Long before musicians book their first concert hall, they must first attend grade school to learn multiplication tables and read their first chapter books. And, for the girls who attend Omaha Girls Rock programs, shredding instruments and discovering female artists are vital parts of that education.
At Omaha Girls Rock, music education is closely tied with activism and female empowerment. The organization fosters weeklong summer camps and after-school programs for girls, introducing them to new instruments as well as educating them about impactful female musicians. Additionally, it provides girls with opportunities to create their own songs and showcase their newly acquired talents.
Executive director Melissa Wurth said the girls don’t all aspire to be the next Janis Joplin or Stevie Nicks, but each student leaves their Omaha Girls Rock experience understanding the power of artistic dialogue.
“Our hope is that we are developing individuals who understand the value in using creative expression to make their thoughts heard,” Wurth said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they will be musicians or performing artists, but that they value music, and how it … can be used to create change.”
Wurth said she can see Omaha Girls Rock’s success through the girls who blossom in their programs after finding their identity.
“Every year, there’s somebody that really comes out of their shell, and we see them back each year,” Wurth said. “It’s just a different way to show girls what they’re able to do as individuals and apply leadership skills in a really creative way.”
Since 2011, Omaha Girls Rock has educated kindergarteners to teens on the power of music while bolstering their self-confidence. The organization hosts summer camps and after-school programs at 15 different middle schools and elementary schools in the Omaha Public Schools district.
Kick Start!, the program for elementary-aged girls, runs for about an hour after school, as does the middle school program, Our Story. Both Kick Start! and Our Story focus on telling musicians’ stories to inspire young girls while providing games and ukulele lessons that educate students about rhythm, dynamics and social change. More intensive lessons are offered for girls who want to dive into mastering piano, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboard or drums. These classes take place at the facilities of Girls Inc., another Omaha organization devoted to female empowerment.
Through musical instruction and opportunities to explore different creative outlets, the girls do what program director Kat Ludwick said she wished she would have done at their age ー find an individual voice.
“If I would’ve had a camp like this, my narrative would’ve changed drastically,” Ludwick said. “I would’ve been able to hop into that self-confidence, that assertiveness, been able to stand up for myself, been able to set my own boundaries.”
Like many volunteers and music educators, Ludwick was a musician-turned-parent who wanted to find her way back to her creative outlet. She first attended an Omaha Girls Rock showcase in 2011 and said what she witnessed immediately reeled her in.
“I saw this incredible, brave group of young people aged 10-18 after a week of camp just totally rocking out on stage and using their voices,” Ludwick said. “I was totally hooked and thought, ‘I have to sign up for this.’”
Since the beginning, Wurth has seen the value of Omaha Girls Rock programs in self-discovery and formulation of identity as well as music education. Whether or not these young rock stars ever grace the stage as adults, Ludwick said they will leave knowing their value as women and active members of society.
“[Omaha Girls Rock] creates such a safe and nurturing space for young people to really be curious about themselves, to wonder and to learn about how to respect each other and how to fall into their own self and their own sense of identity,” Ludwick said. “We are trying to create some incredible citizens who will grow up in our community.”