Sunday, July 5, 2009

It takes a village.

My extended family spent the last week and a half planning our Fourth of July celebration, i.e., deciding on where to have our annual barbecue, the logistics of how to get there, when to travel, what to cook, and who would bring what. I barely noticed, because I was too busy anticipating Rock Camp. That's right, it's finally that time of year: The first session of Girls' Camp at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, in Brooklyn, NY, is upon us!

This week, I will be one of the lucky volunteers who gets to watch as almost 100 girls, aged 8 -18, learn what girls like me, who have been inspired by rock'n'roll, already know -- that loud isn't so much about volume as it is an attitude, and that that attitude can carry you way beyond the practice room, class room, and stage. For five whole days, our staff and volunteers will listen, watch, guide, mentor, and cheer as our campers learn how to play instruments, form bands, write songs together, participate in workshops about music, art, and women, and then perform the songs they've written for an audience of proud and supportive family members and friends.

If Rock Camp is sounding unique, special, and perhaps even, dare I say it, magical, that's because it is -- for a few reasons. It's not just that girls are learning how to play instruments and write songs, but it's how they're learning about music, who they're learning from, and the environment in which all of this takes place.

***Rock Camp is about letting girls learn in the way that suits them. We work really hard to make sure that each camper gets the individual attention she needs, and that she gets to have some say over what she learns. Instead of telling campers what they are to be taught, we ask campers what they want to learn, and what will help them become better musicians and performers.

***Rock Camp's volunteers are a diverse and wonderfully obnoxious, inclusive group of women. Most of us are working musicians, and many of us are students and teachers, who want to pass on our skills to campers, and share skills with each other. We teach and mentor in teams as often as possible, and we work hard to model cooperation and positive female leadership for the girls.

***Together, as volunteers, we do our best to create a safe space for the campers. Our goal is to make every camper as comfortable as she can be, and give them a place where they can learn about themselves both as musicians and as people. We especially reject oppressive and offensive gender, race, class, size, sexuality and body stereotypes and myths that might hold back or bother our campers. Even for myself, as a volunteer, camp feels like a tiny utopian society that is surprisingly free of such negative and harmful ideas.

While camp is certainly about the camper, and her experience, I often feel as though volunteers might actually get more out of it. As volunteers, we both get to enjoy working with our campers, and we get to enjoy working with each other not only as volunteers, but also as musicians and as peers. While each girl who comes to camp has the potential to be moved, transformed, and empowered, and to share this with the other girl, the volunteers get an altogether different satisfaction out of it. We get the satisfaction of knowing that we're working together on something that we know is much bigger than we are.

We work to help these girls to discover their voices, and we hope that they'll use them not just to make music, but to do whatever it is that these girls are meant to do when they grow up. And we work together to remind ourselves of our own potential, and the change we can affect both as individuals, and as a group, both within the music industry and beyond -- or at least, I do.


EHR said...

That's awesome. I wish I could volunteer for this - but I don't live close enough to one, can't ACTUALLY play an instrument, and have to work too much anyway. But I have thought about starting little workshops in my own town...

EHR said...

And I just have to say, my word verification for that last post was "rawks". How awesome is that?!