a valuable skill that transfers to other professions.

The academic program is controversial. The school advertises that it adheres to the state curriculum guidelines, but it does not. Some teachers refuse to use a textbook; others cover only a fraction of a recommended text. When it was a tiny school in the basement of a church, it succeeded with a few excellent teachers in traditional subjects, but those teachers left. There has been a rapid turnover since. The outstanding founder of the school retired as musical director, and the academic director became disillusioned and took early retirement. Their replacements do not appear to be of the same caliber. The school may be right for your child, but you should look it over carefully and talk to a range of parents. Visit the school and observe the academic classes. The school defends the disorder in these classes as ''good for the creative mind''. This is a point of debate each parent should consider. Anonymous


Re: Violin Lessons
The Crowden School offers instruction in violin. I believe, however, that in order to be enrolled in their courses you must also have a private teacher. Some information is available at:

From: Paul

I suggest you contact the Crowden School for various names. We tried our then almost 5 year old on violin with Erika Miranda who teaches at Crowden. The violin didn't take and now my son is happily studying piano, but Erika seemed patient, kind and thoughtful.

Nov 2001

Our daughter just started at The Crowden School this year in 4th grade and loves it. The classes are challenging, but the homework so far seems to be minimal (there is certainly some homework, but she does some of it at school, and the rest strikes me as meaningful ("work on your story about the Pilgrims") rather than busywork). My sense is that they do understand these kids have less time for homework because of their instruments. In the upper grades, I suspect the homework load is greater, though. Our daughter came to TCS from a good public elementary school, but the difference is like night and day. Here she has science almost every day, not just once a week, not to mention French, music history, music theory, and Chorus. The P.E. teacher is absolutely terrific, too, by the way. I had felt a little guilty about taking her away from her friends in public school, but her 4th grade class is a wonderful, friendly group of kids, and the students in the upper grades have really taken the new children under their wings. The 4th and 5th graders do many things together (music classes are mixed, for instance), so really the social scene doesn't feel thin at all. Our daughter had been reluctant to switch schools (though very polite about it -- she never said "NO" but did worry about leaving her friends), but on the second day of Crowden she said "I have to admit it, Crowden's a lot better than my old school," and we've never looked back. Good luck with your school search!

Crowden School: We have three girls who attended Crowden, one began at 5th grade, 2 at 6th. They all attended public school before Crowden and two have gone on to private high school. One is in 8th grade. There were less than 40 in school when my oldest began in '92 . In '97(?) the school moved to present location and doubled in size. They have had some growing pains after such a change but a are dealing with them head on.

Home work was surely diffierent (more) for my girls . The prospectus reads one hour a night, but they have all taken more time. I think in general, middle school homework load is greater any way. They have been well prepared for high school, confident with good skills and study habits.

Crowden graduates go on to public high schools and thrive. It is a very small community and I do not know of one child who has experienced difficulty making the transition. In fact all I know were leaders in high school are going to top rank colleges. Friends are made across grade levels and older chilren are generally protective of younger. Friendships are strong and those made at Crowden are still most important to my girls.

When you make music with someone everyday for 4 -6 years you develop a strong accepting relationship. Please email me privately for more information or a chat. I know Crowden is not for everyone but it is a miracle for many. Chidren there are lively, curious and passionate about many things, one of which is music. deborahbonet [at] Deborah