Girls Rock Bloomington provides musical opportunities to girls, LGBTQ youth

Girls Rock Bloomington—an organization that encourages girls and transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive youth to write and play music—will be holding music labs at the Monroe County Public Library from 4:30-6 pm on March 7, 21, 28 and Apr 4.

“It’s so helpful to be in an environment where, rather than being the only girl or the only trans kid or the only nonbinary kid, they feel surrounded by people who look like them or who are supportive,” Amy Oelsner, founder and director of Girls Rock Bloomington, said.

Youth ages 8-12 are invited to register and attend.

Oelsner, a local musician, said Girls Rock Bloomington has had a slow and organic growth. They have 20-30 volunteers, have involved 30-40 children in the organization and will soon become a nonprofit organization.

During the first two music labs, the children will be introduced to instruments. They will be taught the basics of the instruments and will be able to try out each instrument. In the third lab, the songwriting workshop, they will work together to write a song. The last lab will be a recording workshop.

“I have seen them realize that writing a song is not as intimidating as they thought it was,” Oelsner said. “I’ve seen them understand that there’s a place for them when they might feel silenced in other places in their life.”

Oelsner said the goal of Girls Rock Bloomington is to eliminate any self-critical impediments that may keep this group from being creative.

Girls Rock Bloomington also holds a summer camp for kids aged 8-14 at the Gayle Karch Cook Center. Registration for the camp, which will be July 18-23, will open soon.

Nick Romy, volunteer and gear coordinator for Girls Rock Bloomington, worked with Oelsner at Rhino’s Youth Center before it closed. They had both previously worked at teen rock camps through that organization.

“Providing opportunities then leads to more women playing music, and more trans and nonbinary people playing music, when they haven’t been encouraged to in previous generations,” Romy said.

Romy started attending the after-school programs held by Rhino’s when they were a teenager. It was an all-ages organization, but had programs specifically for teenagers.

As the gear coordinator, Romy also plays music, repairs and refurbishes string instruments as a luthier, and owns a musical instrument repair shop, Ardent Instruments, in Bloomington. They provide the organization with instruments, amplifiers and other musical equipment.

“It’s really important for teens, and in particular teenagers that aren’t straight white cis men, to be able to have access to and be encouraged to play music,” they said.

Grace Leckey, a senior studying audio engineering at IU, will lead the recording workshop during the last music lab. She led the recording music lab during fall of 2021 and ran an audio production workshop during the summer camp.

Those workshops focused on beat-making as she showed the kids how to use Soundtrap, an online digital audio workstation. She plans to teach more recording aspects this spring.

Leckey didn’t start writing songs until she was in college. She said if she had a group encouraging her to write music when she was younger, things would have gone differently for her. She has played instruments since her childhood and been in bands GraceKellie and The Barn Cats during her college career. She also plays as a solo artist.

“Music is such an important and valuable outlet for all of them,” she said. “They already see that in themselves and in each other.”

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