[Editor’s note: The musical showcase for the second session of Omaha Girls Rock will take place Saturday at The Waiting Room. RSVP for the free show here.]
With furrowed brows, a group of young girls plucked D, E and A chords and sang along with the Orenda Fink-penned theme song of Omaha Girls Rock.
“We’re the girls of Omaha. We love to sing and we love to rock. It’s so easy when you believe, you can do anything”
The girls’ guitar instructor Mari Matz (of Manic Pixie Dream Girls) offered encouragement as their small hands stretched across the guitars and hit wrong notes. Praise followed, once they played through the song.
“I’m so proud of how far you guys have come since yesterday,” Matz said.
On Tuesday, outside of the dressing-room-turned-classroom, positive buzz words, banners from past Omaha Girls Rock camps and photo collages of famous and local women rockers lined the Holland Performing Art Center’s hallways.
Turn down one hallway and the clash of six amateur drummers greet you. Turn down another and find more musical rooms, featuring guitar, electric bass or keyboards. Or break and meditation rooms, such as the Queen Latifah Room of Reflection.
Since its conception four years ago, Omaha Girls Rock strives to provide campers, who range from ages 8-18, with musical instruction, along with messages of women empowerment. Tuesday at Omaha Girls Rock meant guiding the campers through instrument lessons, dance and songwriting workshops and band practice during the eight-hour day.
In between workshops, Omaha band Manic Pixie Dream Girls played a concert at lunch. Sara Bertuldo, a camp volunteer and member of See Through Dresses and Millions of Boys, played the lunch concert on Monday and said the sincerity of the girls made the audience a favorite.
“They were amazing,” Bertuldo said. “It was probably my favorite audience, and I’m not even joking. I got as nervous as I do before any other show, even though they were just a bunch of kids. They just started dancing and I could tell it was really genuine. It was really cute.”
Though instrumentation and instruction is the basis of the camp, empowerment of young women and positive self-image is a priority.
“It’s kind of an organic thing in that music and the ability to create something using your own ideas is very empowering,” said Melissa Wurth, executive director of the camp. “It’s that organic nature of “‘look at what we tried, look at how you were nervous, how you overcame those fears.’”
Reagan Allen, an 11-year-old drummer attending the camp for her third year, says the intertwining of inspiring messages with music are her favorite parts of camp.
“The music can help show girls’ personalities and what we love about each other,” Allen said.
She said her favorite part of the day is lunch time with its “awesome food” and “awesome bands” that inspire.
With an increase in enrollment by more than 50 percent since last year, Omaha Girls Rock added a second session for the week-long camp to preserve the quality of the experience of each individual camper. Though both weeks included the same activities, Wurth said the first session, which included a large amount of first timers and 8-year-old campers, had a much crazier energy.
Adding a second week also meant recruiting more volunteers.
Bertuldo, a first-time volunteer, worked with her five pupils on the basics of the electric bass in a small, brightly lit room. Like most of the camp’s instructors, Bertuldo spent Monday of the second session acquainting her students with their new instruments and acquainting herself with her students. As someone who has never worked with children before, Bertuldo said Omaha Girls Rock is a growing experience for her, as well.
“It was really scary at first, but it’s starting to be really rewarding,” Bertuldo said. “I was just kind of thrown in a room and I have five little girls staring at me, waiting for me to teach them this instrument. Once I teach them something and they get it, I get really excited.”
At 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, following instrument instruction, the campers split between a dance and a songwriting workshop.
The songwriting workshop, led by Omaha Girls Rock volunteer coordinator and HERS’ guitarist Rachel Tomlinson-Dick, as well as Wurth, encouraged the girls to break outside of their comfort zones and craft a song inspired by a single color.
The girls stood in front of the crowd and read off their color-inspired lyrics, such as camper Natalie Hernandez’s, “Blue, blue, blue. Who loves blue?”
In a studio down the hall, campers stomped, twirled and shimmied their way through a dance workshop, led by Kat Lessor and Chelsea Balzer.
After watching music videos from Lorde, Tilly and the Wall and other women musicians, the girls crafted their own dance moves in an exercise of self-expression. During moments of dancing, the room filled with joyful screams, as even the shy campers came out of their shells.
As the girls progress through the week and prepare for their Saturday performance at The Waiting Room, volunteers at the camp hope the positive message of musical empowerment stays with them.
“We give consistent messages about openness and acceptance about where you are right now is exactly where you should be and who you are is exactly who you should be,” Wurth said. “Not only who you were before you came, but who you are after.”