Last week I had the incredible opportunity to volunteer at Girls Rock Campaign Boston. Their mission is to:
Empower girls to believe in themselves by providing a supportive community that fosters self-expression, confidence, and collaboration through musical education and performance.
Also, if you’re a girl from age 8 to 17, you will learn a new instrument, write a rock song, make a logo, screen print t-shirts, and play the big stage in ONE WEEK with the help of some incredible female mentors and music educators.
I was a newbie to this non-profit and the experience blew away all my expectations, as a musician and as woman. These are the lessons I brought back from Girls Rock Camp.
Self-judgement be gone. Usually I’m comfortable in my size 4 top and size 10 bottom, but lately I’ve been unnecessarily assessing, feeling uncertain. Ten minutes into orientation however, I felt absolved of self-judgement. Forty-five women – of all shapes, sizes, and sexuality – filled with the spirit of experience (of Girls Rock and of life) brought me back down to earth. The folding chairs embraced our burdened histories while offering support at our shoulder blades. “We are here this week for the encouragement and growth of the girls, for each other, and for ourselves.” Self-judgement, meet your maker.
Have gratitude. One by one, the circle of introductions revealed that nearly half the volunteers were apart of Girls Rock because they didn’t have anything like this as kids. When my turn arrived, I shared how grateful I am for the experiences my parents gave me as a child. June, July and August were regularly spent at Girl Scout Camp or in Summer Enrichment classes, with my mom always pushing me to try something new. “Those summertime adventures made me who I am today. If I can provide that mentorship, that inspiration, and that kind of support for just one girl, the next seven days will be truly worth it.”
The right people for the right cause. In business, creating a successful culture with the right blend of personalities is like a fine art; we strive to hire the right people for the right job. Every single woman in Girls Rock embodied compassion for others first, while acting on self care wherever necessary. Never have I ever seen a group of people fall right in step with one another (newbies or veterans), who are forthright when experience was lacking and can tap out when the cheerleading turned to fatigue. This sort of thing is a challenge; I try to be a superhero for others and myself, even when it’s utterly overwhelming. However, led by the example of forty-four volunteers, Girls Rock created an environment that granted a reprieve from becoming my own worst enemy.
Listen more. Every now and then we’d grab a break in the lounge while the girls were in a workshop. A few volunteers shared what town or state they call home, why they moved, or why they stayed. One woman chimed in that she changed locales to come out, a second, and a third confirmed with similar stories. “…a friend of mine managed to stay, but the community was more progressive and accepting.” I sat in the middle of the couch just listening; I had never considered how someone’s “home town” might not be the home for who they truly are. I thought about saying something to explain how surprised I was that this problem still persists, but I had no idea how to say it. So, I chose to actively participate through silence, hoping that my quiet demeanor portrayed the support I wish I could give, and that maybe just being present was enough.
Dare to Share. Some of the Girls Rock volunteers fight vehemently against gender stereotypes and the roles they play in society. A lunch conversation turned into a hatred of 50s mentality, slighting of men at large, and anger varnished with the green of youth. I listened until I couldn’t hold it in any longer. “The roles are entirely reversed in our household, with myself as the ‘breadwinner’, and my husband as the creative musician, who in turn is my supportive partner. When I come home stressed out from work, he’s not suffering from the same stress and helps me come up for air.” I went on to share that this wasn’t about gender, it was about focusing on our personal strengths to create balance through understanding who we are individually and together. Additionally, we used to live in a more modern suburb where stay-at-home Dads made up about a quarter of our Whole Foods population. While we were a little surprised at first, you could see change through the produce mist. “There is hope, we just have to be willing to see progress even when inside stereotypical landscapes.” The young volunteer’s shoulders relaxed as I thought about my initial hesitation. Perhaps those of us who live against the grain should share more often.
An 11-year old musician is no different than a 32-year old musician. Whether you’re trying to learn your favorite Pixies song with a new band member or you’re learning guitar for the first time, these tasks transcend the age continuum. Learning your instrument, working together towards a common goal, and giving your brain a break are struggles shared across the gaggle of girls. When I was bored in band rehearsal, so were they. When I got goosebumps because the magic of music happened, so did they. In the great words of Aaliyah, Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, playin’ music ain’t nothin’ but a thing.
Workshop it out. By Tuesday it was clear my band of girls had plenty of talent to try any song off of a chord chart, but writing from scratch turned their brains to mud. I asked if when they wrote songs, was it by themselves or with someone else? “Usually noodling on guitar by myself” was a shared sentiment. They all worked really well together when things were clear, but this fuzziness was puzzling. “After joining you in yesterday’s songwriting workshop, I have an idea. During quiet band practice, let’s rally around the story of the song you want to write. Then all the chords, mood, and melody might come a bit easier.”
We rocked a PostIt Note exercise that afternoon: Everyone received a small stack of paper and a marker. Each girl wrote down their ideas for the song’s subject matter. I then read each submission aloud (which ensures all ideas are heard and considered by the group), taped it to the wall, and made buckets for trending ideas along the way. The girls were already getting excited about a few of the ideas, but to be fair, I always like to throw in a “dot vote.” Each girl had three dots to use as votes for their favorite ideas. They could use all three on one or choose three different ideas. The topic with the most dots would be the winner.
By the end of the week, the band had written an incredible song about “My Friend Walter” who had crazy hair, wore flannel shirts, and liked grapes. Walter also had big dreams but ends up passing away at a young age because he wasn’t ready for the city. This is the result of different ideas sewn together through music by the force of five amazing girls. It created one hell of a rock song, too.
Divide and conquer. Thursday morning arrived fast – we only had two days left before every band was to play their finished song live in front of a packed house at Brighton Music Hall. Our band wasn’t quite done with the structure or the melodies of “My Friend Walter.” Again, the brains in the room were turning to mush with lots of noodling on parts but little polish to the song’s architecture. I spoke to my fellow Band Coach. “I think we should try dividing and conquering today. If we can record the individual parts, then vocals and guitar can break off for an hour to finish the lyrics, melody, and structure, while keys/bass/drums gets comfortable with what they’re playing for each part.”
I used the Spire Recorder app to capture the intro, verse, pre-chorus, and chorus on individual tracks. Our Band Coach went down the hall to work with the vocalist and guitar player while I stayed with the remaining members. Using the loop function on Spire, I played each part over the PA for the girls on keys, bass, and drums. An hour later, each team had fleshed out their parts. We ran through it a few times and voila! Dividing up song parts to come back and conquer the stage was just part of the week’s magic.
Become water. Teaching and guiding the girls with another person is such an important part of the Girls Rock methodology. The balance between Band Manager and Band Coach created an awesome bond as well as an even flow for the day. This and so many other moments at Girls Rock reminded me of that famous Bruce Lee quote:
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
Show love the way you know how, and make it from scratch. It’s Friday. Technically the last day of camp. It’s 6:30pm, I just attempted to find craft supplies in a fancy art store. It’s not working.
Must. Go. To. MICHAELS.
Exhausted and starving, I hop back on the train to Porter Square. I needed to show the girls and my fellow coach how much I really appreciated spending this week together. The only way I know how to show this kind of love is by making art. My mom always did this sort of thing when I was a kid. (To this day she still makes table runners, quilts, and other artful thank you gifts.) Following in her footsteps with my painting degree in tow, I craft, quilt, print, and create all kinds goodies to show appreciation. And because my girls named their group The Bagel Quintet Club, some serious band bling was in order. Twenty dollars bought one package of Crayola Model Magic, an amazing jar of gold glitter, some metallic paint, and a roll of sweet Mr. T-like gold chain. Eight necklaces later, I am proud to say that this may be my finest “thank you note” yet.
Finally, have more dance parties. When a group of kids or adults gets cranky, bored, or you just happen to have a few extra minutes, turn on a killer song and dance your butt off while singing the lyrics at the top of your lungs. This was always the pick-me-up at Girls Rock Camp and saved so many yawns from becoming the downfall of productivity. Don’t be shy – dance parties can be your pick-me-up too! It’ll be weird, and probably awkward, but then start counting the smiles on the faces in the room. It’s worth it. I promise.
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In conclusion, I look forward to volunteering at Girls Rock Camp every year. I have been, and will continue to, apply these lessons until next time.