Kelly: Girls of Omaha find their own beat, rock out -
Published Friday, August 2, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:22 pm
Kelly: Girls of Omaha find their own beat, rock out

• Photo slideshow: Music camp at the Holland Performing Arts Center.

• Video: Omaha girls rock at music camp.

* * *

Do Omaha girls rock?

You bet, as evidenced by what has happened all week in a musical day camp at the Holland Performing Arts Center.

Fifty-three girls attending Omaha Girls Rock have gathered daily to prepare for a 6 p.m. Saturday performance at the Slowdown music venue. The camp is a lot of fun and a lot of work.

The girls learn the basics of guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, vocals and songwriting. They attend workshops, and they have formed bands with such names as Neon Thunder, Fire Fusion 5, Urban Scrunchies and Tie-Dyed Harp Seals.

They made new friends, too, all working toward stepping onstage in front of an audience.

“There is a range of emotions,” said camp director Melissa Wurth, “from stressed out to nervous to ecstatic to excited to freakin' out, happy and peaceful.”

The girls, mostly ages 10 to 14, belt out their camp song every day, which begins:

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.

Encouraging girls to believe they can accomplish anything is a goal of the camp, which is as much about girl power as the power of music.

The mission is to cultivate “confidence, self-reliance and original thinking and encourage our students to apply these values in all aspects of their lives.”

Campers arrived at 8 a.m. Monday, greeted by volunteers and staffers, including Wurth, a live-music lover and sixth-grade teacher at Paddock Road School in the Westside district.

“I see a lot of new faces and some veteran faces,” she told them, noting that some girls attended last summer or the year before. “Anybody kind of nervous? Raise your hand.”

Hands went up as they sat in a big circle on the floor of a classroom. Wurth urged them to share thoughts — but only when holding the pink or green squishy balls that were tossed around, signifying whose turn it was to speak.

“I was super-nervous the whole week last year because I had never performed onstage,” one girl said, “but it was really awesome.”

“As the week goes on,” said another, “you meet new people and get more confidence.”

A third said she was so thrilled when she was accepted into the camp that, “I was jumping off the walls.”

The camp fee is $350, but a number of girls attend on scholarships.

Omaha Girls Rock was founded by nationally known bassist Stefanie Drootin-Senseney, a Californian who has made Omaha her second home. With encouragement from the Weitz Family Foundation, she put the word out to local female musicians, including Orenda Fink of the group Azure Ray.

Fink, who grew up in Alabama, moved to Omaha because of her husband, Todd, a Nebraska native and member of the indie rock band The Faint. She is the workshop coordinator at camp this week and wrote the camp song.

And I'm not afraid to shout out loud.

And I'm not afraid to dance in a crowd.

And I'm not afraid to hold the hands of my friends.

And rock together,

Heads held up high,

'Cuz we're the girls of Omaha.

At a writing workshop, Orenda Fink explained the structure of a song: chorus, verse, chorus, sometimes with a bridge.

“The chorus is the main idea of your song,” she told the girls. “You want to drill it in so it sticks in people's heads. I like to think of the verse as an explanation of your main idea.”

Wurth showed the girls how to use a “bubble map” to generate ideas. On a dry erase board, she wrote “blue” and circled it, asking girls to come up with related words. They quickly suggested sky, blueberry, cotton candy, sad, gloomy, cold, isolated, eyes and “Avatar.”

“That took like 15 seconds,” said Wurth, who had written them down. “Look at all these possibilities.”

Girls, some shyly, read aloud their first attempts at lyrics. One opening line showed potential: “I looked into your eyes, but I didn't see you.”

In advance of the camp, girls had selected their top three choices for instrument instruction, and each was assigned one.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

In the bass guitar class, an instructor first asked the girls how summer was going. One had hit a triple in softball, another had met friends from Hong Kong, and a third had tired of swimming every day.

Then they learned about guitar fingering and frets, as well as care and respect for the instruments.

Percussionists learned the names of the drums and cymbals, and to keep a 1-2-3-4 rhythm. Keyboardists soon were playing the opening of “Lean on Me.”

At midweek, after bands were formed, one group experienced disagreements — the girls were not exactly happy campers. The camp director encouraged them to enter the “Queen Latifah Room of Reflection,” named for the singer-actress because she is a role model.

With a video camera rolling, the girls had five minutes to work out their differences — and did so. Others have gone to the room to reflect on their thoughts as the week progressed.

Omaha isn't the only place where all this is happening. The camp is one of 43 in cities affiliated with the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, which originated in 2007 in Portland, Ore. It came to Omaha in 2011.

Workshops this week included a brief history of famous “women who rock,” but not just with rock music. Included were stars of classical, jazz, blues and folk music.

Another class showed videos of women performing, as varied as Dolly Parton, Bjork, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith and Yoko Ono. Girls were urged to notice the varied voices and styles, as well as their attitudes and the way the women stood with confidence.

“When people are confident,” explained musician and poet Melissa Amstutz, “it makes others want to watch them.”

Band practices started at midweek, and at first they were a bit clangy. But things have improved with practice. And as Saturday looms, excitement is building.

“I'm excited because this will be my first concert,” said Lindsay Tague, 13, entering eighth grade at Chandler View School. “I'm kind of nervous because I have a bit of stage fright.”

Though many girls have had no previous musical instruction, Mira Norman, who has taken lessons for two years, brought her own guitar.

At 9, she is one of the younger and more expressive girls in camp (“Nine and a half,” she said). Mira attends St. Margaret Mary School and says she can't wait for the new term to begin. “I love school,” she said. “It's fun to learn.”

She has learned a lot this week, enjoyed making T-shirts and can't wait for Saturday. “I love to sing in front of crowds.”

She and her fellow campers will get the chance to be rock stars Saturday evening in front of their parents and others at Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St. (Admission is $5.)

With the rockin' Girls of Omaha assembled at the Holland Center, camp director Wurth reminded them that this week is about more than music.

“We want each of you to grow into the young woman you are supposed to be,” she said. “All colorful, beautiful, strong ladies.”

Omaha girls rock at music camp

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

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