Sound Minds

Inspired by the El Sistema program of Venezuela, California Symphony began a Sound Minds pilot program at Downer Elementary in San Pablo during the 2011-2012 school year. Starting in first and second grade, students receive instruction on violin or cello, as well as chorus, music theory, and academic coursework. Each year the program has expanded, continuing the musical training with that inaugural class, and adding new beginners every fall. In the 2016-2017 season, the program will reach capacity, serving all second through sixth grade students at Downer Elementary who wish to participate, completely free of charge to the students and families.

In addition to building musical skills, the program has proven to enhance academic outcomes: by the time students have participated in our Sound Minds program for one year, math proficiency rates (i.e. the percentage of students testing at grade level or higher) quadruple compared to students who do not participate. Furthermore, Sound Minds contributes directly to character development, as students set and achieve goals, learn communication and problem-solving skills, and gain self-confidence.

“The Sound Minds Program is the most transformational program I have seen in my 21 years as an elementary school principal.”
— Marco Gonzales, Principal, Downer Elementary


Sound Minds has been widely praised by local and national media outlets including NPR, KQED’s California Report, KGO, KCBS, KQED, Contra Costa Times, and San Francisco Chronicle.



The Sound Minds program would not be possible without the generous support from individual donors and the following sponsors:

  • AT&T
  • California Arts Council
  • California Symphony Alliance
  • Carole and Dale Landon
  • Edward M. Downer Elementary School
  • Karin Eames
  • Orchard House Foundation
  • City of San Pablo
  • SunJams Foundation
  • US Bank
  • The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation


If you are interested in supporting this program, donate here or contact Operations & Education Director Sunshine Deffner.