By: Rebecca LaPole
Photography by Tessa Abigail Photography
Tara Lynne Sparks knows a thing or two about inspiration: “I had a church choir teacher tell me I could be in choir – if I lip-synced … and now I teach music for a living,” she said during our interview about the after school program that has changed her life, Little Kids Rock (LKR). LKR is celebrating its fifth anniversary in the Poudre School District (PSD) this month, and its fourth National Modern Band Rockfest at the CSU Lagoon in July.
LKR is a non-profit organization based in New Jersey that provides free music instruction and instruments to schools around the US and in a few other countries. Sparks said, “I grew up playing flute in traditional bands and orchestras. I knew nothing of teaching the ins and outs of guitar, bass, keyboard, drums, and vocals together. Because David Wish, the creator of LKR, had a dream, I play bass in what is now called a Modern Band, the latest evolution of music education.”
The passionate and motivated Sparks has also been playing bass for four years. She happened to move across the street from Saja Butler, took bass lessons from her, and was asked to be in her bluegrass band, Lois and the Lantern. Sparks recalled, “I played flute and piccolo professionally until 2005 and then was lost for a long time. I picked up the djembe, and that wasn’t my scene, so when I unboxed a bass for LKR and went ‘weeeoooo’ [up and down on the neck], I knew – this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life!”
The excitement that pours out of Sparks is contagious and has already made a difference in our community, especially among parents and the students she teaches. There is definitely “something special about Modern Band,” Sparks said. “I teach to make the kids and the parents happy.“ During our interview, a student’s father came up and thanked her for what she does, gushing over how much his daughter has come out of her shell in Modern Band.
“LKR makes them happier. Kids who don’t like school come when they have LKR,” Sparks revealed. “It’s not easy. You have to practice, because it’s kinesthetic, and you have to have a lot of failures before you have successes.”
LKR was brought to Tavelli Elementary by a fourth grade teacher. Sparks said, “The atmosphere of our school has changed since we brought LKR into our classrooms. Tavelli now has six teachers and two parents assisting us with the program. It truly takes a village. Even our librarian is involved. She keeps track of our instruments that are checked out, just like library books.”
Sparks is also working on a committee (with members of LKR, PSD, and Bohemian Foundation) that is trying to determine what is appropriate for elementary school children in PSD. “Listening is one thing,” Sparks explained. “When you’re talking about having kids memorize lyrics and sing them and twerk onstage in front of their grandmas, it’s another. The kids will come tell me, ‘I heard this song, I want to learn how to play it.’ One of the challenges is telling kids we can’t sing that song because it’s not kid appropriate. Teaching the lyrics is much different than teaching a riff. We can change a line or two, but not a whole song.” She also works with radio show personality, Vincent Burkardt of KRFC 88.9 FM, on an after school Junior Broadcasting Club “that teaches skills for being an emcee, interviewing musicians, and speaking on the radio.”
Boosting spirits with encouragement and teaching introspection rather than berating them with negativity is Sparks’ teaching style. “It’s not about perfection, it’s about experience. How do the kids feel after that performance? Do they feel like rockstars, do they have a sense of pride? More than likely all will eventually feel that feeling of success thus making my dream come true,” Sparks hypothesized.
LKR is a cool and unique program that grooms the next generation of superstars, and in Fort Collins, the sky is the limit for these youngsters. “These children are growing up in a place where freedom of expression is evident,” Sparks proclaimed. “These kids I’m teaching are the first generation of LKR rockers in PSD. I don’t know where the Modern Band Program will take them but I know many places they could go … Kids that don’t fit the norm are becoming rockstars.”
The impact of music is powerful. Sparks thought, “Music is a living entity. It affects humans in a way nothing else can. It can make a baby awaken from slumber as well as put it there. It can make a stroke victim walk and smile. It can stop a tantrum. To me, music is magical. I’m blessed I get to share that magic with our community in so many ways.”