These girls rock: Summer camp teaches ‘Jewish chicks’ the first notes
Originally published August 12, 2011
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By Blair Ames
With Jewish Chicks Rock, girls aren’t just learning how to play instruments, they’re learning to empower themselves.
“We don’t have a lot of girls playing instruments and being in bands,” said self-proclaimed Jewish rocker Naomi Less. “What happens with that is you only have half of your population really creating the cultural footprint.”
That’s what Less is trying to change.
Through Jewish Chicks Rock, summer campers at Camp Louise in Cascade are given the opportunity to pick up a bass and play a few riffs or sit behind the drums, even if the only music they’ve ever played is a far cry from rock ‘n’ roll.
Jewish Chicks Rock Camp was created by Less and is in its first full year at Camp Louise.
“The philosophy is they play. We help and we coach them, but it’s the process over the product really,” Less said. “How that process is, how they’re working together versus do they get it right — that to me is really important.”
If they miss a few chords, who cares?
“This is what summer camp is all about,” said Glenn Grossman, who helps his wife run the camp.
Camp Louise is a summer retreat founded in 1922 for Jewish girls entering second through 12th grade with sessions ranging from two to seven weeks long. Jewish Chicks Rock ran from July 27 to 30, culminating in a performance at the camp on July 30.
“The energy was electric,” Camp Louise assistant director Shira Kahan said of the concert. “The bands were incredible. The girls really took to the stage like the rock stars they are.”
The three bands of four to six girls performed their versions of “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz, “Firework” by Katy Perry and “Forget You” by Cee Lo Green, but only after rewriting the lyrics. Some girls have previously played instruments, while others just like to sing.
“There’s an opportunity to introduce them to something,” Less said. “We try to offer them the opportunity to reach beyond and to try new things.”
That’s exactly what 10-year-old Jessica Oblom did when she picked up a bass guitar at camp rather than sit behind a piano, which she’s played since she was 4.
“I didn’t really decide to try a new instrument, I just wanted to play the thing I’m best at, piano and a little bit of drums,” she said.
“And then I came here and now I like the bass.”
The “camp within a camp” structure allows girls to experience all Camp Louise has to offer, while spending an hour and a half each day practicing and writing music.
For Less, coordinating the weeklong session is a dream come true.
“I’ve been on a high all week,” she said.
Less grew up singing while studying the piano and violin, both appropriate instruments for a girl, she said sarcastically.
But when she turned 21 and moved into an apartment, she had nowhere to put a piano. So she picked up a guitar and taught herself to play. She wrote her first song when she was 22 and hasn’t stopped since.
Although she has played in “secular” bands, Less said she couldn’t help but write Jewish content.
“My music basically invites audiences into something that is extremely listener-friendly,” she said. Her music explores ideas, beliefs, prayer and spirituality through a Jewish mindset, she said.
Less has traveled coast to coast performing and as far as Israel.
Although she now inspires girls in the same situation she was once in, Less gives a lot of credit to her role models such as Judy Chicago and Debbie Friedman, who stepped into fields dominated by men but were successful.
“I very humbly stand on their shoulders,” she said.
About 900 girls will participate throughout this year’s summer sessions at Camp Louise, Kahan said. Fifteen of them, from fourth to 12th grade, participated in Jewish Chicks Rock.
Kahan and Less hope the camp will catch on and become an annual program at Camp Louise.
“The more interest we get, the more the campers learn to love this and to think of this as part of camp, the more we can expand it,” Kahan said. “The sky is the limit once you start things.”