Sound Minds

Inspired by the El Sistema program of Venezuela, California Symphony began a Sound Minds pilot program at Downer Elementary in San Pablo in 2012. After six years of intensive after-school music education, the program celebrated its first class of graduates in 2017. Now, serving all second through sixth grade students at Downer Elementary who wish to participate, the program remains completely free of charge to students and families. Students receive instruction on violin or cello, as well as chorus, music theory, ensembles, and academic coursework. Each year the program expands, continuing the musical training and adding new beginners each fall.

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:

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


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