Crowden School students were delighted to be visited by two internationally acclaimed musicians this March: violinist Chee-Yun and conductor and cellist Jonathan Cohen
After watching her young students grow exhausted and overburdened by school, practice, chores, and countless other activities, Scottish violinist Anne Crowden (1928–2004) had a vision of a school that would provide a supportive environment for young musicians by incorporating music into the daily curriculum.
In 1983, she and Piero Mancini opened the nonprofit Crowden School, with just thirteen students, facing unknown challenges but driven by Anne’s clear, uncompromising vision. It was the first school of its kind in the nation.
By 1998 Crowden had become a Berkeley institution, and moved into its current location, the historic Jefferson School building in North Berkeley. In 2003, the organization was officially renamed "Crowden Music Center" in recognition of the breadth of our activities in the community.
Now, we bring Anne’s dedication and passion for music, and the distinctive Crowden educational experience, to an ever-expanding audience.
Anne Crowden studied at Edinburgh University in Scotland and trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She became an internationally renowned violinist, performing with the Edinburgh String Quartet and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, and as a soloist for the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Arts Council of Great Britain. She moved to the United States in 1965. In 1980 she was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music for her distinguished service to music. In 1997, Chamber Music America selected Anne as the winner of the Heidi Castleman Award, one of the most distinguished and coveted prizes in the field of musical education.
Media Gallery: A Berkeley Gem on a Landmark Campus
“How and Why I Began a School for Musical Children” by Anne Crowden
Ever since I became a “Born Again” Chamber Musician at the age of 18, I have religiously organized my life around my addiction. “Organized” is not the word others might use about an addicted chamber player who turns down lucrative work with benefits and pension in order to pursue hours of ensemble practice for less money than a job waitressing. Then, of course, later comes the necessity to pass one’s addiction on to musical children and students which I did through Saturday workshops, summer schools and university music departments.
During my private teaching of 9-18 year olds, the plight of the Junior High School student (ages 11-14) seemed to be intolerable. They were always exhausted, mostly disheartened and having to practice after 8-hour school day, piles of homework looming ahead, not to mention family commitments and household chores. It all seemed so miserable for them. Musical children of this age definitely seemed to need a different background.
Following the example of some British schools, e.g., Menuhin, Purcell and St. Mary’s to name three of many, I decided, with support from a few parents and colleagues to found a small school for this age group. We opened with eleven students. We were regarded academically with great suspicion by all and it took quite a few years to persuade parents-at-large that musical progress and academic progress go hand in hand.
The purpose of the school is to provide a musical training in balance with a first class academic education. This balance can work in two ways:
- For those with exceptional musical ability it provides a solid program in musicianship, chamber music, time to practice and plenty of performing opportunities. Most importantly it gives these gifted children a sympathetic environment and peer support.
- For those with a more general musical ability, the school can provide a wonderful broad education in a shared creative activity which, hopefully, will remain a pleasure all their lives.
Although Chamber Music is at the heart of the program, we pursue a comprehensive musical training: theory, composition, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, choral and part-singing, ear training. The children, who are mostly string players, study with any private teacher of their choice.
We give performances on the average of once a month. These performances can include chamber music, chamber orchestra, solos, chorus, opera and most popular composition night.
It is my belief that children of this age must be engaged in active, creative learning in all the Arts. For instance, if one puts on a play, appropriate music of that period must be found and performed, and the art class should build and paint the sets. With such a small school, of course, every student is engaged in the play, the music and the painting. This integration of the different departments and the fun in doing it will remain in memory much longer than the facts alone from the various classes.
For instance, the English class wrote haiku—the composition class set them to music and they performed with mime and dance. I am sure many of our students will never forget our efforts at Molière (in French, of course), The Importance of Being Ernest (which we made into a musical), and the French Revolution with the inspired dance scene against red lighting in the shadow of the guillotine. Above all other such endeavors was the miming of the Russian Revolution to the music of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 played by four of our own students.