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Unleashing My Inner Rock Star at Ladies Rock Camp

Posted: 08/21/09 01:08 PM ET

The only rule at Rock Camp, said camp director Karla Schickele, is never say, "'I'm sorry.' Instead we say, 'I ROCK.'"

It was Day 1 of Ladies Rock Camp weekend, a three-day musical experience where women come together to learn rock instruments (electric guitar, bass, drums or vocals), form a band, write a song and perform in a professional rock venue. The word that kept popping into my head was "terrifying." A show of hands revealed I wasn't the only one.

I've played the fiddle, Irish style, for a number of years but never had the courage to make the switch to being the violinist in a rock band. Ladies Rock Camp was my chance to dive right in.

In the brightly lit cafeteria of the Urban Assembly School of Music & Art in downtown Brooklyn, we did a version of speed-dating to determine our band-mates but then camp staff matched us anyway. No hard feelings like not being picked for dodge ball in the fifth grade. My band consisted of a drummer from New Jersey who had been taking a few lessons for three months, a bass player mom who was returning to Ladies Rock Camp for the third time, our vocalist from Connecticut who had been there once before, a guitar player who was fairly new to the instrument, and me on rock violin. Together we formed The Panty Ho's.

After a brief songwriting workshop, my new band set about writing our song. Everyone tossed out a bunch of descriptive lines that ended up being about falling down and getting back up. We laughed at the frustrations in our lives and one idea fed into another. Amazingly, in the space of thirty minutes the lyrics for a song appeared. We started playing around with the music, reaching for something we liked, and then the huge moment came when our shy vocalist busted out her big voice with the song. It was magical.

Here are the lyrics to "Get Out of My Own Way":

Slow as molasses in January
Falling off my surfboard
Gave my number to someone and he didn't call
Scared to fall
Subway doors closing in your face
How will you keep afloat in the rat race
Keeping up with the pace

I can tune my own guitar
I can pump my own gas
Put on your big girl panties if you wanna cover your ass

Push push push all around me
Skid my knee, but got back up
Push push push all around me
Skid my knee, but got back up

Push push push all around me
Skid my knee, but got back up
Push push push all around me
Skid my knee, but got back up

Get out of my own way
Get out of my own way
Get out of my own way
Go home

Although writing our song was easy, I still showed up each morning at Rock Camp feeling emotional about and surprised by the side of myself that did not yet feel "good enough."

What I realized most from Ladies Rock Camp was that anytime I put myself into a new creative environment, the voices start appearing. You know the ones I'm talking about. They say you're not good enough, not creative enough, not talented, fun or smart enough. The voices look around and see everyone else strumming the electric guitar while you can barely get your fingers around the G chord.

But then something happened. Those voices got quiet just long enough for me to slowly strum the three main chords needed for "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and smile to myself while doing so.

I was also heartened by a brief conversation with Caryn Havlik, a free-spirited Rock Camp drum instructor who exudes confidence. It took her two years of playing the drums in her basement before she thought she was good enough to play with others. For her, witnessing women do this in the space of three days was even more inspiring than watching the young girls do it.

Being surrounded by other women all stepping wildly outside of their comfort zones with supportive cheerleaders at our side (rock camp staff and volunteers), I couldn't help but be buoyed up to a place where I started to think, "I can" instead of, "I can't." In guitar class my mantra became, "I can I can I can I can I can," which soon quieted those voices to the contrary.

In the band art room, we churned out cool Panty Ho's buttons and our bass player carved the stencil for silk-screened band t-shirts. I decorated mine on a tight boy's tank top and wore that to the show. Something about being at Ladies Rock Camp made me want to show up as me, 34D boobs and all, without caring what anyone thought.

The Panty Ho's were scheduled last in the lineup at our show in Williamsburg three days later. Waiting in the audience, I didn't feel nervous because I've played Irish music before on a variety of stages, but fifteen minutes before we went on, the nerves kicked in. I knew our song was catchy, but playing in rehearsal and before an audience were totally different. We took to the stage and gave it our all with lots of friends and family to cheer us on. In the end, the live performance was only one tiny piece of the whole weekend. It wasn't perfect. As the rock violinist, I learned that in the future I need a better mic and that the sound of the guitar and drums is much louder than me. But no matter, I did it, and it was a blast.

On our last day, just hours before the show, I still could not psyche myself up to do karaoke even though I wanted to. It seemed out of the question though standing up on a stage at a professional rock venue in a few hours did not; don't ask me why. Instead, I admired a fellow camper's rendition of "I Will Survive" and danced along with glee. Afterward, I thought I could save busting out of the karaoke comfort zone for a future day and just told myself "I ROCK" anyway.

Ladies Rock Camp is a fundraiser for the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. Proceeds from the weekend help send low-income girls to camp, which is for girls ages 8 to 18 and lasts for a week in the summer.

Rock camp bands from the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls will be performing Saturday, August 22 at The Music Hall of Williamsburg as well as Sunday, August 23 at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. See http://www.williemaerockcamp.org for more details.