Girls Rock Camp Alliance

March 4, 2013

I’m guessing you’ve heard of Girl’s Rock Camps, and how they’ve sprung up everywhere? Well, finally they’re all connected and have non-profit status so they can accept tax deductible donations. I met my band mate Sara Landeau when we were both volunteering at The Willie Mae Rock Camp in Brooklyn, so my life was definitely changed by their good work. But the camps aren’t just a cool place for grown ups to meet (though I’m sure that happens a lot and is a huge community builder amongst us “older” musicians too) more importantly, it’s a place for girl’s to be given permission to be their glorious, goofy, charming, perfect selves.

But of course this is really all about me!!! When I was 9 years old, my best friend and I (her name was Maureen Gaines) saw a poster at our elementary school that the music teacher was going to be giving free acoustic guitar lessons after school. We were so excited we almost peed our pants. We borrowed a huge acoustic guitar that was almost as big as we were and helped each other carry it into the first class. We sat in the front row and stared intently at Mrs. Matthew’s hands as she played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star over and over. Maureen and I awkwardly passed the guitar back and forth to each other. We were the only girls in the class.

Everyday that week we met at Maureen’s house to practice. Mrs. Matthew had given everyone a cassette tape so we could follow along with her playing the song correctly. We practically broke that tape. Play. Rewind. Play. Rewind. Play. Rewind.

The next class we sat in the front of the room again and turned around as each of the boys played Twinkle Twinkle perfectly and with gusto on what seemed like their own guitars. When it was Maureen’s turn she faced front and the boys began to snicker behind her. I could feel her getting nervous as her finger struggled to find the first note. “But we’ve practiced this a million times” I thought, “we were laughing and joking about how we were so good we were going to make all the boys feel stupid.” (They teased us the first class too.) And then she started. Each missed note or hesitation was followed by what sounded like a hundred tiny warlocks laughing. The boys’ laughter seemed to run laps around itself till we were in an echo chamber of shame.

By the time Maureen handed me the guitar my knees were knocking. I tried to remember Maureen’s basement, listening to the tape, how hard we’d practiced, but it was all blocked out by the bursts of laughter and muffled jokes about how bad we sucked. Even Mrs. Matthew’s half-ass attempts to get them to “settle down” did nothing. To this day I still feel tears welling up in my eyes when I hear that fucking song. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star……I flubbed the whole thing and Maureen and I left early and embarrassed, never to return.

Whenever I donate my time or my money to Willie Mae Rock Camp, I do it in honor of the lovely and talented Maureen Gaines. No little kid who wants to try something new should ever be made to feel that way. Whether the girls who attend these camps ever become full time musicians or not is beyond the point, the fact that they tried something and were encouraged will hopefully allow them to try all sorts of new things. And I tend to think that a person who tries new things often finds what they truly love to do eventually. And that becomes a reason, to get out of bed,  to not give up, to keep on going when things really suck. It makes you feel valuable and important and worth defending. And to me, that’s why Rock Camps are so much more important than just creating more girl bands. (Though, OMG, that is so important too).