University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 2/1996
Personal notes

     When Joan Marsh Sparks, Delaware '74, was 8 years old and
sick in bed with pneumonia, her father brought a record player
into her room, filling the air with the sounds of the
Philadelphia Orchestra.
     Of all the music she listened to during those weeks, it was
Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun-the first composition to use the
flute as a solo instrument in the orchestra-that cheered her up
the most.
     It was that realization and her grandmother's observation
that she could already make a lot of noise blowing on a Coke
bottle that led Sparks to decide that the flute was for her.
     Years later, there is still some of that bottle-blowing
little girl in Sparks. As part of SPARX, a flute and harp duo,
she and partner Anne Sullivan are rapidly gaining a reputation
for musical adventurism.
     "For me, the flute and harp duo is ideal because I am
responsible for 50 percent of the sound that comes out," Sparks
says. "The flute is usually considered a subdued, sweet
instrument, but I am not that kind of a player. I love the
challenge of pushing my technique as far as I can. SPARX makes a
lot of noise."
     A SPARX concert can take any form-from the "Seor Basque"
program for preschool children that traces a day in the life of a
shepherd and his bird, to Duke Ellington covers or the U.S.
premiere of Harald Genzmer's Sonata For Flute and Harp.
     And, no matter the setting, the two instrumentalists are
devoted to developing chamber music audiences and to educating
their diverse listeners. They often customize their performances
to suit the musical and educational needs of groups of all
different ages.
     It's "music from all ages for all ages," Sparks says.
     SPARX's most significant award is a four-year Chamber Music
America residency matching grant. Residency programs will keep
the arts alive, she says.
     "I think we need to leave this age of global stars and
global appeal and make what we do more appealing to the listener
on a personal level," she says. "Instead of going bigger, we have
to go smaller and give people a personal stake to come out and
hear concerts. There's a lot more to do."
     A master music educator who recently received a
distinguished alumni award from the UD Department of Music,
Sparks is a native of north Wilmington and has spent her life in
the First State.
     She's also a married mother of two young children, who still
finds quiet moments to read. And, she loves to cook, always ready
with hot chicken soup when a family member is ill and no
Philadelphia Orchestra CDs are handy.
                                             -Martin Duncan