Local organization She Rock She Rock gets girls onstage and shredding without apologies
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has had 304 inductees since it was founded 32 years ago, but only 44 of those are women or bands with female members. In a music industry dominated by men with instruments and with fewer women behind microphones, not as many young girls are picking up the guitar or the drum sticks when their male peers are, or they pick them up only to set them down after a few years.
Local nonprofit She Rock She Rock has worked to motivate more girls to get onstage since 2007 with the kickoff of their first Girls Rock and Roll Retreat (GRRR), a weeklong music camp for girls ages 8 to 16 now held at the Main Street School of Performing Arts in Hopkins, Minn. Many of the students come with no prior experience and are given the option to learn electric guitar or bass, keyboards, drums, or vocals.
“Usually the first instruments to fill up are vocals and drums, bass usually doesn’t fill up. I don’t really think any of them know what it is,” Sam Stahlmann, She Rock She Rock Program Director and GRRR alum, said. “That’s a big part of why we do what we do; there are just not enough women examples out there playing electric guitar, playing bass, playing the drums. So I just don’t think it’s even really on their radar what a bass is.”
In addition to instrument lessons, the girls form bands based on skill level and spend the week playing and writing songs together with a final showcase at O’Gara’s Bar & Grill in St. Paul. Woven throughout the music lessons are workshops on media literacy, social justice, and the reality of gender stereotypes both in the music industry and elsewhere.
“We show them some scenes from popular movies, play clips from popular music, and show them the actual photoshopping process that goes into making a single image in a magazine,” Ann Kliszcz, a teacher and alum of GRRR, said. “For the older girls, we leave the floor open for a discussion, and with the younger girls, we lead a discussion and try to bring them to make their own conclusions as to whether or not they want to continue paying attention to a certain media outlet.”
Although GRRR has brought in around 100 girls each summer for the past eight years, the women of She Rock She Rock find it difficult to keep girls around when they hit ages 13 to 14. “I think girls lose interest in playing instruments around the age of 13 to 14 for the same reason that girls lose interest in science and hands-on skills,” Kliszcz said. “There’s simply a lack of support directed at them, and there are endless outlets telling them to hand over the drill/guitar/screw driver.”
One way the organization confronts this challenge is with the Sisters of Sounds Initiative (SOSI), a camp for 14 to 18-year-old girls who already have a few years of experience on their instrument. SOSI focuses on teaching the campers the art of audio recording and production, as well as going deeper into feminist issues and body image.
“I think girls lose interest in playing instruments around the age of 13 to 14 for the same reason that girls lose interest in science and hands-on skills,” Kliszcz said. “There’s simply a lack of support directed at them, and there are endless outlets telling them to hand over the drill/guitar/screw driver.”
“We chose the 14 to 18 age range to get those teenagers we don’t usually have, but also some of the media literacy and feminist topics that we’ll be talking about, they need to be mature and ready for,” Stahlmann said.
All of the camps and classes are taught by female musicians from the Twin Cities, women who are honest with these girls about the realities of being female in the music industry, while at the same time making certain that they know how worthwhile it still is to be a musician.
“Music is very much a man’s world still, so you have to work harder. She Rock She Rock is a space where it doesn’t really matter where you are, you’re gonna rock,” Stahlmann said. “A foundational ground rule for the organization is you’re not allowed to say ‘I’m sorry’ if you mess up, you have to say ‘I rock.’ And if you catch someone else saying ‘I’m sorry,’ you go, ‘No, you rock!’ Why are we always apologizing for trying something new? You gave it your all and that’s what matters.”
She Rock She Rock also encourages women to get onstage through their all-ages, all-female jam and open mics every other month at The Depot in Hopkins and their all-ages, all-female monthly acoustic open mics at Minneapolis’ The Coffee Shop NE.
“A foundational ground rule for the organization is you’re not allowed to say ‘I’m sorry’ if you mess up, you have to say ‘I rock.’ And if you catch someone else saying ‘I’m sorry,’ you go, ‘No, you rock!’ Why are we always apologizing for trying something new? You gave it your all and that’s what matters.”
“We’ve really built a supportive and inclusive environment there,” Stahlmann said. “What’s cool about The Depot jam is that we’ve had an 8-year-old and a 60-year-old up on stage at the same time. We try to keep it as age fluid as possible.”
In addition to the GRRR and SOSI camps, She Rock She Rock offers a shorter Ladies Rock Camp for women ages 19 and older, as well as classes throughout the year with various themes including music theory, Taylor Swift, and songwriting.