Contact Buzz: Girls Rock! Des Moines gives kids the instruments for confidence

Courtesy of Girls Rock! DSM, photo by Joelle Blanchard, Figment Art & Photo

“Music makes us want to live. You don’t know how many times people have told me that they’d been down … But then a special song caught their ear and that helped give them renewed strength. That’s the power music has.” –Mary J. Blige

“Everyone looks to an artist for something more than just the music, and that message of being comfortable in my own skin is number one for me.” –Lizzo

Girls Rock! Des Moines (GR!DSM) is a powerful music program for young women and gender nonconforming youth aged 8 to 18 using music, songwriting and unity to express themselves and elevate their creativity.

Since its initial summer camp in 2013, GR!DSM has conducted 19 summer camps, utilizing 247 volunteers and staff, for 586 campers served. Add weekend retreats, special events and the network of creative connectivity, and GR!DSM’s influence is year-round, anchored by its summer camps.

Results over 10 years of success include 16 albums produced and more than 160 original songs developed, performed and recorded. The program now engages 150 girls each summer. Staff, volunteer mentors and support now number 60. Twenty-four bands were created, and $17,500 awarded in scholarships.

These are some of the impressive results that GR!DSM boasts.

“We like to say that what we do has a ripple effect,” explains Jodi Roberts, Girls Rock! Board President. “I’d say the biggest thing is equipping our youth to find their voice and develop confidence.”

“A lot of the summer camp participants have never played an instrument before or have very little experience. They are assigned an instrument, put into a band, learn a cover song and write an original song. Both the cover song and original are performed on stage at the end of camp at a local music venue in front of hundreds of people.”

The program beckons its participating artists “to explore their rocking selves, develop creative habits, and discover what inspires them.” The benefits to such education is well-documented in research.

“When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of Johns Hopkins University.

“There is a massive benefit from being musical that we don’t understand, but it’s individual. Music is for music’s sake,” Rasmussen adds. “It gives you a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music. Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.”

GR!DSM is a vibrant, thriving example of what Rasmussen describes.

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“Less than 5 percent of the people who create the sounds and media we consume every day are women or gender nonconforming individuals,” Roberts said. “We’re on a mission to change that!

Roberts’ pride is evident as she recalls past Girls Rock! finale concerts, noting the transformations she witnessed in a few short days.

“I’ve seen kiddos walk into camp the first day scared to talk to anyone,” she said, “and by the end of camp, they are performing on stage at Wooly’s in front of hundreds of people and are owning it!”

John Busbee works as an independent voice for Iowa’s cultural scene. This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 004.