The nationwide decline of public school arts programs due to budget shortfalls is one of those perplexing tragedies of public administration which finds few supporters and fewer explanations. While there doesn't seem to be any prospect of this trend reversing, an alternative to school-sponsored music performance and education programs is emerging from a group long ignored in the schools -- rock musicians.
Aspiring young Bay Area rockers are no longer relegated to bedrooms and basements, with a number of established and emerging groups offering year-round classes and summer camps dedicated to teaching songwriting and music performance far afield of the traditional school orchestras and jazz bands. The Paul Green School of Rock is the oldest and probably most famous of these groups, with its founder credited as an inspiration for the popular movie School of Rock, but each organization has a unique model for youth education, including the Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, which runs Monday through Friday this week at the Julia Morgan School for Girls in Oakland.
This is the inaugural year for the Bay Area camp, a program for young women ages 8 to 18. Each girl picks an instrument before arriving (guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, or vocals), with no prior musical experience necessary, and forms a band on the first day. Led by a staff of volunteers, the campers then spend the next week taking songwriting classes and holding practices for their new groups.
The program draws inspiration from the acclaimed Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon, at which several BAGRC founders had worked in previous years. As profiled in the documentary Girls Rock! (read a review), the Rock 'n' Roll Camp was founded in 2001 to fight the barriers facing young women who want to be involved in music, including the continued sexist representations and corresponding lack of empowering female role models in popular music. The Bay Area founders share these goals, explaining on their web site that the organization "strives to challenge gender stereotypes, encourage collaboration and tolerance among peers, and provide a comfortable space for people of all backgrounds to express themselves. Through music lessons, workshops, group activities and performance, girls acquire skills that will help guide them throughout their lives."
While its message remains focused on cultivating an environment of creativity and support, the idea of a rock camp for girls by necessity confronts an ugly truth about indie music, that much like the mainstream corporate music industry, the indie world remains dominated by male musicians, industry members and journalists. It's therefore encouraging to see that similarly minded girls' rock camps are operating in eight states, England and Sweden, with a number of other camps scheduled to open in the near future. If it's too much to hope that this movement helps stop the gender imbalance in rock music, it's at least nice to know that the participating children are getting the opportunity to express themselves musically in a supportive, educational environment.
After the young rockers practice all week, the camp culminates, naturally, in a live show at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. The show featured thirteen camp-formed bands each playing one original song written during the week. While it is too late to join the current camp, you can find out more about the camp's activities and plans for 2009 sessions at BayAreaGirlsRockCamp.org.
Ben van Houten is Content Editor for The Bay Bridged.