Amid describing Bellingham Girls Rock Camp, Morgan Paris Lanza, 25, highlighted a vital aspect: “We try to provide some information on the badass, inspirational women in music who have come before us,” Lanza said. “These are the movements that we are indirectly a part of that we are now directly continuing to recreate through our own music and media making.”
Still, this is just a sliver of what Bellingham Girls Rock Camp (BGRC) delivers to their campers. In full, BGRC is a day-camp for girls ranging in age from 8 to 17 years old that takes place several times a year. In the span of one week, campers with or without musical experience are given the opportunity to learn how to play a musical instrument, become involved in a band, professionally record songs, perform live on a stage, and participate in workshops.
BGRC is a part of Girls Rock Camp Alliance, an international movement dedicated to helping girls build self-esteem and find their voices through music education, social justice workshops, positive role models, and collaboration.
Lanza was introduced to BGRC in 2012 while she was attending Western Washington University’s (WWU) Fairhaven College. One of her classmates from a songwriting class, Casi Brown, was organizing BGRC as a senior project. This was the first time the camp was introduced to the Whatcom County community.
With an invitation from Brown, Lanza volunteered for BGRC as a workshop leader and a band coach. “I had such an amazing time at the start of rock camp because I was just becoming a musician going through my own discovery period,” Lanza said. “To witness these young women, who had never played an instrument or written a song before, just do it in this really supportive space – it was incredible. I felt like if they can do it, I can totally do it. We can do it together.”
After BGRC’s run in 2012, Brown graduated and left Bellingham with no plans of continuing the camp. Lanza knew she wanted to stay involved so that the camp could remain in the area. “I asked if I could lead the group because I saw the value in it, not only for myself, but for the community,” Lanza said.
Brown helped Lanza organize the second summer of BGRC in 2013. Then Lanza became the sole organizer. For three years, Lanza was running BGRC while she was simultaneously a WWU student. “I love being busy,” Lanza said with a grin. “To me the Bellingham Girls Rock Camp doesn’t feel like work. I love, love organizing the camp.”
Lanza graduated WWU in 2015 with a concentration in Music and Society: The Social Context of Performing Arts and Entrepreneurship. She said the camp defined a lot of her studies and complemented her own growth as a musician – Lanza is primarily a vocalist and is part of a couple bands and vocal groups. She said that it is important to be a role model in the work she does.
As the BGRC executive director, Lanza has also worked to make additions and improvements to the camp. In the past year, Lanza proudly said that BGRC officially became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Lanza is also enthusiastic to launch a fundraising campaign allowing individuals to sponsor rockstars through the program.
Another addition includes BGRC’s partnership with the music director of Whatcom Community College (WCC). This allows the camp to take place at WCC’s Syre Student Center. In the past, the camp has been held at Make.Shift Art Space and Fairhaven College.
Most recently, Lanza has plans to pilot a Teen Rock Camp this spring and a Ladies Rock Camp (for those 21 years and older) in the fall. The teen version would be an advanced music program for older girls, ages 13 to 17, to hone in on what they need in their musical endeavors.
“This way we can focus on where these girls are at in their life and with their music,” Lanza said. “In our regular camp, we will also be changing our schedule to separate the age groups more so that they get more individual attention.”
In another effort to accommodate more of the older campers, Lanza described that girls, ages 14 to 17, can come back to BGRC as volunteer interns. “It’s awesome because we’re starting to see campers who have been with us since they were 8 and 9 years old, who are now teenagers, coming back to camp to give back,” Lanza said.
BGRC sees anywhere from 15 to 40 volunteers each session who occupy different roles, whether that be loading and unloading instruments or preparing snacks. At camp, 10 to 15 of the volunteers are full-time individuals who teach lessons and coach the bands. Usually there are between 20 to 30 campers.
“It’s a really big team effort to make girls rock camp happen – a lot of different moving parts,” Lanza said. “Everyone’s different contribution makes a big impact on the program.
“I have experienced the benefit and the transformative power of Girls Rock Camp to help amplify the voices of young women in the community and remind them that they matter, that their voices are unique, and that what they have to say is important. There are a lot of different ways to express that voice – through the arts, through music, through media.”
To find out more or to register for Bellingham Girls Rock Camp, visit their website.