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From Mozart to [Bruno] Mars

Area rock camps cater to all kids

They say it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ’n’ roll. That’s why some Rochester-area youth are tuning up now: learning instruments, writing songs, and playing in bands as part of Rochester’s growing crop of rock camps and music schools. Forget your grandma’s stuffy piano lessons: This is real rock ’n’ roll.

Take Girls Rock Rochester, an annual summer camp experience for girls and transgender youth ages eight to sixteen. Founded in 2011 by Rochester resident Kaci Smith, the weeklong day camp was inspired by other girls rock camps across the country that promote personal growth and positive change through the power of rock music. A second camp was added this past summer for queer, gender variant, gender non-conforming, and allied youth ages twelve to eighteen. In addition to choosing an instrument, writing songs, forming bands, designing t-shirts, and graduation performance at venues like Rochester’s Anthology and the Record Archive, the campers attend workshops on social justice and learn about famous women in the history of rock. This past summer, the completely volunteer-run camp welcomed local author and activist Kaelyn Rich for a workshop on youth activism.

“We’re not solely a music camp,” says Smith, who works full time as an English as a second language teacher at Walt Disney Elementary School in Gates. “We’re a social justice organization that uses music as a tool for youth as a way to express themselves and learn collaboration skills.” Smith is also passionate about making the camp accessible to all, reserving fifty percent of the camp’s forty to fifty slots for people of color and offering scholarships for campers who request financial aid.

“Girls Rock is a special place for budding musicians,” says Jenny LoMaglio of Brighton, whose ten-year-old daughter Juliette attended the camp at First Unitarian Church in Rochester this past summer. “Upon dropping her off, I held back tears as she stood there with her electric guitar in one hand and Converse sneakers on her feet. It was in my best interest as a parent to immerse her in diversity and let her know that her opinions and others are respected with an open mind and without fear of being rejected.”

Julia Methot
Photo courtesy Girls Rock Rochester


Another local rock program is making waves for its extensive library of modern and classic rock as well as DJ mixing, scratching, and music production lessons. Nick Valente of Victor opened Bach to Rock in January 2018. Located in Penfield, Bach to Rock is a complete music school offering lessons in all instruments (including voice), all ages, any style and any genre, as well as regular performance opportunities at events around town.

“We don’t have a preconceived notion of what songs you need to play or what style you need to learn; we believe that if students are allowed to play the songs they love, it inspires and motivates them to do more,” says Valente, whose twenty-three instructors include students and graduates from the Eastman School of Music, Berklee College of Music, and Juilliard School of Music, as well as local DJs.

As part of a national franchise, Bach to Rock has access to a music library of more than 500 songs and musical compositions available for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students. Students are encouraged to identify their own interests and are given music to play based on those interests, from Mozart to Bruno Mars.

Twelve-year-old Jeffrey Lender of Penfield is currently the youngest student in the DJ mixing program. He attends a thirty-minute individual lesson once a week and has had the opportunity to show off his skills at the House of Guitars, the Perinton Rec Center, and the Casa Larga Purple Foot Festival, among other locations.

“I like using remixes of popular rap songs and pop songs for my playlists,” says Lender. “They mix really well with other songs.”

“The lessons have given him self-confidence,” says Lender’s mother, Yana Lender. “They are also giving him a useful skill that he can use in the future.”

Other mothers, like Heather Johnson, say their children found a community through the music. Johnson’s child is trans and attended Queer Rock Camp this past summer.

“Dylan was born a male in a female body,” says Johnson. “That’s hard for a twelve-year-old. He made good friends at camp that he still talks to daily. For that week, my son smiled constantly; he felt accepted and not alone. I can’t tell you how huge that is for a trans child.”

No matter the motivating force, it’s clear that local kids are going to keep on rocking.

“We’re creating kids who feel good about their city and are proud of the community,” says Smith. “It’s important.”


Michelle Shippers is a freelance writer in Rochester.

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