company logo

Find a Teacher

Find Students

Help

About Us
LearningMusician Features >> My Turn

This One Time, At Band Camp: Rocking out with Girls Rock! Seattle


Mai Bloomfield
Contributing Writer

Michael Connolly writes:

Songwriter Mai Bloomfield recently spent a week in Seattle teaching girls aged 9-11 how to rock. Here's her story!


When I was a kid, I spent many summers at sleep-away camp. It was usually somewhere up in the mountains, where the dining hall was disguised as a hunting lodge, where the girls cabin would sneak out at night to raid the boys' cabin, and more importantly, somewhere where there would be singing around a campfire every night. This summer I got to go back to camp, but the music wasn't by the campfire -- it was coming from a guitar plugged into a Marshall stack backed by a drum kit, bass, and stage lights! And I wasn't 11 years old anymore either -- I was the counselor, coaching a band of 9,10 and 11 year old girls at Girls Rock! Seattle Summer Camp 2009.

Yes, there really is such a thing as Rock Camp. And yes, it rocks -- this one especially, because it's just for girls! This summer, the nonprofit organization Girls Rock! Seattle (GR!S) kicked off its first summer camp session for 39 girls aged 9-16. Following on the heels of its Northwest predecessor and affiliate Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon, GR!S carries the mission of building positive self-esteem in girls and encouraging creative expression through music. For one week in July, under the eaves of Seattle's Fremont Abbey, that is exactly what we did.

How I Got Involved


Band practice with "Red Umbrella"

I first learned about Girls Rock through volunteering at the Portland camp in 2007. As it turned out, a fellow camp volunteer went on to become one of the founders of GR!S. I had such a great experience as a band coach in Portland that I wanted to be a part of the Seattle kickoff -- so much so that it didn't really matter that I actually live in Los Angeles. My band Raining Jane has been based out of LA for about 10 years now, and we've made it a point to do as much outreach as we can, to give back some of what we've gleaned from our years toiling on the path of an independent, all-female band, and just to share our passion for the craft. The chance to support aspiring young female musicians means so much, and is beyond fulfilling. In fact, it even fuels my own music and writing.

This summer, I attended Girls Rock! not only as a band coach, but also as a songwriting instructor. I've written songs since I was 15 years old, but for the last few years, I've been plunging my energy into it in a whole new way, reading books, going to writing retreats, and taking workshops from a number of different songwriters and teachers. It was exciting to think about putting together my own curriculum for a songwriting workshop for young girls, some of who might be attempting to write a song for the very first time in their life! I teamed up with another singer/songwriter friend of mine, Sarah Sample, who lives in Seattle, and together we mapped out our plans for the workshop.

Camp Schedule

Camp took place for one week, Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm. Each morning, girls arived for morning assembly, did fun activities to loosen up and get to know each other, and then broke into 2 major age groups (9-12 and 13-16, playfully referred to as the "cassettes" and the "vinyls") for the rest of the day's activities. Each day included about an hour and a half of instruction on bass, guitar, drums, or vocals (each camper signed up for their instrument of choice prior to camp), followed by creative/educational workshops, lunchtime entertainment, band practice, and then closing assembly with the camp song played by the "staff house band" and, of course, sung by the entire camp in thrilling unison.

During the course of the week at camp, the girls formed bands, wrote a song together, and prepared for a big showcase on Saturday, where they were to perform their own original song in front of hundreds of enthusiastic supporters. This year's showcase was to be held at the Vera Project in the Seattle Center, and as you might have guessed, it rocked.

Workshops and Activities


Campers design and print their own band
T-shirts in the Screen Printing Workshop.

I was really impressed with the selection of workshops at camp. Along with Songwriting, the campers also got to take each of the following: "History of Women in Music", "Stage Presence", "Rock-It Science" (studying the electrical/magnetic components in amplified music), "Self-Defense", "Body Image", "Zine-Making", "Jewelry-Making" and "Screen Printing" (where they screen-printed their own band T-shirts by hand!) I thought this was a terrific curriculum, and an impressive amount to cover in just one week. More importantly, each workshop really gave the girls an opportunity to tap into their own strength, learn about themselves and each other, and to express themselves in creative, brave and empowering ways.

These are the ways in which I think camp will have the biggest impact on the girls; not only did they get to learn a lot of cool stuff on the spot, but those experiences will very well shape the strong and creative women they'll become. I actually had a couple parents come up to me during the course of the week, sometimes in tears, other times with looks of sincere gratitude, telling me that I had no idea how much this was contributing to their daughter's life. One parent said to me with enthusiasm, "Every day I pick my daughter up after camp, she looks so different compared to when I dropped her off!"

Another camp highlight was the lunchtime entertainment -- clearly more than just entertainment, it was one of the best ways for the campers to see, hear and be inspired by actual female musicians. How often do 12-year-old girls get to go out and see a live all-female band rock?! The variety of musical acts spoke to the diversity that the camp valued. There was everything from rock, to electronica, hip hop, alt/indie and punk. There wasn't much of the softer stuff like folk or americana, which I would've liked to have seen since it's more along the lines of what I play, but the point was clear: that any kind of music is possible and awesome, as long as you are inspired and want to do it!

The Songwriting Workshop

When the first day of camp arrived, and I got to see all the campers' eager faces, I knew we were in for something special. Not only were they all excited to be there and take music to the next level, but some of them were about to get involved in music for the first time in their lives!

The songwriting workshop was scheduled for the first day of camp. At first I wasn't sure if that would be too early, in case the girls weren't settled in yet, but it turned out to be great timing. In fact, I think it may have helped set a good tone for the week because the workshop's theme was "Finding your Voice - Finding your Song." We wanted to emphasize that everyone has a unique voice, and a unique story to share. Since those represent core values of the camp, it seemed like a great way to start the week.


Mai and Sarah leading the Songwriting Workshop.

We gave the workshop to the girls broken into their two different age groups (9-12 and 13-16). Both workshops covered a series of different writing exercises, discussed some basic tenets of songwriting, and involved some interactive sharing. They both went well, but we couldn't help but notice some differences between the groups. We were struck by how eager and pleased the younger girls were to share what they had written, compared to the older girls who seemed much more protective and hesitant. While we weren't judging one or the other, we couldn't help but wonder what kinds of shifts and changes take place in girls' lives that affect their self-expression and confidence.

On the other hand, what we heard from the older girls when they did share was amazing. As someone who really loves words and the magic they carry when placed together in intuitive ways, I was floored by some of the things they came up with. That kept me on my toes, and wanting to learn more from them!

I also learned a lot myself in my preparation for the workshop. It really made me focus in on my songwriting process and the things that I've learned over the years. It's one thing to "do it", but it's another to "understand and teach it". So to my surprise, the workshop helped me feel a lot more focused and informed too. Sarah and I also gave ourselves a challenge while we were there, to write a song in the evenings when home from camp. And I found that to be a great addition to the experience; putting ourselves on the spot seemed to help give us an appreciation for what the campers were up to that week. Actually, I think they may have rocked harder because they finished their songs and we didn't!

The Band Coach Experience

On day one, the campers form bands. It's a miraculous thing to witness, because it happens almost effortlessly, and before the girls really even know each other. Catalyzed by a fun team-building exercise, 39 campers managed to break themselves up into 9 bands in about 15 minutes. Amazing. I can't imagine many adults being that willing and ready to collaborate in a committed project with the stranger sitting next to them. It showed us how open and ready they were to have fun, jump in, and work with one another. There was no competition, rivalry or jealousy. And that's how it continued. From that point forward my co-counselor and I coached a fantastic group of girls aged 9, 10, and 11.


"The Rocked Out Toasters" run through their song at the showcase rehearsal.

During each day's dedicated band practice time, I helped the girls hone in on their song, and figure out what and how to play together. I was impressed with how quickly they were able to write the lyrics, and that they did it collectively; we were sitting in a circle discussing possible song topics until they firmly agreed that the song should be about a party -- a Halloween party no less. And then they just flat out wrote the whole thing! They probably could have discussed their costumes and the back-story to the song for the whole day if I didn't finally tell them there wouldn't be much need for costumes if there wasn't any music to play. Of course that's when we started focusing on the instruments. And of course, that's also where my lesson in patience began.

The first couple of days the girls were quite rambunctious. It's hard to quantify the amount of energy and sound that you hear coming from 5 band practice rooms at the same time. But it's something. My Portland experience had prepared me, however, (and the campers were all required to wear earplugs!) so I pulled through, and helped keep the girls on track.

Over the course of the week, we got to know each other better and that helped build more camaraderie and trust. By the end of the week, I was just so impressed with my band. They were actually playing together in tempo! Sure, it was just 2 chords, but hey, there were verses and a chorus, and a bass line and the drummer had a couple different grooves and breaks, and the singer started dancing, and the guitarist finished with some super Pete Townsend arm swings. It was going beautifully.

By Friday, the last day of camp, all the campers had grown quite close, and were really pumped up about their songs. In preparation for the showcase, we did a rehearsal at camp, so the girls could get a taste for the stage, and what they were or weren't quite ready for. With one more band practice afterward to work out any last kinks, they were ready. And off they went armed with their hand-made band shirts, song lyrics, zines and ambition, ready for the final showcase -- ready for the rest of their lives.

Final Showcase

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, at Seattle's Vera Project, 39 girls showed up to rock the world. In fact, they rocked for over 400 attendees! Their songs told stories of wanting to be heard, speaking out, being alone and celebration, among other themes. It was beyond impressive to see all these girls get out on stage and thoroughly rock their way through an entire song that they wrote in less than 5 days, with people they'd never met before, on instruments some of them had never played before. Now that is empowerment!

One of the most poignant moments for me that day was watching the last band (The Face Melters) perform. These were some of the older girls, so some of them had been to band camps before. In fact, the lead singer had actually been in the band I coached in Portland a few years back, when we were both newcomers to band camp. As I watched her walk on stage, I thought back to her showcase performance years in Portland two years ago; I remembered how she had gingerly, yet bravely written these honest lyrics, and the courage it took for her to get up to sing them, only to get so nervous and overwhelmed that she forgot an entire verse and stood numb on stage for a good portion of the song. But on this day, when I watched her walk up to the middle of the stage, she carried a beautiful confidence. She sang with such grace and authority, and her voice soared louder than ever. I watched in awe at what felt like a transformation before my eyes.

We don't always get to see the impact of our small contributions. Most often, charitable work isn't about the acknowledgement you do or don't receive so much as it is about the experience of giving something freely. That was my experience volunteering at Rock Camp. But watching this young woman sing her heart out, and exemplify what's possible in music was all the confirmation I needed.

To learn more about Girls Rock! Seattle visit www.girlsrockseattle.com or email info@girlsrockseattle.org.

LM


Mai Bloomfield is a full-time musician hailing from Los Angeles, California. Her musical training starting at the age of 9 when she began playing cello. When she was 16 she got a guitar and started writing her first songs. She now plays music for a living, touring nationally with the all-female folk/rock band "Raining Jane" where she sings, plays guitar and cello. Songwriting has become one of her strongest passions, and she dedicates much of her time to studying with other professionals and working at it on her own, one song at a time.

If you enjoyed this feature article, click the button below to email the article to a friend!

Join the conversation: Find out what others are saying about this feature in the forums.