Rocking at Girls Rock Camp

My July was rather busy, hence the lack of blog posts. One activity was that I took a week’s vacation in order to volunteer at the July session of Girls Rock Camp Boston. I substituted 8-hour days at a computer for 10-hour days co-teaching drumming plus coaching a newly-created band of 8, 9 and 10-year-old girls who wrote an original song and performed it on stage at a major Boston nightclub in front of 300 people!

What is the girls rock camp movement and why might you be interested in supporting it whether or not you happen to have girl children?


“Girls Rock Camp” is an idea that started in Portland OR in 2001 and has subsequently grown to include 34 independent programs around the US plus 6 in Europe (the 3rd program began in 2003 in Sweden!). Girls rock camp is a non-profit music camp where girls learn an instrument, form a band, write an original song, and perform a concert at a live music venue.

Girls rock camp exists in different parts of the world and can look a little bit different depending on where you are  – see the networking group Girls Rock Camp Alliance. Each shares a desire to achieve a reality where gender and culture do not decide whether a person can play music. Until we reach that goal, girls rock camp is a way to provide a space for girls where they can identify as musicians. Girls rock camp  uses methods to encourage the campers’ creativity, provide a variety of different musicians and mentors as role models, and a curriculum that is a broad introduction to the world of music.

GRCA camps value diversity and strive to be as inclusive as possible. They  usually have a very low tuition, sliding scale and/or provide financial aid, and value female mentorship and leadership.

I have to say I was rather nervous about volunteering when asked – not only did GRCB want me to assist in the kit drum instruction classes (about which I had only learned this spring at their Ladies Rock Camp fundraiser) but since they were also in need of band coaches I jumped in for that too, despite having NO experience interacting with under-18s since I was that age myself!

And… it was an awesome experience! You may be wondering “How do they teach girls to play guitar, bass, keyboard or drums in 5 days?!” – but that’s not the goal. The point of the week is to give the girls the same environment boys in our society generally get to mess around with instruments and have fun without being told they have to be perfect, or even good, immediately (think of some garage bands you’ve heard – my neighbor’s band’s Saturday practice sounded horrible in 1996 but they kept chugging away and now sound decent).

So as band coach I didn’t insist that the guitarist or bassist learn more than one chord, or that the vocalist have lyrics whose line lengths balanced, and I hid behind the amps on stage in order to cue the 8-yo drummer to switch drum hits between the chorus and verse. We had lots of breaks for them to doodle in their notebooks. And on Saturday they stood in front of more people than I ever have at Brighton Music Hall and rocked:

Cat Nap at GRCB Showcase

I am behind the amps behind the singer, cueing the drummer!

If you do have a daughter/granddaughter/niece/etc between 8-17 I highly recommend checking out Girls Rock Camp if you have one in your area. But even if you don’t have a girl to refer, there are many ways to support the experience for other girls:

♦ If you play guitar, bass, keyboards or drums, or are a singer, consider volunteering to teach.

♦ If you are not a musician (or don’t feel confident in teaching/coaching) there are many other volunteer slots needed: band manager (like a camp counselor), support crew for gear moving, prepping/serving donated food, an on-site nurse, office tasks (e.g., preparing the programs for the showcase), etc.

♦ Do you own/manage a food service (cafe, grocery, restaurant, catering, etc) that could donate food for breakfast or lunch? As volunteers our only “pay” was getting awesome food from local cafes and restaurants.

♦ Do you own/manage a music store that could donate supplies? Guitar Center is a big sponsor of GRCB and donates picks, drum sticks, strings, gift cards and gear.

♦ Are you a professional photographer or videographer? In Boston, photographer Kelly Davidson comes to take photos of each band.

♦ Donate music gear you aren’t using, or cash!

Check the website of your local GRCA organization to discover what you might be able to offer – you won’t regret it!

6 thoughts on “Rocking at Girls Rock Camp

  1. Has anyone ever reported a bad experience with it or had negative feelings afterwards? I haven’t been able to find anything on google about that and I don’t trust anything with 100% positive reviews. I heard there’s a lot of peer pressure involved and I don’t think that’s cool.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by “peer pressure”? I can only speak from my experience with Girls Rock Campaign Boston: the organizers are very serious about making it a safe environment that encourages girls’ self-esteem. As an instrument teacher/band coach I had pre-camp orientation covering how to handle anything that might come up among the girls who were my responsibility, such as anyone behaving in a bullying manner towards another girl, not respecting another’s physical space, making sure that all band members participate in their songwriting and performing process in a way that is comfortable for each girl, encouraging but not forcing anyone to participate if she is really not into it, etc. There’s no way I can say whether afterward any girl was satisfied or unsatisfied – I’m sure there are some for whom it wasn’t their favorite thing ever. But there are many girls who have returned every year.

      • Peer pressure as in not leaving room for individuals to make decisions that best suit their own needs. I know a few adults who have done the Ladies version who felt like they were forced to participate in things that they didn’t want to do like punk rock aroebics.

        It’s just weird to not see any negative comments about this. Makes it seem cultlike and like there’s an unhealthy silencing of people who don’t like it.

        • This is interesting feedback – I will point it out to the GRCB people. I don’t believe that they censor anyone’s experiences, but I would think if women have given them this feedback on their post-camp evaluation form that GRCB would not be posting the contents of confidential feedback publicly. Also I wonder if women who felt this way are not being publicly vocal because despite their personal experience they are self-censoring due to not wishing to seem critical of what the non-profit is doing for girls. Which would be unfortunate, since one of the goals of Ladies & Girls Rock Camp is to empower women/girls to speak their truth. I encourage you to let your friends know that bringing this up to GRCB is welcome, even if their experience was not recent, esp. if they have not done so previously.

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