Girls Rock Camp

GIRLS ROCK CAMP TORONTO SHOWCASE at the Tranzac Main Hall (292 Brunswick), Sunday (August 11), doors 2:30 pm. Pwyc.

In mid-July, I volunteered as a guitar instructor and band coach at Girls Rock Camp Toronto, a volunteer-run organization that helps young girls build self-esteem through music creation. (The camp’s third and final summer session holds a showcase on Sunday.)

The experience challenged me in unexpected ways. My diary is below.

Day One

Today I remembered how nervous camp makes me. The only one I ever went to was a fiddle camp when I was 11, and I got so homesick I almost burst an ulcer. But this is rock ‘n’ roll camp. Run by awesome women creating a safe, empowering place for young rockers. And we get to leave at 5 pm.

The kids found out who was in their bands and assembled to make agreements. My band of five eight-to-10-year-olds decided on the following: no put-downs, stand up for yourself and others, be assertive, respect all opinions, feel good about yourself, love cats. Later my co-coach, Meagan, added “HAVE FUN” to the list.

The kids settled on the name Sci-Fi Rock & Roll. A good start.

Day Two

At practice we scribbled lyrics onto a dry/erase board. Three members want to sing but all get shy when faced with a mic. They also discovered it’s hard to play and sing at the same time. And that guitars are heavy. Their song is about an invasion by 50-foot kittens from outer space. Progress is slow and I’m starting to panic.

Day Three

The toughest day. I missed morning guitar instruction because I couldn’t sleep. The band can’t agree on the song’s direction – one wants to rap, the others hate rap – and nobody will compromise.

The camp counsellor did a “check-in” that Meagan and I thought would take 10 minutes but actually took an hour. We sat at the snack table biting our nails. Afterwards she told us there were conflicts but that they’d talked stuff out. Sadly there was no more time to work on the song.

Day Four

I was determined to get the song done since tomorrow is the dress rehearsal, but instead the kids kicked us out of the room to work on lyrics. We peeked through the glass doors intermittently. After about 40 minutes they started goofing around on each other’s instruments, so we went back in.

The energy was high. They’d written reams of lyrics. Dark stuff about their families being trapped under rubble. “How do you spell ‘evacuate’?” the bassist asked. The lead guitarist was particularly psyched. I was glad to see it since she’d seemed unhappy. “The words were just pouring out of me!” she exclaimed.

I wanted to say, “But tomorrow is the dress rehearsal! There isn’t even any music to go with these lyrics!” But I didn’t dare dampen their creative high.

I waited till I got home to spiral into despair. Even if they finished the song, would they have enough time to practise it? Would they feel completely unprepared and, therefore, humiliated onstage – my own greatest fear? I’m so scared of failing them.

Day Five

We threw together a structure and got the song done in the nick of time. It’s called 50-Foot Freakout. They played it at the dress rehearsal, and it sounded good! The other campers and volunteers cheered and clapped and asked for an encore. When I saw happiness spread across my band members’ faces, my worries evaporated.

After that, the bigger picture quickly came into focus. The point of Girls Rock Camp is not perfection or competition. It’s the process. To learn to get along. To “HAVE FUN!” To try new things and support each other. To be wrong and strong and empowered and not fear mistakes. Stuff I needed to be reminded of, too, I realized.

Of course now that the end is in sight, I don’t want camp to end. | @carlagillis

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