Sunday, June 28, 2009

Session I Showcase 2009

I'm the parent of a camper and board member for Girls Rock Camp Austin. I don't do any of the fun stuff (like work with the girls) or any of the really skilled stuff (like work with the girls). But when showcase day rolls around, I am always so proud of what the kids have achieved. In just five days the girls form a band, and here's the thing:

They write and perform an original song. No learning covers or so-called "classic rock" chestnuts. And we are a rock camp, not a Camp Rock.

We know that a single-sex environment for girls enhances and improves their learning. This, combined with the camp's dedication to helping girls explore an authentic expression of themselves, is what makes us different.

That's not to say you won't hear the kids' influences in their performances. The tiny, firecracker vocalist for camp band Supernova may have been channeling the voices she hears in today's radio pop, but her sincerity, confidence, and ability to hold the crowd is what we'll remember. And the band Akward (coached by board member/musician Melissa Bryan) added a little surprise coda to their performance: eight or so bars of "I Wanna Be Sedated"!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rock Camp Diary, Day 3

Here's another account of day-to-day life at Girls Rock Camp Austin, brought to you by Eris Tock, a veteran camper and GRCA 2009 intern.

Unfortunately for the general public there is just too much going on at rock camp this year to really convey it all. The array of talent is truly jaw dropping and, initially, I have a difficult time deciding which of the dozen or so new bands to profile. Ultimately it comes down to a lottery. I walk down the hall and go into the classroom emanating the loudest noise. The chosen band is made up of Zoey Graham on guitar, Chandler Lindsey on keyboard, Frankie Blue on drums, CiCi Blackwood-Cross on bass, and Natalie Shey on vocals. The still un-named group is one of the four groups of older girls (they range from 13-16), about middle school age. I expect at least a little bickering, but the lack of friction between the new band mates is immediately apparent. It’s amazing how cooperative and smooth the song making process is--there are no arguments, no hurt feelings, and minimal bossiness. A palpable air of excitement fills the room.

After a couple brief tangents, multiple feedback-induced squeals of pain, and a few snatches of Michael Jackson's "Beat It," they get down to work. After just a few days they’ve already got the foundation of their eventual performance laid down. It’s a roller coaster of a song incorporating both heavy distorted riffs and a pretty ethereal chorus with lots of cymbals and bluesy throaty vocals. Overall its pretty freakin' great if they do say so themselves.

They diligently practice transitioning to the bridge for a while before deciding to break for a snack and choose a band name.

“All Things Freckled” is dismissed as much too Irish. “Freckles” is too short. “The Mitch Mitchell Jamboree Experience” is too long...and so on... until they hit on “Schmillian.” Which goes through a a number of evolutions—“Straight Up Schmillian,” “A Schmillian Ways,” “The Schmillian,” and eventually reverts back to the original Shmillian. The exact origins of the word are unclear but the whole band can agree it is just about perfect.

As I leave the newly christened Schmillian to their work I’m still humming snatches of their song. It’s catchy beyond belief, and I can't wait to hear the finished version at the showcase on Saturday (at the Parish starting at 2 for those of you who don't know).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rock Camp Diary, Day 2

This fly-on-the wall account was submitted by Eris Tock, veteran camper and GRCA 2009 intern.

It’s the second day of camp just after lunch and band practice and time for the afternoon workshop/seminar-there’s some general milling around and the younger half of the girls, ages nine through eleven, pile into a classroom and sprawl on the carpet.

Dr. Mary Kearney, Associate Professor of the Center for Women and Gender studies, a guest speaker from U.T., takes the stage. She starts with a general discussion of gender roles and women in music and immediately the Joan Jett and Patty Smith factoids begin to fly, there are outbursts of song and multiple grim discussions of the "industry"--these girls know their chops.

Prof. Kearney explains the gaze (the way women in music videos are seen through the eyes of the (usually male) directors, producers, writers and cinematographers as she flips through a series of ads for everything from yogurt to cars, all of them objectifying women. She pauses the slideshow on a particularly striking ad for some sort of mixed drink--in it a faceless man straddles a buxom bikini clad woman lying on her back.

"Who's in control here?"

The answer is deafening "THE MANN!!!"

"Why?" she asks.

"Cause he's wearing pants!" one camper crows.

"Because he's a jerk!" another vehemently declares.

"Because he's standing over her!"

It’s a pretty clear consensus. She moves on to the Lita Ford video "Kiss Me Deadly.” Indignant and just ever so slightly red faced the girls explode in protest.

"They're more interested in how her body looks than her music!"

"You can barely see her play guitar!"

They're right of course--there's a lot of blond hair and hips but the shots of her playing guitar are brief and very vague. She stands a good ten feet away from the camera and in deep shadow, hands and guitar hidden. The group goes on to discuss how hard it is to fit into the young blond haired blue-eyed big breasted white girly girl stereotype. It’s an indication of the solemn mood that the word “breast” induces no giggles. not a one. these girls are dead serious.

As the seminar winds down the topic, of course, turns to challenging the male gaze. Music videos by Ciarra, Keri Hilson, Bjork, and Courtney Love play on the projector as Dr. Kearney explains how these women desexualize and empower themselves through their videos and in some cases even reverse and draw attention to the gaze. There's a great deal of nodding and determined looks and as the girls file out of the room many of them thank their teacher for the afternoon.