Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument, especially those in marginalized communities. For many children, public school music programs are the best and only option.

A former Little Kids Rock student from San Francisco named Tristan, now 16 years old, was surrounded by music from a young age because of her father, who was a musician. At the age of 7, Tristan’s father gave her a guitar with the intention of teaching her how to play it. However, before he could pass on the lifelong gift of music education to his daughter, he passed away. Since this earth-shattering day, Tristan has made music an integral part of her life.

Now a junior in high school, Tristan remembers when she joined the Little Kids Rock program upon entering middle school in sixth grade.

“She wasn’t just a ‘play an A, play a G’ kid,” says Tristan’s teacher Lauren Schwartz. “She could play these rich and deep harmonies… it’s a god-given talent.” Schwartz describes Tristan as a natural musician, and says the passion she put into her music was contagious. “What stuck out about Tristan was how much she put into her music. She gave 100% every single day.”

Little Kids Rock gave her a safe place where she could make mistakes, explore her passion, and provide inspiration to others through her music and her work ethic. As her musical abilities developed throughout her years in middle school, her family observed her blossom into a well-rounded, outgoing, independent young woman.

“I’m definitely a different person now,” Tristan says. But as she grew, and changed, she never lost sight of the little girl who looked up to her father, the musician, with admiration. Her love for him continued to fuel her passion to make music, and her memories of his musical abilities inspired her to hone her skills on the guitar.

Now, Tristan is finishing up her junior year of high school. She understands the power of the gift of music that she has been given, and realizes that the more of it that you can give to others, the more of it you get to keep for yourself. She says she would, “jump on any opportunity” to help others to experience the joy of making music.

This summer, Tristan will travel to the Dominican Republic to teach music and English to children through a program called Global Glimpse. When she returns to San Francisco for her senior year of high school, with even more experience and wisdom, she will prepare herself for the next step in her life’s journey – college.

“I’m not only interested in the performing aspects of music, but the components that create a track,” Tristan says. “I want to go to Berklee College of Music and major in music production.”

As for the musician she’s already become, Tristan says her father would be absolutely ecstatic. “I can just imagine all the jam sessions we would have had. He always wanted me to follow in his footsteps,” she says. “Through my music, I am still able to remember him.”

Little Kids Rock can never replace Tristan’s father, but helping her fulfill the musical life she never got to realize with him is an experience that has transformed her life forever.

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