Musician Sparks Kid's
Tim Sparks demonstrated a few instruments
from the Mideast Thursday to students at
Mankato East Junior High, one of several
area schools he visited as part of the
Music Performance Series. Musician Sparks
Guitarist Tim Sparks visits area schools,
giving students a history of music
By Joe Tougas
Free Press Staff Writer
Mankato Free Press
MANKATO - About halfway through his
performance at Mankato East Junior High,
visiting guitarist Tim Sparks offered
students the following joke:
Q: How many Greeks does it take to
screw in a lightbulb?
A: One, two, one-two-three; one, two,
It's a musical joke, a pretty funny one
actually, having to do with the different
time signatures in Mideastern music versus
western beats of 4/4 or 3/4.
But don't worry - it didn't exactly
have the kids rolling down the auditorium
aisles, either. But if they didn't get the
joke, the music helped explain.
Sparks, who before a concert Thursday
night visited East and
Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School,
today visits Dakota Meadows Middle School
and Lake Crystal Welcome Memorial High
He is a Minneapolis-based player who
has spent the past ten years traveling to
the Mideast and back, bringing back music
and a few instruments.
Performing in East auditorium for about
125 junior high students - most of them
band members - Sparks played and told
stories about the history of both the
songs and the instruments he used.
His visit to the schools was arranged
by Dale Haefner, director of Minnesota
State University's Performance Series,
which brings national, working musicians
to the college for concerts and occasional
workshops with students. Each year for the
past five, Haefner has arranged to bring
one musician into community schools.
"It's always a great opportunity for
these kids to hear a world-class
musician," Haefner said.
At East, the appreciation showed by the
quiet during Sparks' sets and the whoops
that erupted when he finished.
The North Carolina native began his
performance with a traditional Yemen
wedding song. He asked if any of the
students had any involvement with
temporary tattoos. Nearly all raised their
hands. Sparks, in describing the
instrumental he was about to play, told
students that henna tattoos are part of
the pre-wedding parties in Yemen.
From there, he broke into an
instrumental on a small Martin six-string
guitar, by far the most recognizable
instrument in the room. His finger-picking
style was textured, and his playing
smoothly combined high-note melodies as
well as low-string bass patterns - this
was no MTV.
Sparks didn't sing, but talked between
songs on the history behind the music he
was playing, using for instance the
expulsion of all non-Catholics from Spain
in the 15th Century, resulting in
immigrations to Greece, Northern Africa
On a lute-like instrument - a
grandfather of the guitar, he said -
called an oud, he performed a
Judeo-Spanish song that celebrated the
birth of the prophet Abraham.
The music gave him a platform for some
basic tips of the hat to diversity. He
stressed that a general mistrust of
Mideasterners would be similar to
mistrusting all American high school
students because of the Columbine
"We tend to form very negative
impressions of people in the Mideast
because when we hear of it, it's only bad
news," he said. "The Middle East is full
of millions and millions of people, we
can't judge them by the acts of a
From the oud, it was onto the chumbus,
which looked like a primitive or makeshift
banjo. The instrument, he said, had some
history in mathematics as well.
"I've heard the whole system of ratios
was developed by a Greek who stumbled on
it when he was trying to figure out where
to put the frets," Sparks said. By
demonstrating the typical Western
intervals of major or minor, he then
showed how the instrument provided an
unusual third note, somewhere in between
the "happy" and "sad" tones of the major
and minor intervals.
With four CDs, Sparks works as a solo
act in the Twin Cities area, focusing on
world music. He originally began playing
in rock bands, then to jazz. He discovered
his interest in world music in the late
1980s and has been a practitioner and
student since then.
After ending his appearance with a
Brazilian cowboy tune, he took questions.
One student asked how far he's traveled to
study music. The answer was an 11-hour
flight to Japan.
"That's four movies in an airplane,"