SAN PABLO (KCBS) – State budget cuts have robbed many low-income California students of the chance to take music classes.

But now, a pilot program from the California Symphony is bringing sweet sounds back to Downer Elementary School in San Pablo.

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60 first graders at the school just got brand new cellos and violins and now, they’re learning to play, read and sing.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

It’s all thanks to the Sound Minds program, provided by the California Symphony in Walnut Creek and embraced by grateful Downer Principal Marco Gonzales.

“Because of state funding cuts, the arts and music instruction in elementary schools was eliminated two years ago from our school,” he said.

The symphony’s executive director, Walter Collins, said the goal is to use music to raise academic performance.

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“Music can be powerful as an academic predictor because it teaches kids discipline, it teaches kids self control, but it also teaches kids some fundamental principals about math and science and the physics involved of creating a sound,” said Collins.

The six-year-olds made their own cardboard instruments to learn the basics before graduating to real symphony instruments.

“Our vision is every first grader with an instrument,” said Collins. “So we’re starting small and then we’re looking at Richmond next year and then moving on and expanding in Contra Costa County. Ideally, our vision would be to have this be a Bay Area-wide program.”

Principal Gonzales hopes the Sound Minds program will help close the experience gap between the mostly low-income students at Downer and other California schoolchildren, who take the chance to learn and appreciate music for granted.

“Giving them the opportunity to make a choice, to be able to do that in our community is really a blessing and a really great opportunity,” said Gonzales.

The students switched out those cardboard instruments for the real ones, performing their first concert on Friday afternoon.

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