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Guitars And Girl Power: Boosting Self Esteem Through Rock N' Roll

Oct 2, 2017

By the time a girl turns six years old, she begins to lose confidence. That's the conclusion of a recent study on gender stereotypes published in the journal "Science."

But building self-esteem doesn't have to be clinical or complicated. For one local group, it can be accomplished with the belief that "girls rock."

And they mean that quite literally. 

In a stained glass sanctuary of a downtown St. Petersburg church, long strands of rope hang from the ceiling.  Pieces of paper cut in the shape of guitar picks are attached with clothespins.

Names of influential female musicians are written on each, along with a motivational quote.

Credit Cathy Carter

At Girls Rock Camp, counselor Jesse Miller preaches to 40 girls sitting on the bare floor. She’s giving a multi-media presentation on women in rock n’ roll.

“This next mega-star is Aretha Franklin who is the queen of soul,” she tells the group. “Let me hear you say her name,” she instructs, and the girls do so in loud unison.  Miller then plays Franklin’s biggest hit, “Respect,”  and urges everyone to get up and move around.

The campers, ages 7 to 17, broke into dance, joined by dozens of adult volunteers.

And as Miller pointed out, rock camp isn't about trying to look cool or conforming to some kind of social hierarchy.

"No one is judging them or trying to get them to fit into a certain mold,” she said. “It’s really a place where you get to decide everyday who you want to be. You’re like Madonna, you get to reinvent yourself every day of camp here.”

The five teenagers who have transformed themselves into a band called the Screaming Grenades, were beginning to realize that being a rock star isn't easy. They, like the other campers, took music lessons, formed bands, wrote an original song, and then performed in concert at the end of the week long camp. 

Counselor Rachael Sibilia helped them hash out the musical arrangement for their original piece.

“You know what? We might be able to do the vocals with guitar and then we could all come in together,” she suggested. “How does everyone feel about that?"

The song this all-girl group was creating, was in fact their first, since they just met the day before. Also, most of them have never been in a rock band let alone know how to play an instrument. But their counselor wanted them to voice their opinions and the group’s lead singer, Courtney Campbell had a few.

"I would kinda like the guitars to start off and then the drums would come in second," she offered. Because the guitar would start it out the best in all honesty."

Credit Cathy Carter

But music is just part of the mission of Girls Rock Camp, a non-profit created 16 years ago in Portland, Oregon. The girls are also introduced to topics from creative writing to conflict resolution.   The camp now has about 100 chapters across the world. The one in St. Pete is in its second year and its run by volunteers who have given up vacation time to be here. Sibilia said she wanted to encourage the girls to be bold, brave, and to speak up.

“Because we are often taught from a very young age that we need to quiet ourselves and make ourselves smaller,” she said. “That can’t continue.”

And there's nothing small about camper Mia Maze-Ingram. The 10 year old looked every bit the rock star in a torn denim jacket bedazzled with rhinestones. She and the other campers were waiting excitedly backstage at the State Theatre in St. Pete where on the last day of camp, they performed live to hundreds of  cheering fans.

And while many of the camp bands wrote songs about parents or bullies, Ingram, the lead singer for the Savage Pandacorns, said her band had a different muse.

“We were just spitting out ideas,” she said. “Like someone said sushi, and then someone yelled out spaghetti, and I was like, oooh spaghetti! Let’s sing about spaghetti!

When the band left the stage with a burst of confetti and silly string, camp counselors high fived and hugged, no doubt hoping the lessons of camp stay with the girls well past their week of rock and roll dreams.