Visual & Performing Arts

2020 Bonar Street, Building E, Berkeley, CA 94702
Hours: Monday – Friday, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Pete Gidlund, Program Supervisor, 510-644-8772
Kevin Kunze, Visual & Performing Arts Tech, 510-644-8831

All Berkeley Unified School District elementary schools provide a rich variety of visual and performing arts experiences for Kindergarten through fifth grade students. Students continue to develop artistic skills in middle school arts electives and after school classes. Berkeley High School offers a broad range of arts classes including Ceramics, Photography, Computer Art, AP Studio Art, Afro-Haitian Dance, Modern Dance, Drama, Advanced Theater Projects, Band, Orchestra, Jazz Band, Guitar, Chorus and AP Music Theory. One year of high school visual or performing arts is required by the UC and CSU systems.

Thank you to the voters of Berkeley for funding the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program and and the BUSD arts programs. BSEP provides $1.5 million annually to fund nearly all elementary and middle school music programs, as well as other visual and performing arts.

We also thank the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, Cazadero Performing Arts Camp and Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley for their continuing support along with the UC Berkeley students who tutor music students in the schools through The Music Connection (TMC).

Berkeley Schools TK-12 Music Program

TK – Second Grade: Several schools provide weekly music classes with instruction in singing, rhythm, composition and playing pitched percussion instruments.

Third Grade: All BUSD third grade students attend weekly music classes. The curriculum is based on Orff-Schulwerk methodology which includes singing, movement, rhythm, solfege, note reading, recorders and pitched percussion instruments. At the end of the school year, band and orchestra instruments are demonstrated in preparation for beginning instrumental music in fourth grade. Recorders are $5.00.

List of music staff

Fourth and Fifth Grades: After an extended period of sampling among violins, violas, flutes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, percussion, ukulele, guitar and chorus, fourth graders choose chorus or the instrument they wish to study. Fifth graders continue with chorus or the instrument studied in fourth grade. Classes are held twice a week during the school day. Both grades perform at school concerts. Fifth graders have the opportunity of participating in the Performing Arts Showcase in March and attending the Jumpstart Retreat for fifth graders at Cazadero Performing Arts Camp in May.

District Music Calendar 2014-15

Sixth Grade: The three BUSD middle schools have sixth grade bands open to all brass, wind and percussion students and 6-8 Orchestras open to all strings players. Middle school music classes, including chorus (at King) meet before school, zero period. The combined sixth grade bands play The Star Spangled Banner at the opening of a Giants game in May.

Seventh and Eighth Grades: 7-8 Bands, 6-8 Orchestra, Chorus at King, and Modern Music at Longfellow meet zero period offering students moderately challenging compositions and ensemble skill development. After school music classes including Jazz Band and Modern Music at King, Jazz Band at Willard and Jazz Band at Longfellow are open to 6th-8th graders. At middle school, evening concerts are scheduled during the school year and ensembles participate in the Performing Arts Showcase in March of each year. Some bands and orchestras compete in regional music festivals. There is a Jumpstart Retreat at Cazadero Performing Arts Camp for eighth graders in October.

Information for elementary and middle school families.

Berkeley High School: 9-12 graders may choose from the following Music electives: Chamber Orchestra, Concert Orchestra, Concert Band, Pep Band, Lab Band I, Lab Band II, Jazz Ensemble, Guitar, Chorus and AP Music Theory. The ensembles hold regular evening concerts and participate in the Performing Arts Show case and competitive festivals in the Bay Area and beyond.



Information on the award-winning Berkeley High Jazz program can be found hereA strongly articulated music program from grades three through twelve encourages and supports students to achieve at the highest levels.   In late April, 2013 150 musicians from BHS performed in four groups at the California Music Educators Association (CMEA) Band and Orchestra festival. This is the first time ever that four BHS groups have performed at a CMEA festival, and all came out winners. Chamber Strings earned highest marks from all the judges: a Unanimous Superior. Chamber Winds earned three Superiors and one Excellent. Concert Band earned three Excellents and one Superior. Concert Orchestra earned four Excellents. Bands, chorus and orchestras from the three Berkeley middle schools also participated in the 2013 CMEA Festival, with ratings given from Excellent to Superior. In the spring of 2013, just two days after winning the combo division at the Reno Jazz Festival, and a month after winning the same division at the prestigious Monterey NextGen Jazz Festival, Berkeley High’s Combo A was named as the High School Combo of the Year by Downbeat Magazine. This is the number one jazz trade magazine in the US. The BHS students outplayed groups from across the nation. This is the second year in a row that BHS’s Jazz Combo A has won both the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Downbeat Magazine Award.

BUSD California Standards-Based Music Program: Music is an integral part of human experience. Used in celebrations, rituals and everyday life, it expresses the heights and depths of human feelings and emotions, the joys and the sorrow encountered by all. Significantly, the study of music combines human emotional experience and intellectual cognition. Music teachers follow the California Standards in Music when developing curriculum and assessments.

One of the greatest values of a comprehensive music program is that it allows all students to develop fully those qualities that will help them understand and enjoy life. It provides a means for creativity and self-expression. Through music they learn that their thoughts and feelings can be communicated non-verbally by composing and improvising music using higher-order thinking processes, such as those involved in skill mastery, analysis and synthesis.

Benefits of Studying Music

Berkeley Unified school District was recently recognized by the NAMM Foundation (National Association of Music Manufacturers) as one of the Best Communities for Music Education 2014. Best Communities for Music Education honors school districts that have demonstrated exceptional efforts toward maintaining music education as part of the schools’ core curriculum. Berkeley is one of only 10 districts in California named among the 320 districts nation-wide to receive the distinction this year. A NAMM-funded Cost of Music Education study found that an average district spends $187 per student per year for a comprehensive K–12 music education program. BUSD actually invests close to $330 per student per year.
Much research has been compiled linking success in school to a music education. Please refer to the following links to read about the studies and findings:
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Performances: In addition to school concerts and the annual spring Performing Arts Showcase, the elementary schools participate in the Music Education Program with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. All K-5 students attend a Meet the Symphony concert in November, BSO musicians visit classrooms with their instruments and in February students from six schools play with the BSO at the I Am a Performer Concert. Parents are welcome to attend.

Use the following link to view videos of Berkeley Schools student performances:

Donations to enhance our program are always welcome. Checks, cash, credit cards may be used to donate to the Music Fund c/o the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, 1835 Allston Way, Berkeley CA 94703. 510-644-6244. If you have an instrument in playable shape you would like to donate to the program, contact the Music Office at 644-8831. You will receive a letter from the BUSD Board for your income tax files.

Visual Arts K-12
Students are encouraged to express their knowledge, ideas and creativity through all forms of visual art, including drawing, painting, photography and three dimensional arts.  Elementary classroom teachers encourage skill building and several schools have a credentialed art teacher or teaching artist on staff who guides students through standards based projects on a weekly basis. Some after school programs include visual art classes.


Each middle school offers standards-based visual art courses as electives during the school day.  Students build on skills learned at the elementary grades when exploring portraiture, color, design, still life drawing, print-making and ceramics. Elementary and middle school art is always on exhibit at the schools. Every odd year the Berkeley Art Center hosts a district-wide visual art show grades K-8 where student work from each school is on display. The next K-8 exhibit at the Berkeley Art Center will be February 14 – March 22, 2015; reception on February 18.

Berkeley High School offers a very extensive selection of Arts courses including drawing and painting, several levels of black and white (darkroom) and digital photography, various levels of ceramics, print-making, sculpture and AP Studio Art. In addition to in-school gallery exhibits, BHS student work is shown each spring at the KALA Gallery in Berkeley.  The Arts and Humanities Academy, one of the small schools at Berkeley High School, provides the opportunity for students to learn in core subject areas through various art forms while personally developing artistically.

Dance K-12
Dance is a regular elective at several elementary schools as well as the middle schools. Dance is also a popular choice among the classes offered in the after school programs K-8. The high school offers classes in Afro-Haitian, Modern and Hip-Hop. Advanced students present a show of their own choreographed pieces in the spring.
BHS Performing Arts Calendar_2014 -2015

Drama K-12
Drama is integrated into the elementary curriculum at several schools and plays are staged each school year.  The middle schools have vibrant theater programs, presenting two or more plays, some student written. Some middle school productions are a collaboration between the drama, dance and music departments. There are levels of high school theater classes for the beginning through advanced student. Both plays and musicals are staged along with student written and produced drama.

Arts on the Run
Each January, three busloads of Berkeley High School students representing the Dance, Drama and Music Departments travel to all three middle schools for a one hour performance.  Designed to present the eighth graders (who will be entering BHS in the fall) with the variety of artist involvement available at BHS, Arts on the Run MCs encourage students to not only be open to the many options for artistic expression at the high school, but also share the pride and sense of family students find when they become a member of a performing arts group at Berkeley High.

In addition to the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra and Cazadero Performing Arts Camp, BUSD has a partnership with Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall through the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Partners in Education Program. A Partners team since 2001, Cal Performances and BUSD annually present workshops for teachers as preparation for SchoolTime performances at Zellerbach Hall. Teachers attend a three hour workshop lead by a teaching artist whose expertise is close to the art form their students will see on stage. The teaching artist visits the teachers’ classrooms with information and hands on experiences before the students see the live performance. More information.

The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra Music in the Schools program provides Meet the Symphony concerts at each elementary school in November. Centered on a theme such as rhythm, the instrument families in the orchestra or the science of sound, the concerts feature student friendly pieces. Musicians visit each K-5 classroom for a demonstration and personal interaction. In February students K-5 join the Symphony for the I Am a Performer concert; all students sing or play with the Symphony. Young musicians have the incredible experience of playing with professional musicians under the direction of Ming Luke, a gifted conductor.

I am a Performer Concert with Berkeley Symphony

Cazadero Performing Arts Camp: A longtime partner with the Berkeley school music program, Cazadero is often students first opportunity to attend sleep-away music camp. Two Jumpstart weekends – eighth graders in the fall and fifth graders in the spring – provide dedicated rehearsal time with district music staff and high school mentors. Students work on new music and prepare a concert for parents while meeting musicians from other Berkeley schools who will be in their ensembles at the next school level.

City of Berkeley Parks and Rec Department Summer Camps: in partnership with the City of Berkeley recreation department, BUSD teachers offer four music day camps for students grades 5-10 on June 15-19, 2015. Registration and information is at the following link:

The Music Connection (TMC) is a UC Berkeley student run club which brings volunteer tutors into music classes grades 4-8. In addition TMC has set up an after school enrichment program as nearly all of the K-5 and Middle Schools. A team of tutors arrives at a school once a week for individual lessons, small ensemble work and music theory instruction.  The TMC students also arrange College Music Days so that middle school and fifth grade students can experience rehearsing with a college band, string ensemble or chorus. Music is carefully selected so that students feel comfortable playing next to older students.

BAESC – Berkeley Arts Education Steering Committee
Begun in 1998 by Berkeley Reparatory Theater Managing Director Susan Medak, BASEC is a collaboration between local arts organizations, parents, teachers and administrators. The goal is to bring a variety of strong arts programming to students in the Berkeley schools.  In the early days of the committee members lobbied the Berkeley School Board successfully to adopt the California Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards. Reinvigorated after extensive surveys of arts offerings in the schools and parent and teacher feedback on the value of arts and creativity in the school day, BAESC will begin strategizing ways to ensure that all students in Berkeley schools regularly participate in the Arts. To receive BAESC meeting notices, email

Professional Development – Arts Anchor Schools

A collaboration with the Alameda County Office of Education Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership and Berkeley Unified School District, the Arts Anchor Schools Project provides funding for schools to pursue professional development in arts integration techniques and strategies. A team of classroom teachers identifies a focus for arts integrated curriculum development and writes a proposal for their professional development work for the school year. Designed to be teacher led, Arts Anchor projects bring personal and teaching skills to teachers through modeling and coaching.  While teams at several schools have identified an arts teacher on staff who can lead curriculum development and provide lesson modeling and coaching when the classroom teacher is teaching arts integrated lessons, other schools have found it beneficial to hire a teaching artist or arts organization such as the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) or Visual Thinking Strategies in Education (VTS).

Currently three elementary schools are focused on dance integration while teachers at four schools are becoming more skilled at integrating visual arts. In all cases learning in the art form is occurring along with learning in the other core curricular area (social studies, math, and language arts). One middle school is working with a teaching artist from VTS. Students are learning to observe works of art and discuss what they see, backing up their ideas with evidence. Such close observation of details is a springboard for writing.