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At This Music Camp In Lawrence, Girls And Trans Young People Get Proud — And Loud

Chad Onianwa
KCUR 89.3
Angie Schoenherr (left) and Monica George are two founders of Girls Rock Lawrence. Other founders not pictured are Kelly Nightengale and Sally Sanko.

At some point, everyone dreams of being a rock star. But even for people who aren't musicians and don't aspire to be rock stars, there can be something attractive about being in front of an audience and having a voice that's heard.

For girls and people who don't fit gender norms, that's a bit harder to achieve.

Lawrence musicians Angie Schoenherr and Monica George recognize this issue. Wanting to see more women and trans people in the city's music scene and fewer "bro-fests," as George puts it, they decided to do something about it.

Two summers ago, Schoenherr and George, along with Kelly Nightengale and Sally Sanko, started a week-long music camp called Girls Rock Lawrence. Over the course of the week, young women and trans people between the ages of 13 and 18 form bands, develop their own musical styles, and create songs they then perform in a public showcase.

Credit Chad Onianwa / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The practice set-up at Girls Rock Lawrence.

"Music's a healthy way to learn collaboration and to learn how to have a voice and share that publicly," says Schoenherr. "Also just to make noise."

Femmes, or people with feminine expressive traits (regardless of gender identity), Schoenherr says, are often nervous about being loud.

"So being able to get on an instrument and make tons of noise or get on a microphone and scream — it helps people explore who they are not just creatively, but as a person too," she says.

Thirty-five people are participating in the third Girls Rock Lawrence this week at the Lied Center Pavilion, with a concert scheduled for Saturday night at Liberty Hall.

"I already feel like a better bassist," Trinity "Taz" Dent says after just three days at camp.

It's Dent's first time at Girls Rock Lawrence, but other campers have returned.

Vivian Moriarty, a returning camper, says she found a recent workshop about local indigenous tribes most interesting. But, she says, "I'm also really excited to take the self defense training."

Such non-music topics are part of what Girls Rock stands for "as a movement," says George.

That movement started in Portland, Oregon, in 2007 and now includes camps in cities around the world. The Lawrence organizers decided to start theirs after hearing about Girls Rock camps in Boulder, Colorado, and Columbia, Missouri.

Besides self expression and collaboration, the camps emphasize "intersectionality and learning about social justice," George says.

And while the camp aims to "foster growth, self-respect, collaboration, and critical thinking" in its participants, both George and Schoenherr have seen changes in themselves.

"I've learned massive amounts about social issues, learning to be more trans-inclusive and racially aware," Schoenherr says.

But she's also learned to not take herself so seriously and to "stop trying to look perfect all the time," she says. "A lot of the camp is focused on being OK with making mistakes and not being competitive, and it has taken a huge amount of pressure off of me outside of camp." 

George says she's starting to understand what "practice what you preach" means.

"The whole week we're telling them, 'Anything you pick up you can play!' 'Love your body!' 'Treat each other well!' And all the things we create at this camp, I'm slowly reworking in my own life," George says. "I feel like I'm more confident in general."

Girls Rock camp may be targeted towards teenagers, but its concepts and the skills it teaches aren't restricted to people of a certain age, which is why the organizers are trying to expand the camp for older crowds as well.

"So many people come up to us like, 'If only this existed when I was 14.' We've already been contacted by other areas nearby wanting to learn how to start a camp," Schoenherr says. "Ideally it'd be really cool to have one in Kansas City."

They also like to add an after-school program, but they're limited to how much time they can commit to the cause.

"We have a lot of enthusiasm, it's just a matter of if we have the capacity as seven people who work full time," George says. "So if we could have paid positions at some point we could make more of a difference."

This enthusiasm for the future translates to their campers, whose interests stretch far beyond music and whose aspirations for the future are diverse. 

"I  don't want to become a musician," Moriarty says. "The camp is more for the experience and learning. I really want to work as an animal rights activist, because animals deserve to be treated well."

"I'm really into fashion," says camper Serena Josephine Rupp, but she also says she enjoys writing. "So maybe something that combines them like writing about fashion."

For Dent, however, music is priority.

"I love music. If I could make a living making music, that's my big dream," she says. "But if I don't become a musician, my second plan is become an astrophysicist." 

Whether they end up as activists, physicists, or writers, the campers of Girls Rock Lawrence will first be rock stars for at least one night. 

Girls Rock! Lawrence: Third annual showcase, 7 p.m., Saturday, July 1, Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., Lawrence, Kansas 66044.

Chad Onianwa is KCUR's arts intern. Reach him at arts@kcur.org.

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