Everything I ever needed to know I learned at rock camp by fiona morgan It’s amazing to see a 10-year-old wrap her small hands around the neck of a guitar and make a big noise, or to watch a little girl bang the hell out of the drums, with a smile on her face, and really find a rhythm. Girls making noise and/or music was the idea behind a special day-camp session this summer at Carolina Friends School. For one week in late July, 29 girls between the ages of 9 and 14 assembled in the upper school buildings to learn, in essence, how to rock.
The Rockin’ Camp for Girls is the brainchild of Amelia Burch, who teaches art at the school. She’s also a kick-ass drummer. Her music projects include the mostly solo and sometimes multi-media project Ameliorate, a new band called Polynya, and the tongue-in-cheek all-girl metal band Roxotica. Demand for the rockin’ camp was overwhelming, Burch said: After it was announced last spring, it was booked solid within a week.
Most campers came in with limited knowledge but a deep interest in music (a common hero is Avril Lavigne). Burch recruited a host of local rockers and supporters of the music scene to help broaden their horizons: Abby Pearce (Roxotica, Sleepies), Paula Simone Cook (Roxotica), old-time banjo player and Burch’s high-school bandmate Nora Rogers, Shirle Hale-Koslowski (Gerty), Aimee Argote (Des Ark), Anne Gomez (Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan, Hotel Motel), Joyce Ventimiglia (Holy Roman Empire), Kerry Cantwell, Carrie Shull (Pulsoptional, professional oboe player), Jennifer Fitzgerald (Pulsoptional), Christa Wessel (DJ for WCPE and WXDU), Niku Arbabi (Ms. Film Festival), Heather Russell (Wellness Partners in the Arts, very pregnant bellydancer), Anne Cousineau, Julia Sull and Andrea Love (teenage members of Friends School band Natasha), Roseanna Laudicina, Caitlin Conner and me (I talked about independent record labels). Kaia Wilson of The Butchies wrote an original song for the kids, “When Dinosaur Met Llama,” the lyrics of which are published alongside the girls’ drawings, poems and musings in the camp zine.
Campers learned the basics on their instruments of choice–guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals. Realizing not all of them would stick with music, Burch incorporated other lessons to make it a kind of Punk Rock 101 (G-rated, of course). The volunteers taught stage presence, dancing, and how to make zines, buttons and flyers. Every lesson affirmed an empowering feminist ethos of cooperation and DIY that the girls absorbed with gusto. An illustration in the zine sums up the lessons: “It might not be perfect, but it is music”; “If you like it then keep it”; “It is crazy, but it is awesome”; “Define it, make it yours”; “Energy, girl! Get it out of you.”
Few of the girls had any experience playing instruments before camp started (rock instruments, at least), but by week’s end their willingness to try whatever, along with Burch’s unending enthusiasm, had brought out a natural confidence that ought to be the norm in preteens. On Friday afternoon, after a week of work, four different bands–The Bad Girls, Pixxydust, The Flaming Polka Dots and Lady Rox-a-Lot–each played an original song to a standing-room-only crowd in the darkened school auditorium.
With wigs, costumes and peals of laughter, they made their parents and their instructors proud. “All I wanna do is rock and roll!” sang Pixxydust vocalists in what sounded like the camp’s theme song. At the girls’ ardent request, Burch ended the show with an anthem she wrote for the campers. They swarmed around her as she stood with her guitar. The picture was like Julie Andrews meets Debbie Harry. Burch sang, “You girls rule/ And it’s hard to believe but it’s true/ That when you go back to school/ You’ll take all your rock ‘n’ roll powers with you.”
Later that night, Burch and Roxotica played their last show. Their farewell was one of the very last at the now-closed Go! Room 4. They played that night with Razzle, who were also calling it quits, and with Natasha, whose members have been dispersed post-graduation. That’s what happens with bands–they break up. “We’ll be back,” Pearce joked onstage during the gig, “next time as Roxetera.” In the weeks since, Burch has heard from several campers’ parents asking for advice on where to get drumming lessons and what kind of guitar to buy.
Change is inevitable. It’s a comfort to know the future is in good hands.