Girls Rock Camp St. Pete empowers youth through music

ST. PETERSBURG, FL — Before Girls Rock St. Pete the campers even take an instrument on the first day of camp, they all form a shouting circle.

Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like; the campers – many of whom have just met for the first time that morning – stand in a circle and shout together.

To some, this may seem like an odd activity for a music camp, but it aligns with the organization’s core mission to empower girls and gender-sensitive youth, Jesse Miller, co-director, told Patch.

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“We start with this age to teach them that what they have to say is valuable, the space they occupy is important,” she said. “The screaming thing is really, like, you’re here and the real estate that you occupy in this room is important. Your voice is important. And it’s also fun. It’s also like a stress release .”

The first Girls Rock Camp was held in Portland, Oregon in 2001. The St. Petersburg chapter of the national grassroots movement to uplift young girls and build their self-confidence through music was launched in 2015.

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This year’s camp was held July 18-22 at Allendale United Methodist Church with approximately 40 campers, ages 8-17.

On the first day, they are given their instruments for the first time. When they sign up for camp, they share their musical experience, what they’ve played before and for how long. Then they are usually assigned an instrument they have never touched before.

It’s a key part of the process, Miller said. “We want it to be a bit of a level playing field. We’re not trying to make scholars… It’s really about this insane task and then we’re going to collectively figure out how to do it together. And that’s It’s not going to be perfect and it’s going to be a messy process, but the point of it all is to accomplish this as our community.

Campers learn the basics of their instruments – a few chords on day one, new techniques and tips as the week progresses. On that first day, they are also paired with groups of other aspiring musicians to form their camp bands. At the end of the week, each group worked together to write an original song that they will perform during Saturday’s showcase.

It’s a lot to take in in five days, but it’s a rewarding experience, Miller said.

“Monday is fun. You get nervous and you get to know the campers. Tuesday is like ok, it’s really cool. You’re super engaged in all the activities. You start making friends, ” she says. “On Wednesday you realize you have two days to write a song that you’re going to perform in front of 1,000 people and everyone is freaking out. Saturday they’re ready to go on stage. It’s a beautiful process, but it’s also very complicated. .”

Megan Shello, 10, has taken piano lessons for years and also sings, so she was thrilled to be given the guitar during camp. Five years ago, his grandfather gave him a guitar as a Christmas present. She also has an older cousin who plays the instrument.

“I always wanted to learn to play the guitar,” she told Patch. “I didn’t touch it. I just looked at it and sometimes played with it a little bit. So when I found out I was going to get some guitar this week, I was like, ‘Oh , yeah!”…And the teachers here are amazing. They always help you whenever you’re confused. Trying something new has been the best – it’s always the best – because you never know what you can learn from it.

Phoenix Freisberg-Hickey, 10, who is part of School of Rock in the Greater Central District, said she also got a lot out of her camp experience.

“It was really fun for me. I didn’t know anyone here, so I really opened up a bit when I met everyone,” she told Patch. “Everyone was really welcoming, all the teachers and all my new friends.”

She particularly enjoyed collaborating on her band’s song, “Echo,” for Saturday’s showcase.

“I love my bandmates,” Phoenix said. “We like working together. We had a few ideas and everyone got along really well. We did a song and I think it went pretty well.”

There’s more to camping than music lessons and band rehearsals. Each day features activities such as band chords, performances by local musicians, bizarre aerobics, HERstory – which teaches campers female musicians they may have never heard before – consolidation exercises team building and other programs focused on social justice, body positivity, leadership skills, and other topics to help transform campers.

“Yesterday was country music day, and everyone was like, ‘I hate country music, and then you teach them, like, the banjo and the roots of the banjo from Africa, then all of a sudden everybody’s a fan of country music,” Miller said. “Then we talked about Dolly (Parton) and now everybody’s making little buttons with Dolly’s name on it. It’s just really cool to watch.”

This year also marks the return of camp after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After two years of uncertainty and isolation, it is

“It’s not just a music camp; it’s a really big outlet,” according to Miller. “Music and putting your brain somewhere where you have to be fully engaged in an activity and you learn new things, you rewire your brain, you teach yourself that learning is actually just making mistakes – mistake, mistake , error – and then quickly recover.”

She added: “So it’s a very supportive community and it’s been difficult with the pandemic. It’s not just the isolation of COVID; it’s that we all just cried and had a lot of pain. anxiety, and even being here is hard. We’ve masked and unmasked (people) and everyone’s doing their best, but it’s causing anxiety and politically what’s going on, there’s so much to feel at odds and so within this community there are a lot of issues on that.

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