The music world doesn't happen on its own. What we see on the surface is the result of passionate people behind the scenes, writing, creating, organizing, promoting, and working tirelessly to bring music to the venues, bars, and houses of Metro Phoenix. We will look at 25 here, some familiar, some new. Be sure to check out our 100 Tastemakers and 100 Creatives as well.
Earlier this year, groups of young girls gathered at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, instruments in hand, and straight-up rocked.
It happened during a performance run by Girls Rock! Phoenix, a nonprofit camp aimed at breaking down social barriers that might deter girls from pursuing their passion in rock 'n' roll. The Phoenix chapter is part of a larger national organization, but the mission is the same: Teach girls to play instruments and ignite that rock star self-confidence that's within them.
The camp was started by Sarah Ventre, who volunteered at a similar camp in Washington, D.C., and was inspired to start a chapter in Phoenix. Jenn Liebhaber, and Paloma Orozco joined to help, and Girls Rock! Phoenix has held a one-day minicamp and a flagship, week-long program that happened in July. During the camp, 25 girls met on a Monday, formed bands, learned instruments, wrote songs (yes, totally original songs), and then as a finale held a big concert, performing for friends and family. In addition, the campers attended workshops and activities heavy on empowerment themes — dealing with experimental music, basic self defense, body image, zine making, and screen printing.
The camp addresses a core issue in rock music: For many girls, it can seem like an impenetrable masculine space.
"I think we do a decent job of encouraging girls to participate in more classical music education — violin, piano, et cetera," says Liebhaber, who's vice president of the group. "But so much of that is learning the 'basics' before it becomes about the art of musical expression. So when it comes to using music as that act of self, that vulnerability, girls simply don't see rock music as an option."
We talked with Liebhaber about the reasons why she wanted to start a camp, what girls can get out of it, and the importance of sisterhood.
Why did you guys create Girls Rock! Phoenix?
In our society, girls and women get all sorts of messages about how to behave; they should sit prim and proper, hands folded in their laps, and should be seen and not heard. These messages may not be as overt as in generations past, they are there all the same. "Be a good girl." "Don't be too loud." "Just be pretty." We created Girls Rock! Phoenix to challenge these gender roles.
For me, it's about providing this kind of opportunity for my 5-year-old daughter, to teach her that it's okay to take up space and be loud. But most of all, it's to empower marginalized groups: girls, trans, gender nonconforming, people of color, et cetera, to find their voice.
What have you guys accomplished so far, and what do you hope to achieve going forward?
Our first camp experience was a one-day mini-camp last February. We had 17 campers who met, formed a band, learned some basic skills on their instrument, wrote a song, and performed at the end of the day. It was so inspiring to see what they were able to do in just eight hours!
Our flagship program is our week-long Summer Camp. We held our first one this past July. Again, campers met on Monday morning, formed bands, learned instruments, wrote songs, and performed for the community on the following Saturday. They also attended a variety of workshops that helped us weave in more of that empowerment piece. Campers learned about experimental music, songwriting, basic self-defense, body image, zine making, and screen-printing. We also invited local female musicians and their bands to come and perform for the campers at lunchtime. This was a great way to show the girls what is possible, and they really responded.
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What benefits do girls get from receiving music education in an all-girls environment?
It's really all about empowering these girls. Sure, they could go to some other rock and roll schools in town, and I'm sure they'd learn a lot about how to play an electric guitar or a drum kit. But we offer sisterhood, the chance to meet other girls who may be the same or may be different, but who all have music as a common thread. It's not just the girls that connect, the volunteers do as well.
What makes a good song?
I think the story that it tells. And some part of the structure that you just can't get out of your head. A line from the lyrics, a melody, a catchy beat.
What's the best concert you've ever seen in Phoenix?
I really don't go to enough concerts to have anything come to mind. I have to admit I'm not really into rock or punk music, which is funny since I'm so active with this very rock 'n' roll group. I'm more of a '80s pop or Broadway show tunes fan. I saw Idina Menzel play at Symphony Hall a few years ago, and she was amazing!