Jane Kramer

Passion for music, children and culture has been woven into Jane Kramer’s identity from a very young age. Coupled with her deep commitment to opportunity and equity, it is no surprise that her life’s work has been dedicated to creating and growing Enriching Lives through Music (ELM), a full scholarship, multi-year music program serving over 120 youth from San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. ELM was founded on the belief, backed by research that intensive participation in music, coupled with high expectations for excellence, rigor and discipline, has a profound impact on the development of a child’s resilience, self esteem and creative and critical thinking skills, providing them with many of the 21st century skills necessary for lifetime success.

Early years
Born in New York and raised in Miami Beach, Florida, Jane’s participation in the Miami Fine Arts Conservatory between the ages of seven and ten was one of the most formative experiences of her life. The Conservatory was founded in the 1950’s by Dr. Ruth Greenfield, an accomplished pianist and social activist. Known as the first integrated school of the arts in the south, it provided Jane with an early model of an inclusive community built around the arts. At a time when Miami was deeply divided culturally, racially and socio-economically, the conservatory embraced inclusiveness. Ruth, now 94 years old, continues to be Jane’s most enduring mentor.

Jane’s parents were dedicated to social change. Her father, Harold, an immigrant from Austria who later became a labor arbitrator, devoted his life to social justice through his early involvement in the civil rights movement, passion for free speech, and in his late years, rights of the homeless. When Jane was 10 years old, at the height of the civil rights movement, her family moved from Miami Beach to Georgia for Harold to direct the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Atlanta.

It was during her time in Atlanta that Jane fell in love with the oboe and English Horn, which she pursued intensively for the ensuing ten years in local and statewide youth symphonies.

Elaine Kramer, Jane’s mother, a social worker, sought out opportunities for Jane and her younger siblings, Liza and Peter to have extraordinary music and social experiences – from enrolling the children in the Fine Arts Conservatory, to discovering Camp Celo, a Quaker farm camp in North Carolina that also became a pivotal experience for the three children.

Despite her passion for and early success as an oboist, Jane chose college over conservatory and pursued an academic career. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Vassar College, spending her junior year at the University of York in England where she met Mitch, an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University also studying at York. Together since age nineteen, Jane and Mitch recently celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. Mitch completed medical school and residency at UCSF where he is now a Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine. They have two children, Nina a social worker and therapist in Oakland working with youth at risk for commercial sexual exploitation and Jonathan, a first year medical student at UCSF who is interested pediatric neurology and psychiatry and a son-in-law, Adam who is completing an MBA at the Presidio Business School in San Francisco and interested in sustainable business policy and practices.

Jane returned to England to pursue a master’s in health policy and administration from the London School of Economics and then to California where she received a Ph.D. in urban policy and planning at the University of California, Berkeley. Following her post-doctoral work at the Institute for Health Policy at the University of California, San Francisco, Jane began her career as a researcher at the Institute for Adolescent Health Policy, evaluating state and national programs dedicated to providing pathways for adolescents to thrive despite social and personal challenges. Two explanatory factors always rose to the top: passion and mentorship – having a pathway and a guide. With these, adolescents were able to negotiate and surmount difficult challenges while their peers often floundered.

Time Out Grant
During this time, Jane was fortunate to win a Vassar ‘Time-Out’ grant provided by an anonymous donor to one Vassar graduate to take a sabbatical year to “pursue a passion and/or take a risk”. While Jane proposed returning to her oboe studies and to “start a school of music like the Miami Fine Arts Conservatory in the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael”, the committee requested that she spend the year pursuing her personal music dreams, “starting her own music school if she so wished at the conclusion of the Time Out year”. The gift of one year to reconnect with her passion for music in general, and the oboe in particular – truly was the gift of a lifetime. With nationally renowned oboe mentors and teachers, including Bill Bennett of the San Francisco Symphony and John Mack of the Cleveland Orchestra, Jane immersed herself in music. She joined several community orchestras and performed as a soloist with Symphony Parnassus, the College of Marin Orchestra and the Mill Valley Philharmonic. Having deeply re-connected with her own musicianship Jane chose not to return to her position at UCSF, but rather to start the school of music that she had envisioned since she was seven years old in Miami.

Enriching Lives through Music – the early days
Dr. Jane Kramer founded Enriching Lives through Music (ELM) in 2008 to address disparities in opportunities for children living in the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael. Guided by her background in both music and social policy she created an accessible, innovative, ensemble based program that inspires youth to envision and achieve excellence in all facets of their lives through music education, performance, and participation in a music community.
Jane started ELM with 15 elementary school students playing the soprano recorder, no other teachers and no budget. After three years, she was able to hire two additional teachers and begin the Saturday school that is still the hallmark of ELM. In just the past 5 years, ELM has grown to a thriving program with over 120 students in three settings with multiple community partners. ELM now provides students with an in-depth musical experience (up to 10 hours weekly), free instruments, instruction, and ensemble participation. With a vibrant string, wind and brass program, ELM provides a pathway towards success by creating an intensive music community and creating opportunities for family and community connection and partnerships.

ELM is now a multi-year, intensive full scholarship music program affiliated with an international music program called El Sistema, which started in Venezuela over 40 years ago. It is a member of El Sistema USA, a national coalition of similar programs devoted to social change through intensive participation in music ensembles.

ELM may or may not create professional musicians. ELM seeks to create citizens in the best sense of the word – engaged students who take responsibility for themselves and their peers, who develop habits of discipline and focus, and who actively play and discover the beauty of creating music together.

Jane has created a program that is sustainable because it has the support of so many individuals and agencies in the community. ELM is of, for, and by the Canal community – rather than imposed upon it.

A community leader from the Canal recently wrote the following:
“Jane is gracious and articulate, and her passion is incredible and quite accessible. She doesn’t bowl people over with it as so many passionate people do, but she draws people into it. Quite a gift. “

Jane’s work with ELM has generated local and national attention. Under her extraordinary leadership, ELM has developed into a model program, one that is committed to addressing the huge disparity of opportunity for children and residents of the Canal. ELM is a testament to Jane’s vision, leadership skills and dogged pursuit of excellence. Guided by her belief in the power of music to change lives, ELM has become an integral part of the Canal community.

Jane’s vision is to continue to grow and nourish ELM, to reach increasing numbers of children while maintaining high quality and expectations for students. ELM remains deeply invested in the lifetime success of its students by providing access to excellence, meaningful choices, and opportunities to pursue their own passions and pass them on.

In addition to music and music education, Jane’s other passions are travelling – particularly to Japan, where she and Mitch lived from 2011-2012 and where she grew to love Japanese literature and language. She and her family are also avid kayakers, both in the San Francisco and Tomales Bay as well as internationally.

In addition to Ruth Greenfield, Jane will always be grateful to Ethel Seiderman, a Marin County icon and 1992 inductee into the Women’s Hall of Fame. Ethel took Jane under her wing and imparted her indelible wisdom, tenacity, and belief that every child and parent in our community is vitally important, an asset and worth fighting for.

Like Juan Antonio Abreu, the founder of El Sistema, Jane believes that if you “teach the children the beauty of music the music will teach them the beauty of life”.