BEST EXCUSE TO MAKE A WHOLE LOT OF NOISE Girls Rock! Chicago
Here at TOC Kids, we’re often struck with pangs of envy when we see all the cool stuff available to kids these days. Girls Rock! definitely fits that bill, offering summer-camp sessions that empower girls ages 8–16 through music. The nonprofit’s accomplished instructors, whose ranks have included TOC contributors Andrea Bauer of Coupleskate and Melissa Elias of the Ponys, school girls on how to play, write and record music, plus work technical equipment and do everything they’d need to get a band together. Week-long sessions also include team-building activities, guest speakers, local band performances, and a finale CD and student showcase at a real rock club—all designed to make girls feel they can accomplish anything. And moms, if (like us) you wish you could’ve learned to jam in an all-girl setting, now you can: Girls Rock! offers a Ladies Rock! Camp, with proceeds benefitting the girls’ program. (773-289-2670).
GR!C (showcase and studio)
Yesterday was the Girls Rock! Chicago showcase at the Bottom Lounge. My girls did so well! The entire show was amazing; the DJs spun for about thirty minutes before the bands all went on, so there was a giant dance party, and then 21 rocking bands. All of them were fantastic, and the entire vibe was just so positive and empowering. THIS ORG IS MY FAVORITE.
Today I met my band in the studio to record. I’ve never been in an actual recording studio before! It was truly magical. They did their song live in one take, and then N- did her vocals on her own. She’s never sounded better and I’ve never been more proud. (She’s totally a tomboy Justine Frischmann.)
The engineer was a woman; when everyone was done, she announced, “you all should listen to the Kinks, if you know that band… because you sound a lot like them.” (I got teary, not gonna lie.)
The staff asked me to help out with the second session, and I want to so much, but I’m afraid my job will not be too happy about that. We’ll see.
It’s so strange to think it’s all over, now. When the CD is done I’ll definitely share some songs.
I got to participate in the skits today (presumably because my Justin Bieber one went over so well!) so I got to pretend to leave a mess and not clean it up; also to forget my part while playing on stage. Lessons learned: clean up after yourself! No matter what, the show must go on!
Morning workshop was PERFORMANCE! Lots of tips and tricks to stay calm, to work through your nerves, et cetera… and then we all made up a dance to “I whip my hair back and forth.” As a band we had to go up on “stage” and perform together. My band was so hyper and keyed up today, with it being the last day and the showcase coming up tomorrow, but they did great. They went off to last instrument instruction, and then we met back up for lunch.
At lunch J- asked, “are we going to spend this whole time talking about Radiohead again?” Whoops! They wanted to rehearse some more, so we went upstairs and ran through the song a couple of times. N- memorized her lyrics overnight, which is awesome, and they really tightened up their transitions. There was no afternoon workshop; instead we had rehearsal for tomorrow’s show, where each band got to run through 30-45 seconds of their song for the other campers. It’s really not possible for me to convey the joy it brings me to know that this week has birthed 21 baby girl bands, that all of them composed an entire song in this time, and that they’re all set to perform their song tomorrow on a real stage at a real venue. All of these girls are amazing and tomorrow is going to be THE BEST GIG EVER.
Band rehearsal went great, I gave N- some vocal pointers, which had her singing stronger and more clearly. I can’t believe J- has only been playing drums for five days. And once again B- opened up a tiny bit more; she was in the best mood today, laughing and joking. A- is the sweetest, she’s kind of the glue that holds them all together. I genuinely wish this was my full time job, this stuff, because I would so do this for the rest of my life forever.
After rehearsing a few more times, they felt confident and ready, so we all started playing around, switching instruments. B- immediately sat at the drums and rocked her tiny heart out. She’s definitely not as reserved as she thinks she is. N- and A- taught me some guitar chords, and I even sat and dinked around on the drums awhile. I forgot how great it is to do that. Why did I ever stop?
I had to leave a bit early because of an appointment, but all the girls gave me a hug, and the showcase is tomorrow. If you are in Chicago PLEASE come, it’s at 1:30 at the Bottom Lounge and it’s $10 and it will be the greatest gig EVER. Rehearsal alone had me cheering my fool head off. You won’t regret it and these girls have worked so hard, and every one of them embodies so much potential.
It’s strange to think I won’t be going back there again this year. I really wish I could volunteer for the second session.
GR!C (day four)
It was a sweltering day today, and even though the school where camp is held supposedly is air conditioned, I’m just not sure it was designed to keep up. Morning skits were about staying hydrated and songwriting compromise. Then the girls wrote shout outs— proclamations on a piece of paper, gratitude to whoever they decided, for whatever reason. The shout outs joined the “I rock because”-es on the entrance corridor wall.
Morning workshop was divided by age again, and while the younger girls learned about non-traditional instruments (washboards, spoons, kazoos, etc.) the older girls had a workshop on the history of women in popular and rock music. Which began with the question, “who do you admire as a musician?” The names Kathleen Hanna and Carrie Brownstein were the first two answers, and I seriously wanted to weep with joy. (This camp is my favorite thing that has ever happened.)
The discussion quickly evolved into a discourse on the media’s portrayal of women, the unattainable standard of perfection, the double standards when compared to male musicians, et cetera. These girls get it, they really do, and they talked about these things with a level of respect and maturity I would not have expected from them. Take note, world, because this generation here isn’t gonna take your shit no more. At the end the girls wrote one thing they will never change about themselves, and one woman musician they admire and why. These are also all taped to the wall.
At lunch I had an extended conversation with N- about Radiohead, and her jaw hit the floor when I told her I saw them open for REM in 1994. The girls also asked me lots of questions about my tattoos, which was funny and adorable; it’s really difficult for me to remember now what it was like to NOT have tattoos, and for that to be a thing I wanted distantly or at some future point in my life. (“Why do you keep getting them if they hurt?” J- asked me. “Because, for me, it’s worth it.”)
Afternoon workshop was switched around; the older girls learned about non-traditional instruments and the younger ones about the history of women. I sat in on the instrument workshop for a bit, but then made some phone calls and tried in vain to find a place in the school where the a/c was functional. It was so hot everywhere, and everyone was gross and miserable. One of the other counselors got sick and went home.
Band rehearsal was conducted with shades drawn and lights out, and that’s why I’ve included the photo. From left to right are B-, (band coach) M-, J-, N-, and A-. N- came to camp today with the remainder of the lyrics, and the girls finished writing the bridge and decided on the structure of the song, and so 45 minutes into rehearsal, the song was finished. They ran through it over and over for the remainder of the time, working on transitions, tightening everything up, and for about the 6th time so far this week, I started to get teary; I’m just so overwhelmed at what this camp does for girls, at how much I wish this had been available to me, at how great the girls in my band have been, especially how much B- has grown. Today she was laughing and joking around with her bandmates, which I’ve never seen her do before. She finally feels equal, I think, and comfortable enough to speak her mind, and I’m elated for that, and for her.
Band photo was today as well, and performance is the day after tomorrow. Recording is on Sunday. This has been one of the longest weeks of my life but it’s also flown by so, so fast.
Morning assembly was short, but involved a skit featuring Justin Bieber where he was incapable of coming in on the one. This skit was actually my idea! And they used it! I felt good about that and everyone laughed. (For the record, Bieber picked it up in the end, and managed to make it work.) The lesson there is to listen to your band coach, and if you don’t get it right the first time, keep trying. Morning workshop was button making!! The girls all got to design and create their own 2 1/4” buttons, and they really got into it. N- took this opportunity to create a logo for the band, and made it into a button. It was adorable. She’s definitely the most outwardly invested in this whole process. I took the opportunity while the girls went to instrument instruction to grab a nap in the courtyard for about 20 minutes. It was glorious. We spent lunchtime working on the GR!C zine (every girl gets one page!) and then it was time for afternoon workshop: vocals. I learned a Selena Gomez song (who says you’re not beautiful?) and the girls learned about breathing and warm-up exercises. Band rehearsal went SO WELL yesterday. B- was more vocal and opinionated than ever, N- came with some lyrics that they worked on/expanded together, A- and J- pick everything up so quickly… they wrote a verse together (music and lyrics) and practiced transitions from one to the other. The transitions are rough, and we ran out of time, but they have another 4 hours total to get it nailed. I seriously couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve managed to accomplish in just three days and I’m going to cheer my fool head off for them on Saturday when they perform. Performance was a bit haphazard; the booked act (a female MC) was late, so our band coach M- grabbed an acoustic guitar and performed her original songs for about 20 minutes. The MC arrived finally and did her set as well, to the dwindling crowd (as the kids got picked up by their parents). I came home and watched True Blood and went to bed. This week has been so exhausting, but totally amazing as well.
I rock because: __________________
Morning assembly involved a few skits, and then completing that statement on a piece of paper. Then the girls split into three groups by age; the 8 through 11 year olds went to the Threadless workshop and modified t-shirts. The 12 and 13 year olds had a presentation by the Chicago Women’s Health Center in a different room, and the 14 and up crowd went to yet another room for a CWHC chat. This is the room I went to, even though girls in my band span all three age levels.
The morning workshop was nothing short of amazing. It consisted of a frank discussion on the difference between biological sex and gender, and gender stereotypes. I took a photo of the board where the facilitator made notes based on the girls’ answers/discussion, and honestly, I was so impressed and thrilled with how much these girls already knew, and how much they already get it. They were making some amazing observations and drawing conclusions that took me much, much longer to understand than when I was their age. It gave me so much hope for the future. (Also, loving Justin Bieber is a behavior to contemplate on the gender expression spectrum!)
At the break (while the girls had instrument instruction) I talked with one of the staffers about B-, and how reserved she is, and I got some ideas for helping her to get involved a bit more. She has a younger sister also at camp, and while the other three girls are hanging out together in assembly and at lunch, B- chooses to hang with her sister and some of the younger campers. Which is fine, if that’s what she wants, but I want her to feel like it’s her band too.
After lunch we talked about ideas for our band page in the GR!C zine (each band gets one page!) and also tossed around ideas for a band name. Band names have to be decided by tomorrow at the end of rehearsal, because they’re putting together schedules for Saturday’s performance and Sunday’s recording. B- was reluctant to even join us at our table, though I managed to convince her, but when I tried to direct questions toward her or ask what she thought while we all talked, she would only shrug or shake her head.
Afternoon workshop was again divided, and the older girls who didn’t do t-shirt workshop in the morning got to do that this afternoon. I made a headband. It’s kind of terrible. The more important thing is, B- went off to learn about making flyers for band promotion, and I got to talk to J-, A-, and N- about ideas on how to include her more proactively. They seemed a bit frustrated with how B- doesn’t like their ideas but also doesn’t offer any of her own, so we talked about ways to encourage her to feel comfortable, confident, and valued. The girls were great about it; I really do think they like B- and want her to contribute, so we went into band rehearsal feeling fairly positive.
B-’s instrument instructor joined us for the first part of band rehearsal, which was an immense help; she’s just the right balance of supportive and pushy and B- responded so well to her. Our band coach, M-, also made sure that A- and N- (on guitar and bass) worked more closely with B- this time, on chord changes, and counts, things like that.
N- is really blossoming into a leader. She fires off so many ideas, and asks everyone what they think, or offers ways they can better work together. It’s really wonderful to see her do that. She also did a great job remembering to ask B- specifically for her thoughts. They worked again on the bit of the song they wrote yesterday, adding to it, and we spent some time pondering what the song might be about, based on how it sounds, how it makes them feel, what it reminds them of, et cetera. B- was super quiet in this discussion, but N- did a wonderful job of recalling a topic they’d discussed earlier (a book that B- said she likes), and relating it to what they’d already written, drawing some inspiration, there.
Then they ran through it again, and while N-, A- and J- were talking to M-, B- wrote a melody on her keyboard right on the spot. Unprompted and unannounced, just made it right up. I got everyone’s attention really quickly and told B- to play it again, and she did, and everyone thought it was amazing and awesome. So much that they want B- to open the song with it, solo, and then add to it for the verses later on. The part they’ve written, they decided, is the chorus. And the song structure right now will be intro -> chorus -> verse -> chorus -> TBD. (N- says the chorus should come first “like the Beatles.”) And at the very end of rehearsal, while packing up, the girls came up with a name for their band.
By the end of rehearsal, all 80 of the “I rock because” statements were taped to the wall in the main entrance, a collage of awesome. The band coach M- performed today, filling in on bass for the band that was booked. They were a four piece blues band who did a great cover of “Seven Nation Army.”
When I left this morning, I forgot my coffee tumbler, my kindle, and my pre-workout snack, because I’m seriously useless before 9AM. But I returned today and emptied the pockets of my jeans— two pairs of earplugs, 3 guitar picks, my GR!C lanyard, and the scribble sheet I’m keeping of the girls’ ideas for lyrics.
Fair trade, I’d say.
My day began with coffee and t-shirt surgery in the volunteer lounge. Almost all of us are new volunteers this year, so it was nice to be the same level of anxious and lost that everyone else seemed to be. There are 80 campers total for the week, and this group seems a bit young; most of them are 8-10 years old. Morning assembly began at 9, with a lecture on hearing safety and distribution of earplugs, and then a good 90 minutes of get-to-know-eachother activities. Some of the girls dove right in and made quick work of becoming friends with everyone. Many more of them were awkward and reticent. (I was fangirled twice for my MCR tattoo, one girl was even in an MCR t-shirt. She asked me in awe if that was a Kobra Kid tattoo and then just pointed at her shirt. I gave her a high-five so fast.) By the end of the assembly, everyone wrote down who they wanted to be in a band with. Then off they went to instrument instruction while the volunteers took to sorting, assembling and revising the bands, trying to accommodate everyone’s wishes.
After lunch and some freestyle art time, the afternoon workshop on songwriting began. I went with the 13+ group and we talked about the creative process, how Carly Rae Jepsen co-wrote her big hit, and how One Direction doesn’t write any of their own songs (but that they’re still really great songs, and the people who write them make a decent living at it, they just don’t want to be performers). We talked about lyricism and inspiration, and the benefits and challenges of collaborating. A couple of the girls shared songs they’d written already. Then it was finally time for the bands to be announced.
First of all, my band coach, M-, is fantastic. She basically knows a little bit about all of the instruments, and knows how to keep the group engaged and keep their creativity going. Honestly I’m only there for applause and moral support and to move the vocal mic away from its amp when it starts to feedback. I also go searching for guitar picks and power cords. My (as of yet unnamed, though they’re brainstorming ideas) four-piece band are all 12 through 14 and consist of N- on bass, B- on keyboards, and J- and A-, who started out on guitar and drums respectively but halfway through rehearsal decided to switch. I have no idea how this will work since I’m pretty sure they’ll be spending the morning in instrument instruction for their assigned instrument, unless they’re able to switch that too. I suppose tomorrow will tell.
N- has a fantastic, tomboyish spirit, and she’s not afraid to voice ideas, but she’s super diplomatic about it, too. J- is also full of ideas and persistence; she’s new to both guitar and drums but she stayed really positive throughout rehearsal, continuing to try things even if she didn’t quite get them at first. A- already plays guitar and she’s learning drums this week, but she also played bass for awhile today (and N- took guitar while she did.) The three of them, so far, seem to click really well together. B-, however, is the youngest, and she’s quiet, and sits at her keys and lets everyone else talk, and I was a little worried about her for a bit. The other three kept switching their instruments and trying things out and B- was sort of relegated to the same two chords while they did, and I kept reminding them to solicit B-’s input, too. Except that she never seemed to have an opinion, even when asked.
And then— once everyone settled on what they wanted to play, there was a lull in the rehearsal, and out of nowhere, B- just starts playing “Somebody That I Used to Know” on her keyboard, and J- joined in with a simple rock beat on the drums, and N- and A- figured out the chords and they played nearly half the song just, right there like that. I was SO PROUD of B-, and of all of them, and maybe that’s not a very complicated song or maybe B- learned it in her instrument lesson that morning, but N- even started SINGING, and prior to that nobody even wanted to sing. After that they went on to write part of a song of their own, a really cool drum part and N- invented a bass line, and A- started experimenting with melody on her guitar, and they all decided it was a chorus, and they’d just begun to work on ideas for verses (and how they might be different, or transition to/from the chorus) and then band rehearsal was over.
I think N- is going to try to sing, which is going to be awesome, and I really hope B- keeps her confidence about her, and/or the others recognize that sometimes they need to give her that space to shine because she’s a little reserved to just step up and take it.
Then we all went to the assembly room for a performance by Purple Apple. This four-piece are all 14 and 15 year old girls and they are AWESOME. Their songs are jangly and summery and infectious and rollicking, and they’ve all been friends forever and are they youngest band EVER to headline the Metro, and I just made a million heart eyes at them. They’re playing Lolla this year (which they were SO excited about) and stayed afterward to sign autographs for all the campers who wanted them.
(Then it took me two hours to get home because the president’s motorcade re-routed my bus.)
I’m exhausted. But excited to see what else my band comes up with this week. I’m thinking of letting them give me a rider for their performance on Saturday (consisting of, you know, their favorite kind of candy or something like that.)
I had orientation today for Girls Rock! camp. I’m going to be a camp counselor for a week (the last week of June), and basically I will be assigned to one rocking band of little ladies, who will all learn their instrument of choice, write a song, rehearse the song, and at the end of the week perform that song for everyone, then record it in an actual studio.
The orientation was basically awesome; anytime I’m immersed in groups of women who are working toward a common goal of social justice it makes me super happy. I think this experience is happening at a crucial time for me. I’m still a bit anxious about camp week since I’ve never volunteered before, but new volunteers were in the majority at today’s session so at least I’m not alone.
I learned a lot of strategies to deal with conflict resolution between kids, which was also super helpful. Counselors have by far the most in-depth and longest contact with the campers over the course of the week (as opposed to instrument instructors, or workshop instructors, who may see the participants for only an hour or two; or band coaches, who are only there for the band practice part of the day). Also at the end of each day of camp, there will be a live performance (five different bands have volunteered to come and perform) so the campers get a good sense of what a concert is like (and all of the bands booked for the week have ladies!). It was difficult for me to remember that before I was 16 I had no real idea of how live shows worked. And I’ve just now realized I’ve been going to shows for more years than I didn’t go to shows (because I was a kid). Weird.
The one sadmaking part of the day was this: as counselors, we get our own break time (which is from 11 to 12:30, and lunch is provided for us.) The campers have lunch from 12:30 to 1PM. The staff requested that we take at least part of our lunch from the volunteer room to the cafeteria at 12:30 so that we can sit with our band and eat with them.
“Especially for the ten to twelve year olds… please let them see you eating.”
This was reiterated multiple times. The fact that it’s even an issue, and the fact that a basic biological need has to be modeled so that it’s seen as acceptable makes me incredibly sad and angry for everyone.
Overall though, a great day. So very much looking forward to camp week. I can’t wait to see what my band can do.