Featured photo by Jessica Deeks
Tiffanie Tri is almost a typical Ottawa bureaucrat—she studied Political Science at Carleton, lives downtown, and spends her days working 9-5. But on the weekend, she plays keyboard in shows as large as Bluesfest. She’s part of Scary Bear Soundtrack, a local band that’s grown exponentially in recent years. She’s also the Chair of Girls + Rock Ottawa, a non-profit organization that teaches music to self-identifying girls, and now women, in Ottawa.
The organization began in 2007 and introduced its main event, a weekend rock camp, a few years ago. Over three days, girls 13-17 learn a rock instrument of their choice and are grouped into bands. The finale is a showcase of what they have learned in a concert for family and friends. “The transformation by Sunday is amazing,” says Tri.
Since then, the project has expanded to jam sessions, workshops, and starting this month, a rock camp for women. This recent growth included a slight change in the organization’s persona, going from Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls to Girls+ Rock Ottawa. “With all this stuff going on, we didn’t feel like it was representative anymore,” says Tri.
“It’s also to signify and celebrate gender diversity. One of our biggest focuses is a safe space,” she says, explaining that all their programs are welcome to self-identifying girls and non-binary youth.
The organization has also increased their public presence, with organizers appearing at panels, events, and similar programs to promote their work. In the future, Girls+ hopes to partner with more local groups on their growing program. They’re also working on more programming outside of camp, with a goal to teach all areas of music production—a field that’s not always accessible to girls. “We’ve kicked off someone’s interest in music, how do we sustain it?” says Tri. “How do we keep engaging these youth?”
Girls+ does so with inviting programs that teach music in an encouraging way. Like myself, Tri learned classical piano as a child, and wanted a more flexible, accommodating way to learn music. Jam sessions and workshops teach music skills in a way that works with girls’ interests and needs.
The workshops also aim to teach real world skills—applicable lessons that teach youth all sides of music production from concert photography to planning gigs. Together, the projects work to break down barriers that keeps young adults from practicing music—whether it be venues, resources, or an accepting space.
This summer’s Rock Camp for Women+ is a pilot project, expanding on their flagship camp. “The same reason we do it for the girls—women want that safe space and community.” The aim is to teach women+ the rudimentary skills of music, without the intimidating nature of music lessons, which can be especially difficult later in life.
For the future, Girls+ are asking “How can we sustain someone’s music interest and potential career?” New workshops, jam sessions, and special events aim to bring campers back to learn new skills from songwriting to recording to self-promotion. “That whole journey—I’d love to support every step,” says Tri.
The growing organization also hopes to do more panels to discuss issues as women in the music industry. They’ve partnered with local businesses, groups, and artists, and plan to expand further. Throughout, creating a welcoming music scene for girls, women, and non-binary youth remains the organization’s main goal. “Mentorship and representation is a key part,” says Tri. As a woman of Asian heritage, she herself struggled with lack of representation and racial stereotypes in music. “When girls grow up and don’t see themselves in media or on album covers,” they miss out on opportunities to pursue music. Tri says that many girls have come to camp believing they just weren’t supposed to play rock instruments. Once they enter the male-dominated music genre, “they break down those stereotypes and myths without even realizing it, while they’re having fun.”
This year’s rock camp for Girls+ is in November, but the organization already has a number of events planned until then. The Women+ rock camp is this coming weekend, and will signify the start of a new chapter for the program. “I think it’s going to be so much fun,” says Tri. “We have no idea what it’s going to be like.”
All of Girls+ is run by volunteers, so proceeds of the Women+ camp will go towards future programs. “We’re trying to give that opportunity to people of a different age group,” says Tri. “Empower more people, reach more people as well as sustain our work.”
Organizing so much programming, marketing, and partnerships is evidently a lot of work for Tri and the Board of Governors, but it’s worth it. Doing Girls+ has allowed her to explore music and charity work in a new way, and balance her interests with her career and political background. “Knowing all that stuff helps me a better writer for music… that’s how you get a different perspective.”
Tri’s band comments on issues such as race, gender, and ethnicity, and their lyrics have been called controversial because of it. “It’s called political, and characterized as that,” she says. “We’re just writing the same song that everyone else has… it’s real experience. Political, to me, just means they don’t know what else to call it… it’s a synonym for different.”
She credits her open mindedness to her education and work background, saying “I don’t think I’d notice all those things if I didn’t have an understanding.”
Tri continues to make music about real life issues, unapologetically, and hopes to inspire girls and women+ to do the same. Especially in a small local scene, creating a welcoming learning environment for minorities in music is the first step to breaking down larger barriers in the industry. Girls+ programs teach girls, women, and those of non-traditional genders not only how to play music, but why their voices should be heard.
Rock Camp for Women+ runs from June 23-25, and for Girls+ November 3-5. Upcoming events and information can be found on their website here. Volunteers for future programs are always welcome.