Columbus Does Good: A New Attitude

It’s March 9th—International Women’s Day—and I have an audience with two girls who rock.

Well, and they roll, too.

Marlena Bowen and Syd Smith, instructors for Grrrls Rock Columbus, a decade-old summer music and creative arts camp, have decided to celebrate with a day of duckpin bowling at the new Pins Mechanical Co. in Dublin—and I’m in their camp, under their wing.

It’s not camp, per se, but I do have instructors—and there is a fire pit.

“We were inspired by the Athens Rock Camp for Girls,” says Marlena, noting that Grrrls Rock began in 2007 during the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon. While the summer camp is female-based, Bowen affirms that the program is non-discriminatory. “The basic philosophy is to provide opportunities for teenage girls to express themselves through music. Our camp, for pretty deliberate reasons, has decided to be inclusive of transgender and non-binary campers as well, so it’s not specific to girls.”

Held at the Arts & College Preparatory Academy (ACPA), Grrrls Rock Columbus is held from June 24th-July 1st, for students 12-18 with interest in live musical performing. Both Marlena and Syd stress that the extensive camp is a safe space; that all, from girls, transgender and gender-variant can be a part of.

“They get to meet new people, form a band, create an original song and perform it by the end of the week for all their friends and family,” says Syd, who is also a former student of CCAD.

Students of Grrrls Rock Columbus can look forward to being taught by well-experienced musicians, as Marlena has dabbled in the acoustic guitar and flute, while Syd played bass and guitar while attending high school at Fort Hayes.

“I asked my dad for a guitar because I wanted to get into rock ‘n’ roll, but he bought me an acoustic guitar,” Bowen says. “I overcame my teenage disappointment and taught myself a few chords, but I didn’t really take my playing seriously until after I started organizing with Grrrls Rock. My involvement with camp inspired me to start playing in bands with my friends, which is something I do very casually.”
Participants of Grrrls Rock Columbus waste no time getting acquainted, with Marlena mentioning that one parent commented on their once-shy daughter having “blossomed” into a courageous artist after the program.

“We don’t require any musical experience, so some of our campers are trying out their instruments for the very first time,” Bowen says. “Trying to play a brand new instrument in a band can be a big challenge for a lot of people. We are always impressed with how well our campers are able to work through things together during band practice.”

“We put effort into coordinating that and making sure that our campers are walking into a collaborative environment where they will be heard and respected for their contributions,” Smith added.

While past camp participants have surprised instructors with a pre-existing love for Joan Jett, once becoming a part of Grrrls Rock, many students also experience bouts with stage fright, which fortunately subsides as they become acquainted with their artistry. For Marlena and Syd however, stage fight isn’t an issue, as students become much more valiant with their music.

“I think rock camp is for people who want to learn an instrument but feel too intimidated,” Bowen said. Our focus is to create an environment where campers feel comfortable exploring something new and aren’t afraid to fail. It’s not really about getting really good at your instrument or writing the best song, it’s about identifying your strengths and getting comfortable with putting yourself out there.”

For those who aren’t exactly convinced that their fear of crowds can diminish, Grrrls Rock Columbus provides daily workshops for a week-span, in which campers find self-discovery in performance and musical collaboration.

“They bond so much over the week that at the final performance,” Smith says. “The performing band gets to look out into a sea of support from all of the campers and volunteers sitting in the front rows cheering them on.”

For more, visit grrrlsrockcolumbus.com.

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