How Hard Do Girls Rock? Count The Ways At Girls Rock Phoenix

Published: Friday, July 29, 2016 - 11:46am
Updated: Monday, August 1, 2016 - 11:47am

(Photo by Phil Latzman - KJZZ)
Instructors at Girls Rock Phoenix show girls the finer arts of drumming.
(Photo by Phil Latzman - KJZZ)
A camper belts out "Ave Maria" in a vocal session.
(Photo by Phil Latzman - KJZZ)
Members of the (usually) all-female band Mariachi Pasion perform for campers.
(Photo by Sammie Aasen)
Campers and volunteers rock out to a lunchtime band called Sugar Skull Explosion.

The very same week that history was made with Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the first major party female candidate for president, a group of Valley women and girls are hoping to break barriers of their own. This time, they're shattering ceilings in the male-dominated music business at the first annual Girls Rock Phoenix camp.

Way more than church hymns was blaring inside Central United Methodist Church in Phoenix this week, including a drum session led by instructor Amy Young.

“As of yesterday, they’ve had one hour of drumming, and then today’s session — and they’re already playing beats, rock beats, fills, symbol crashes, intros,” she brags about her mostly teenage percussionists.

What’s different about this room of drummers? They’re all girls in the boy-dominated world of music.

“We’re here to tell the girls, you can be loud, you can take up space, you can make noise,” said Jennifer Liebhaber, one of the volunteer organizers of the Girls Rock Phoenix camp.

She believes society has taught women and girls to do just the opposite.

“There’s these subliminal messages of that old fashioned, ‘Women should be prim and proper and not make noise and just put your hands across your lap, smile and look pretty' [perspective]," Liebhaber said.

The first Girls Rock events took place in Portland, Oregon, and have since spread around the country. This is the first time it’s been held in Phoenix. And it’s almost exclusively female.

“Most of our volunteer base are women. All of our instrument instructors, our band coaches, our band managers, kind of like camp counselors,” Liebhaber said. “We tried really hard to get women who are interested to do that, so that girls can see that women can set up amps, women can tune a bass guitar.”

Fifteen-year-old Avianna Aldaco of Laveen also wants to help usher in a new generation of female musicians.

“Girls don’t really see it that much and they think, ‘Why should I do it, why should I be the first one?'” Aldaco said. “Girls always shut things out when they think it’s not going to work for them.”

Pounding away at the percussion, 12-year-old Gracie de la Garza of Tempe says Girls Rock is just what she needed this summer, along with some new instruments. “It’s a really educational experience that helps girls be inspired to do stuff like this. I went to the mini camp and just now got my own drum set, so I’m now rocking out with my sister.”

And the girls couldn’t get a better of example of rocking female empowerment than Mariachi Pasion — an all-woman Mariachi band providing the lunchtime entertainment. On this day, a male player is sitting in. But normally, all 13 of the band’s members are female.

They are led by a former basketball coach named Betty Duarte.

“We started 10 years ago and when we first started, it was tough. We took our knocks,” Duarte said.

Mariachi Pasion began among a group of girlfriends taking music courses at ASU. Duarte said they began playing together between classes, then one day one of the girls said her uncle needed some music.

“We were petrified because we’d all have our respective groups, most of the time they were all male, or mixed or something like that, but nothing that was all female," Duarte says.  “So we figured we’d give it a shot — and the rest is history — or 'HERstory,' however you want to put it.”

The women in the band all have day jobs or are students. For campers like Avianna Aldaco, they are fantastic role models. “For any girl that’s going to be here. You’re going to enjoy it, you’re going to make new friends, and you’re going to learn a lot," Aldaco said.

“Just because you haven’t seen examples in bands, doesn’t mean you can start your own and pioneer it," she said.

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