A Young Musician’s Inspiring Omaha Girls Rock Experience

[The following essay was written by three-time Omaha Girls Rock camper Ryleigh Welsh.]

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I went to a music camp focused on empowering young girls. We learned how to make an impact by expressing ourselves through music. Omaha Girls Rock is a non-profit organization. During the week-long camp, we attended workshops that dissect how a band works and zooms in on positive communication and relationships. We learn about all aspects of music, from forming a band and writing a song, to making merch, recording our music and how to market ourselves. On day one, nine bands were created and on day six, nine original songs were performed at The Waiting Room Lounge. These are the deets, the inside scoop from me, 16-year-old OGR camper Ryleigh Welsh.

Day One

photo by Emma Kemp, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

Ah, Day One. The nerves of meeting new girls, making a band, writing a song and performing that song in only six days. It doesn’t seem possible on day one even though I’ve done it twice before. This is my third and final year with Omaha Girls Rock as a camper. We had a meet up in the morning. We all sat around in a circle and talked about what we were looking forward to and took a pre-survey to note our current state of mind. We found out what instruments we would be playing (DRUMS DRUMS) and then went straight to instrument instruction. Drummers went with Susan and Amanda. Susan is a bad ass. They are both spunky and funny. They split us into two groups based on skill level and we started with baby steps, like the parts of the drum kit and how to count beats. We practiced playing different drum beats, added fills, played faster beats. I appreciate that we started with baby steps and talked about context and what the drummer’s role is in a band and how important it is for the entire band to keep the beat. I thought about Susan’s instructions a lot during our actual band practices.

photos by Emma Kemp, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

My favorite part of the day was the diversity workshop, led by Imagine and Billie. In previous years, the diversity workshop has been about our personal identifies. This year, it was about the entire world and how the systems of oppressions work. We talked through a chart that explains oppression and how it starts small and grows. I KNEW about this, I just never had the proper words to articulate it. There are very small comments that contribute to the big picture and THIS workshop gave me a true understanding of what diversity is and why it is important to talk about.

Every day at lunch we had a lunchtime performance. Day one was Louder Than a Bomb performers from Central High School Each of them spoke an original piece. (I’m joining poetry club in the fall.) After lunch was songwriting 101 with Orenda Fink and Rachel Thomlinson Dick. I am in LOVE with those ladies. We talked through the basic structure of a song and wrote some lyrics. Then we were assigned bands! My band members were Addie on keys, Emma on bass, Baylin on guitar and me on drums. As soon as bands were announced, we had band practice. My band coaches this year were Michaela, Alicia and Maggie. I had never met them before. The first day we had a jam session. We figured out what chords we wanted to play and the order that felt right. We looked at some lyrics Addie wrote. I left day one super inspired by the workshops. Best year so far. Love love love. When my mom picked me up I didn’t stop talking about how great the camp was the whole ride home.

Day Two

photo by Emma Kemp, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

I felt more comfy. Ready for new conversations. Yoga in the morning centered me. Darcy ran a Her-Story workshop. This one was all about the history of women in music. There were small stations with an instrument, a playlist and a short history of women who were experts in that instrument. I talked to Tara Vaughn about not being afraid of my own singing voice because it’s mine and it’s powerful. I talked to Anna McClellan about her favorite piano-playing women and Victoria Blogget and I watched videos of women shredding on guitar. It was so awesome to talk to these ladies about their passion for music and how they express themselves. Darcy talked to us about the space that these women had to make for themselves in music. They had to fight to make their voice heard. OGR GAVE us space to make music and gave us resources to start using our own voices. After camp is over, we have to make our own space and keep on creating music. Our lunchtime performer was a band called Didi from Columbus, Ohio. They were so cool. They run OGR in Columbus.

photos by Madeline Cass, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

Amber Barcel, my mentor at Planned Parenthood’s Teen Council, ran a positive relationships workshop. We talked about how to have great communication in a band. We stood back to back with a partner. One person had to describe a picture while the other person had to draw a picture based on the description, using only communication and listening skills without assuming anything or looking at the original picture. I kinda failed that exercise because I assumed a lot and didn’t listen very well so I learned a lot, but not until the exercise was over.  We talked about our individual goals for the week and our band goals and how we planned to accomplish those goals. We figured out our band name on Day 2: Lions Tigers and Babes. My mom said we need a comma after lions, but I told her our band is too edgy for commas. The song came together (ish) at band practice. We wrote out a verse and a chorus and played it over and over until the end of the day.

I went home Tuesday and wrote a song about my tiny teenager problems.

Day Three

photo by Madeline Cass, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

Yoga in the morning centered me again. I learned more at instrument instruction.  We worked with Omaha Zine Fest and made our own zines. I made a bear pun zine and had a bunch of copies at The Waiting Room performance. Tara Vaughan performed over lunchtime. She performed her songs with just her keyboard and then played her full band recordings so she could show us how the songs change when emphasis is given to different instruments.

photo by Emma Kemp, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

We had a Listening and Sound workshop with Annie Diloker. We went outside and listened to all of the sounds around us. We sang notes together in groups, harmonizing, really listening to each other. We had to pick an emotion, record sounds in nature that make us think of that emotion and layer it all together using Garage Band. There are so many different ways to make music. There isn’t one way or a right way. We had a tough time at band practice trying to put things together. We had to really listen to each other and try a ton of things. I was frustrated and had some doubts. I wanted to change things up, but everyone stayed positive and it ended up working out.

Day Four

Yoga again, but I wasn’t as inspired. Whatever.

photo by Madeline Cass, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

They put the bassists with the drummers today so we could practice being a rhythm section. Cuz the rhythm section is important, man. We play off each other and we need to practice listening to each other.

photo by Madeline Cass, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

We had a merch making workshop with the Union for Contemporary Art. We made totes with our band name on them. We recorded ourselves screaming into some lady’s phone so she could make some cool feminist yell thing. We had a sound engineering workshop with Kait Corrado. She taught us how to use Garage Band and how to make a super clean recording. We made a scratch track of our song. We finished our song at band practice. That felt really good.

Day Five

photo by Madeline Cass, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

We started with band practice today so that we could use the afternoon for a dress rehearsal. We played the song as many times as we could. We took band photos with this amazing photographer lady from London while we recorded our song. The lunchtime performer was See Through Dresses. EPIC. Sarah shreds on guitar. She is great. I love Sarah very much. Oh my god I love Sarah. She is sorta like this really shy person and then when you see her play music it’s like she can tear down the world. Sarah talked to us about touring and working as a professional musician. Is she in She Shreds? She better be in She Shreds.

photo by Madeline Cass, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

The second workshop was the music video workshop. We went to cool places inside of the Holland Center and made a video with our band coaches using an iPad and iMovie. I got in trouble because I went to a couple of places that I don’t think I was supposed to go. I’m an adventurer, yo. Then we had a dress rehearsal and ran through the show twice. The last thing we did was the post-survey. My answers from the pre-survey to the post-survey were completely different. At the beginning of the week I had a very small perspective and was in my own head and had normal teenage insecurities about my clothes and makeup and body. Camp made me think bigger. Made me think about the Omaha community and women in music. There are bigger things I can focus on than my tiny teenager problems.

photo by Madeline Cass, courtesy of Omaha Girls Rock

Day six: Show time, bitches

The crew got to the Waiting Room at 4:45, I said hey to all ma ladies and went backstage at 5. We sang the camp song all together, written by the goddess known as Orenda Fink, and then started the show. I practiced my drum part until we went on. Some emcee lady read band bios that we wrote to introduce each band. Lions Tigers and Babes played seventh. I told a couple jokes before our set. That is a thing I do. I did an entire set once where I said these creepy pick-up lines before I played a song and because I was thirteen at the time, the audience thought it was really funny. I also had a drum solo at the end of our song. After the last band played, everyone involved in camp came on stage. I jumped on drums to play the camp song. I felt like my mind was opened after the show. I felt fulfilled.

Here is our song. Its all about the societal standards put on women and girls. We encourage everyone to recognize and accept their beauty.

“Oh My” by Lions Tigers and Babes

(Verse 1)

Girls and pushed down by expectations
Walled in by their limitations
We clip their wings and teach them to be “things.”
Now they clip the wings of those who dare to


Fly above conformity
You are your first priority
Don’t be a commodity
Define your own pretty

(Verse 2)

Don’t push us down by your expectations
Or wall us in by your limitations
Don’t clip our wings and teach us to be “things”
We won’t clip the wings of those who dare to (chorus)


Define your own pretty (x8)

(chorus again)

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I have always used music as a coping method. When I was angry as a young child I would come home and write songs about boys I hated or the injustices of the world. This camp allows me to use my creative expression as a coping method and as a way to articulate myself. It gives me a bigger perspective on the world. I love the people who run this camp, Melissa Wurth forever. Talking about why we love music and make music for a week is inspiring. The camp has given me so many outlets and resources other than music. I heard from the woman who runs Maha, female music critics, dancers, and X-Rated Women in Music, a music show on KZUM in Lincoln, NE.

You can definitely see how confidence that grows in the campers by the end of the week. Women and girls are told they can’t do things. A LOT. During camp, we have women telling us we CAN do things. A line in the camp song says “it’s so easy when you believe, you can do anything.” That is totally true.

I’m not done with OGR. I want to volunteer next year and every year after that. I know it’s going to grow and be the best thing ever. It’s such an important camp.

That’s it. I’m outtie.

— RW

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Ryleigh Welsh is a young musician and HN contributor living in Omaha. Reach her through HN’s managing editor at andrews@hearnebraska.org.

Editor’s note: this article has been edited to exclude its prior usage of African American Vernacular English.