On the Mic
Girls aren't allowed to be loud.
That's why Girls Rock Rhode Island is so important. They create a loud and loving space that empowers women and girls through music. "On the Mic" is a series I worked on at their annual 5-day summer camp to share stories from their female-identified campers and volunteers .
Adrienne, 13, vocals
I do random stuff, like sing for no reason or come up with words that are just weird. And that’s unfamiliar with people. I think it’s kind of funny. The stuff just pops up in my mind. And I don’t remember it the next day.
I feel more comfortable here than at school, because we’re all girls and we’re all interested in the same things. So it’s different than school. There’s no boys around, so they can’t judge you. And we all get along real quick. Because usually when you’re at school, you don’t get along real fast. Like you slowly work up to it.
This is my third year here. For the first year I did guitar. Then I switched it over to bass. And then last year, I did drums. I wanted to try different things.
We all want to learn different types of instruments and be more talented than you already are. I think it’s important because we can all connect, and then if we all separate, we still have contact with each other.
We were thinking, my band was thinking, to continue our band. So we’re trying to find a place where we can still play.
Melissa, 13, keys
I wanted to learn keyboard because I had one at home that I never use and didn’t know how to play. I used to just press random buttons on it.
I have a solo in our band, so I’ve been playing different keys to see if I can make something of it. It’s pretty hard for me because I want to be great. And I don’t exactly know how to do that.
I like old songs. Not a lot of people like classical songs anymore. They like punk, pop, stuff like that. I’m not into that. I like Beethoven and other artists. I started listening to it when I was seven because I realized that I never liked the same kind of music as everybody else did. And so I just, I just wanted to listen to something original, pretty, beautiful. And then when I was on Pandora, a piano song came up – just piano. And I really liked it. So then that’s when I knew I wanted to play keyboard and piano.
Sometimes I won’t even hear people talking to me because I just keep playing. And then they have to tap me on the shoulder, and I’m like, “What?”
I get lost in it. It’s kind of like when you’re daydreaming. Except, instead of dozing off and falling asleep, you’re playing something beautiful.
Harper, Band Coach
I went to the original Girls Rock camp [in Portland, Oregon] and played guitar. And it was life-changing.
I am transgender, gender queer, and identify transmasculine. And Girls Rock camp was a really interesting experience in my process of coming to that realization because on one hand, it was super empowering. It was, “I know me best. And I am in control. And I have good ideas about myself.” And on the other hand, it was, “Oh my gosh. Women are awesome and badass and so cool. And why don’t I want to be one?” I kind of felt like I was betraying feminism by not wanting to be a girl. So it took a really long time to get to a point where I was OK with being a feminist and not female.
I had gone to another music camp the year before I went to Rock camp. I was really confused about what was going on [so] I went up to my guitar teacher after class and said, “I don’t know how to play chords.” And he said, “Oh OK. It’s this, this, this, and this. Got it?” And I was like, “OK,” and went back to my bunk and cried. And then, from that time on, I would just pantomime playing. I didn’t play for the rest of music camp.
And here, it’s very much, “I don’t know what’s going on.” “OK. What do you need to know? And how can we help you know it?” It’s so much different. There’s no assumption of what people know here. There’s no, you know, degrading anyone for not having any experience, or anyone who knows more or less – everyone’s encouraged to ask for what they need, give help when they can, and really focus on the effort instead of the end result.
Wherever I go to grad school next year, I’m going to try and find the nearest Girls Rock camp. I just hope the campers can keep this experience with them, and take something from it, feel good about what they do here – however they can do that.
Francesca, 13, bass
I really like musicals. A lot of people say that they like Disney movies or something, but I like musicals.
I also really like acting because it kind of just comes to me naturally. I don’t think about it that much when I act. I just kind of do it, and I feel like I can easily change the character that I am.
It helps me understand what people are feeling. Usually my friends talk to me about how they’re feeling, and I can understand where they’re coming from because I kind of put myself in their situation.
I learned that being part of a band is much harder than just playing a song, because you might have an idea of a song in your head, but other people do, too. You might want to be leaning the song towards your idea, but since everybody plays their own instrument, you get to listen to different kinds of beats and tunes and sounds. And some of them work together, and some of them don’t.
But finding what does work together really changes the song and makes it something great.
Dani and Nico, 18, Volunteers
DANI: I’m actually part of the little group of girls who have been part of the program since it started in Rhode Island back when I was 13.
NICO: I’ve been here for six years as well.
DANI: So we actually met in the vocal lessons the first year – oh god, help – what year was it? 2010. And then, the next year I took guitar. What did you take?
NICO: I took guitar, too. And then I never picked up another guitar. Then, did you do drums the next year?
DANI: Yeah. Then I did bass and realized I was horrible at all of those and went back to vocals. You’ve cycled through everything.
NICO: I stuck with hitting stuff. It’s just my passion.
DANI: So we were in the first GRIT group. We had a GRIT band and we all decided that we were going to be [called] the Instant Grits.
We decided to take a band picture outside on the playground – and they have this giant purple dinosaur. We managed to fit everyone from the GRIT band on top of the dinosaur to take a picture. And the dinosaur ended up becoming our band logo.
And during the actual performance, we got packages of instant oatmeal and instant grits and started chucking them at the audience.
NICO: [What band] will be most likely to throw something this year based on the names? Faceless Knee Socks, maybe?
DANI: I’d throw knee socks into the audience.
DANI: Everyone here is just – it’s such an amazing group of people. Even people you haven’t known for a while, it’s almost like an instant connection. And it’s just a really welcoming, really warm atmosphere.
NICO: We’re almost a family here, because we’ve all known each other for so long. Dani and Emma and Lauren and all of [the other GRITs], like, we’ve known each other since the first year. So like, I think coming back is just like coming back to a small family.
DANI: It’s really inspiring, and it’s really incredible to be able to come back and watch and help other girls have the same experience too.
Martha, Mental Health Counselor
I think that this is a transformative experience for a lot of these girls.
I like looking at nonverbal communication and body language. I watched the campers yesterday in an ice breaker, with a lot of their shoulders hunched down, and heads dropped, and voices very quiet. And today I’m seeing everyone’s shoulders back, and their heads up, and their voices loud.
What we’re seeing here is pretty magical. The need to belong is really important for all of us.
In March of this year, I did Ladies Rock Camp. I don’t play any instruments, so I ended up learning to play the bass. And I also ended up doing vocals in my band, which I didn’t expect to do.
Right before we were up to begin on stage – we were the first band – my heart was beating so loud and strong, I thought I was going to just pass out right there. But then once we started playing, it was wonderful.
I was so transformed by that experience. When we go through our day-to-day life, we kind of all have a lens that we’re looking out of. And I feel like I ended up putting back on a lens that I hadn’t been looking through in a long time. I like surprises in life. I like adventures. It reminded me of that side of myself.
Nervousness is on the same continuum is excitement. So, if you think about it, it’s on the way to having fun.
Darlene, Guitar Instructor
The way I grew up listening to music was actually through church. I started playing piano with a deaconess, which is one of the leaders in Seventh Day Adventist church. And I really like singing the hymns. I guess it definitely does influence how I like to play. A lot of times, a brother or sister would play on their guitar or just on their piano and it would just be them. Now it’s usually just me and my guitar and that’s it.
Last year I [volunteered] for the first time. Obviously, I came back for seconds. I definitely felt more confident coming into it. Knowing what to do and when to be hands on and when to be hands off – that’s usually a tricky balance. Because you want to let them do their own thing, but you also want to be there as support. You don’t want to just throw them in the pool and say swim.
I’ve never considered myself someone good with kids. I’m an only child, and I was always the youngest out of all my cousins, so sharing or those concepts of being around other kids was never a thing. I think that was the challenge in the beginning – I didn’t know how to talk to them.
It turned out to just be all in my head. These kids are like, built with microchips nowadays, because they’re so smart and so eloquent and so expressive.
You don’t want to disappoint the kids because they’re the ones working hardest. I just want to make sure that at the end of the day I did the best I could for them.