Sound Minds Growing Up

Sound Minds student Carlos — as a first grader with his paper replica cello; in fourth grade, and (far right of picture) as a proud fifth grade, sunglasses-wearing, graduate of the program in May 2017.

While the California Symphony celebrated its 30th anniversary last season, Sound Minds completed a milestone of its own. It’s now six years since the symphony’s El Sistema-inspired program was started, and the very first students who started the program in first grade back in 2010 are moving on to middle school this fall.

Access, Opportunity and Inspiration

Beyond the benefits of music study and its proven impact on test scores, Sound Minds creates opportunities otherwise not afforded to these kids. Simply put, it encourages them to think and to dream bigger, and the results can be life-changing.

One student we’ve had the opportunity to watch grow through the years is Carlos. Carlos has been a poster child for Sound Minds since he started with the pilot program in first grade. At an emotional graduation ceremony in June, unprompted, Carlos stood up to thank his Sound Minds teachers and friends for encouraging him to carry on when he had thought about giving up. His maturity and confidence in addressing the audience was remarkable.

“Thank you for believing in me when I couldn’t believe in myself” — Carlos, 11 years old, studying cello for 6 years through Sound Minds.

“It’s a powerful testament to the leadership and life skills that students like Carlo are absorbing and developing along with the music,” says California Symphony Executive Director Aubrey Bergauer.

What’s Next?

For this graduating class, Operations and Education Director Sunshine Deffner has developed a new partnership with the East Bay Center for Performing Arts so the students may continue their studies through the Center’s highly competitive Young Artist Diploma Program.

And in September, we will welcome a new group of recruits to the program, who will first make paper versions of their instruments on which to learn strings notes and proper instrument care. Then, with awe and wonder, they will get to hold their actual instruments for the very first time and take their first steps on what we hope will be a lifelong journey, enriched by music.

Sound Minds Fast Facts

· Sound Minds provides two hours of intensive music theory & instruction three days a week throughout the school year, at no cost to participants.

· Sound Minds students test 4x higher in math proficiency and 2x in reading compared with non-participants.

· Based on El Sistema principles which seek to effect social change through intensive music study and the ambitious pursuit of musical excellence. El Sistema focuses primarily on children with the fewest resources and greatest need.

Want to get involved in Sound Minds?

Email us at or call 925 280 2490 to join us for a site visit to meet the students and Sound Minds teachers.


The California Symphony, now in its fifth season under the leadership of Music Director Donato Cabrera, is a world-class, professional orchestra based in Walnut Creek, in the heart of the San Francisco East Bay since 1990. Our vibrant concert series is renowned for featuring classics alongside American repertoire and works by living composers. The Orchestra is comprised of musicians who have performed with the orchestras of the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet, and others, and many of its musicians have been performing with the California Symphony for nearly all its existence.

Outside of the concert hall, the symphony actively supports music education for social change through its El Sistema-inspired program at Downer Elementary School in San Pablo, CA, which brings intensive music instruction and academic enrichment to Contra Costa County schoolchildren for free, in an area where 94% of students qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program.

We also host the highly competitive Young American Composer-in-Residence program, which this year welcomes its first female composer, Katherine Balch.

California Symphony has launched the careers of some of today’s most-performed soloists and composers, including violinists Sarah Chang and Anne Akiko Meyers, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and composers such as Mason Bates, Christopher Theofanidis, and Kevin Puts. The Orchestra performs at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

For more information, please visit


, , ,