Video: Girls ROCK!

If you wandered the halls of the Mentorship Academy this week, you might have heard the familiar beat of rock ’n’ roll seeping from behind closed doors. It’s all courtesy of 12 newly initiated rocker chicks who, since Monday, have been writing songs, singing them and accompanying themselves on instruments they’ve never played before. They are taking part in Baton Rouge’s first Girls Rock Camp, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating an environment that uses music as a medium to encourage creativity, collaboration and individuality.

“It’s neat to see where they started two days ago and to see their songs starting to come together,” said Girls Rock Camp Baton Rouge founder Pam Tusa. “The first couple of days were rough, but now it’s starting to come together.”

As she explained, the girls, who range in age from 10 to 16, get an hour and a half’s worth of instruction on an instrument of their choosing — preferably one they’re not familiar with. Then they are divided into three bands: Complexity, The Purple Roses and The Rockin’ Angels. The band members not only had to come up with a name for their band, but write the music and lyrics for a song and then decide who’s going to be the lead vocalist. They also wrote a camp song they’ll all perform together at Sunday’s finale Showcase performance for family and friends at 3 p.m. at the Red Dragon Listening Room, 2401 Florida Blvd.

“We teach them how to collaborate, to support each other,” said Tusa. “Our workshops help with the empowerment of women. Today we focused on self-esteem and self-image.” Thursday’s workshop was self-defense.

Tusa is excited about bringing Girls Rock to her adopted hometown. The first Girls Rock Camp was held in Portland, Ore., in 2001 by a Portland State University student as a summer day camp. “People loved the idea so much, the camps started popping up everywhere,” said Tusa. “By 2009 they had started the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, where once a year people from all the camps come together to share and exchange ideas.”

Three years ago, Tusa’s idol, Indigo Girl Emily Saliers, was conducting a songwriting workshop at the three-day Ladies Rock Camp in Atlanta. “It’s a weekend camp that serves as a fundraiser for Girls Rock Camp, and I so wanted to go,” said Tusa, who’s been traveling back to Atlanta every year since to participate in Ladies Rock Camp and to volunteer with Girls Rock Camp Atlanta.

But for the past 10 years, she and husband Chris Tusa, who teaches at LSU, have called Baton Rouge home and Pam wanted to bring Girls Rock here. She started working to make that a reality last October. “I thought getting the girls would be the easy part and finding volunteers would be difficult but it’s been the reverse,” she said with a laugh. “I think we’ll have an easier time getting girls involved next year when they know more about what we’re doing.

And what they’re doing is making music, their very own music. Sofia Politz says she’s caught on to playing the keyboard “pretty well.” Fellow bandmate Amelia Zetty has discovered playing the drums “comes naturally” to her, as they seem to do for Abbe Kantrow, who has experience playing the guitar but “I’m the drummer for this camp; I’m just rockin’ out.”

Emma Davis and Rowen Johnson both play the piano but now they’re learning to master the lead guitar and bass guitar, respectively. Alyssa Sanchez plays clarinet but is now tackling the bass guitar as is singer Gabrielle Montagnino. Talacha Hawkins plays the violin and also likes to sing, so she’s excited about learning how to accompany herself on keyboard.

Chrystian “Twiggy” Cotton brought her own guitar to camp and is continuing to fine tune her playing skills. Fellow band member Grace Newell is the group’s drummer and she has some experience but she also plays guitar and keyboard. Ashley Mendoza plays flute in her school’s band but is playing lead guitar for The Rockin’ Angels’ and Varland Owens mans the keyboard for The Purple Roses.

Assisting these young musicians prepare for their Showcase performance are professional musicians Jodi James, Sophie Kunen and Lynn Drury; Andrea Papa, who in real life is a nurse like Tusa, who teaches at Southeastern Nursing School; and Sharon Andrews.

Tickets for the Showcase are $7 in advance, $10 at the door. For tickets or more information, visit the website, http://www.girlsrockcampbr.org.