Lilly Saruga is usually a solo artist. She’s never played with a three-piece before. She’s also never played bass, but she did both last Saturday in front of an audience at Epic Pizza.
That’s the venue for the Girls Rock Camp concert — an afternoon showcase featuring the musical stylings of four new Whitehorse-based bands, each of which formed in a single week.
“We had a week to figure out the song, the lyrics, the chords, the tempo, the name, the logo design, all of this stuff,” said Saruga, 13, on Aug 8. She stood in the black box theatre at Heart of Riverdale, holding a bass guitar. Nearby were her bandmates, drummer Meg Gatien, 17, and keyboardist Kiawna Leas, 12.
The trio (which goes by the name Miss Me With That Patriarchy, though The Missyfits was also a contender) met through the weeklong summer camp, which started Aug 6.
Girls Rock Camp is an international initiative that was founded in 2011. It’s taken place in Dawson City since 2014. This is its first year in Whitehorse, and it drew 15 girls between the ages of nine and 17.
On the surface, the goal of Girls Rock Camp is to teach participants to make music, but they learn more than that.
Communication for one, said Gatien. It’s not easy to come together with a group of new people and make music. You have to learn to be open with complete strangers.
She said they’ve also learned about bullying during a workshop with Zoé Bordeleau-Cass, of BYTE.
Talking about it at camp is different than talking about it at school, said Gatien. At school, the message is just that bullying is bad.
“Here, we touched on empathy and why people bully,” she said.
In addition to instrument lessons and the band practices where each band writes an original song together, campers have participated in songwriting workshops with local musician Kim Beggs. They made patches and customized camp shirts with local tattoo artist Kirsty Wells. Camp coordinator Andy Pelletier guided them through merch-making in advance of the showcase.
“I like to say it takes a village to raise a rockstar,” Pelletier told the News. “It’s a lot of moving parts and we need a variety of voices.”
Right now, those voices include musicians and camp staffers Paris Pick, from Whitehorse, and Sarah Ayton, from Montreal.
Pick teaches ukelele, but it’s her first year teaching at camp. She said she’d definitely do it again. She said it’s amazing to see the confidence grow in the girls, some of whom start out shy and end up screaming into a microphone.
“We’re bringing people from different backgrounds and empowering them to believe in themselves and music,” she said. “And believing that they are capable of doing anything as women. Which, in society, isn’t always the case.”
Ayton works in Montreal as a musician, choir teacher, and community music educator. She has helped with the Dawson camp for three of its four years, and it’s always evolving, she said.
“I feel like each year we can kind of hone in on current topics or things that we see youth going through or things that we also are encountering in our own lives,” she said.
One of these is consent, said Pelletier. Organizers try to weave it into every aspect of camp, whether that’s checking in to see if the girls want to be photographed, encouraging them to ask before using each other’s instruments, or letting them know they can opt out of the “high five tunnel of consent” at the end of every day.
It might seem like a small thing, to remind someone they don’t have to return a high five if they don’t want to, but it gives them familiarity with the word consent and the concept behind it, Pelletier said. Hopefully it also gives them an understanding of the kind of autonomy they should be able to expect in their lives.
Recently, camp has also become concerned with decolonization, said Pelletier. Half of the participants in Dawson City are typically First Nations. The same has been true of Whitehorse.
“One of the things we’re talking about in this organization is actually having a position or two that are only open to Indigenous folks just because there’s a perspective there that we need,” they said. “We are working with these populations and, as largely non-Indigenous folks, it’s something that we maybe can’t address as well.”
Right now, Pelletier is looking for someone to take on running next year’s camp (they will be focused on the Dawson camp). They said there’s interest from a handful of organizations so far, including Something Shows, but it probably won’t come together until the winter.
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org