Music & Nightlife

Miami Girls Rock first-year performance blends music with empowerment

A live performance at Grand Central was the culmination of a week’s worth of intense music workshops for 24 Miami girls, who learned songwriting, vocal and instrument lessons and how to build stage confidence during the intensive camp called Miami Girls Rock.
A live performance at Grand Central was the culmination of a week’s worth of intense music workshops for 24 Miami girls, who learned songwriting, vocal and instrument lessons and how to build stage confidence during the intensive camp called Miami Girls Rock. Special to the Miami Herald

Rarely do parents and kids have the same taste in music, nor would they willingly attend the same concerts together without making a fuss. On a recent Sunday night however, adults, teenagers and children rocked out together during a special performance at Grand Central, a popular music and event venue in downtown. The concert was the culmination of a week’s worth of intense music workshops for 24 Miami girls, who learned songwriting, vocal and instrument lessons and how to build stage confidence during the intensive camp called Miami Girls Rock. The central focus of the program is to not only build music skills but to raise girls’ self-esteem as well.

A diverse group of local women musicians volunteered their time to making the first year of this camp happen in Miami. In addition to music lessons, confidence-building exercises like self-defense, the history of women in music, and zine making, a creative outlet for self-expression where thoughts and drawings are conveyed on homemade mini magazines, were taught at Miami Beach Community Church last week before the 8- to 17-year-olds showed family, friends and peers their newfound skills on stage.

Steph Taylor, band coach and guitar instructor, and one of the camp’s organizers said, “This week was way more successful than any of us could have ever envisioned. We left the campers inspired and wanting more and they left us inspired and wanting more.” Taylor and her bandmate closed out the night in a four-set song performance after the girls performed. Parents and kids made rock and roll hand gestures of fists with pinky and index fingers extended, pumping through the air as their band, called The State Of, played.

She says of the confidence-building workshops: “The idea is that the workshops have a message of empowerment behind them, so some were music related and some were not.” She adds, “We wanted the girls to be in a room full of other girls and learn how to scream if somebody grabs you — things that are important to know for a young girl.”

The parent nonprofit called The Girls Rock Camp Alliance, founded in Portland, Oregon, in 2007, acts as a network for girls’ rock camp organizers all over the world. Before this year, there was no formal ongoing camp in Miami where girls could learn the joint dynamics of what it takes to be in a band combined with learning how to believe and stick up for yourself.

“She’s way more outgoing,” says parent Gabby Quinones of Coral Gables, of her 10 year-old daughter Leila Rodriguez, who learned the basics of how to play electric guitar during camp and jammed on stage with her new formed band on Sunday. “She finally chose an instrument and she made friends. Definitely she’s going again next year and she’s getting guitar lessons.”

The Miami camp’s director of operations, Heather Burdick, had volunteered with Austin Girls Rock a few years prior and envisioned the explosion of young talent that she had witnessed in Texas for Miami. Together with Steph Taylor and another Miami musician, Emile Milgrim, Miami Girls Rock Camp came to be.

“I am so pleased that we came out with what we came out with,” Burdick said after the show, visibly glowing in awe of the performances. “Everyone who worked on this got as much out of it as every single kid,” she says of the volunteer staff of nearly 30, who worked with the kids from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for five straight days. “One of the best weeks of my entire life.”

During lunch hour at camp, the girls had the opportunity to watch and listen to live performances from local bands and DJs daily, followed by questions after the sets so they could learn more about the artists. They also learned team-building exercises, like creating lyrics together as a band, as the two dozen students were split up into five groups or bands based on their age and experience with instruments. Band coaches assisted throughout, as skill sets ranged from those with no music experience to those who were intermediate or advanced.

With a rainbow-colored wig, Sarah Noa, 14, sang and played electric guitar with her bandmates to a crowd of 200 to 300 people on Sunday night. “It’s intense but also amazing,” she said of the camp and of the experience of playing live on stage. When asked if she’d like her parents to enroll her again next summer she quickly replied, “Oh yeah, of course!”

The camp is among 73 finalists in the Knight Arts Challenge contest, which yields $20,000 in financial support based on public votes, in the Challenge People’s Choice Award. Taylor hopes that the entirely volunteer-powered Miami Girls Rock Camp will win so that next year double the amount of students can be accepted to the program.

“A lot of things have to happen in order for that to happen” says Taylor of expanding. “We have to raise a lot more money, we have to be able to find a space that can hold that many people … this is everybody’s first year doing this.”

As for blending rock and roll with important life lessons, she adds, “Yes, music and performance are the platform but the real nitty-gritty of this camp is the empowerment. We wanted to create a sisterhood and a community.”

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