By Sarah Ellis The State (Columbia, S.C.)
Ten-year-old Skyler Huneycutt tapped her drumsticks three times and counted off the beat as her band, The Royal Hello Kitties, launched into another practice run of their original song Thursday afternoon.
"You'll run; I'll jump. You'll sing; I'll listen. You're going to sound amazing. So let's all sing."
A confident and perky Aiyo Price, 9, sang the lyrics as she strummed her electric guitar, a hand-drawn "Girl Power" banner taped to the wall behind her.
Beside her, 10-year-old Sabrina Drayton plinked the keys of an electric keyboard and with her soft voice sang the repetitive chorus: "School's out. It's summertime."
Sabrina is the mastermind behind the lyrics. She's had a lot of practice writing songs, which she does often in her diary whenever inspiration hits her, she said.
The squeal of electric guitars and the thump of drums could be heard echoing through the halls, but what happens inside the band practice rooms at the Girls Rock Columbia camp goes way beyond music.
Female empowerment is the pervading melody at the week-long rockband camp, where preteens and teens are not only learning how to play rock-and-roll instruments, but, more importantly, how to encourage one another, work as a team and feel confident in themselves.
"There are so many things about ... playing music in a group of people who haven't played music before that teach you compromise and creative problem-solving and active listening and creativity," said Kristin Morris, one of the camp's organizers.
"Those are the things that are most important to us. If it sounds off-key at the showcase, none of us are going to scream any quieter."
In its second year, the camp has more than doubled in attendance, from 17 rockers last year to 40 this week.
They spend their mornings getting instrument-specific instruction from local female musicians -- for electric guitar, electric bass, keyboard or drums -- and their afternoons practicing original songs they wrote with their bands, all in preparation for their culminating showcase concert Saturday afternoon at Columbia College's Cottingham Theater.
But the musical component of the camp is really just a vehicle for instilling confidence in young women, Morris said. Throughout the week, the girls also receive workshop sessions on skills such as self defense, photography and screen-printing T-shirts, teaching the girls to be independent young women who recognize their strengths and ability to make an impact in their community.
"Telling someone that they're smart or capable or beautiful isn't necessarily the most effective way of building self-confidence," Morris said. "To feel confident, you have to do something that's hard and succeed."
And they'll succeed no matter what, she said.
By just their second day of playing together, the girls of the band MNM -- Maycie Allers, 14; Malinda Comer, 15; and Nina Gamble, 15 -- already saw quick improvement in their group chemistry and felt their confidence building, they said.
Their song, "Let Me Live My Life," is a heavy-metal anthem of breaking free and going their own way.
"I'm glad I have some people that can listen to what I have to say with song lyrics," said Malinda, who plays bass in the band.
"When I write lyrics, I write a whole bunch of different feelings together that everybody can share. And having all of those mixed together, it kind of helps us bring us to each other and lets us know that we're not alone."
That sense of community is not lost on any of the girl rockers.
"I like being able to be myself," said Maycie, MNM's electric guitarist. "Everybody's just so accepting of who we are. It's a really judge-free environment."