By Jessica Steinhoff | Photography by Heidi Johnson
Beth Kille has electrified the Madison music scene for more than 20 years, leading bands, winning awards and recording 14 original albums. Though she adores this work, it’s only her second-favorite musical job. Her favorite? Serving as cofounder and music director of Girls Rock Camp Madison, a five-day summer camp that has helped nearly 1,400 girls find their inner rock star since 2010.
“Girls Rock Camp is everything I want to be doing and more,” Kille says. “People often hold back their creativity for fear of being judged, and we blow the roof off of that by creating a place for girls to be themselves, be bold and share their ideas.”
No musical knowledge is required, just a willingness to grow and take risks — including performing for a crowd on the camp’s final day. Campers typically adopt an instrument such as the guitar, keyboard or drums and jam on it in lessons and band practices. The experience also features songwriting classes and a taste of a professional recording studio.
The camp’s catalyst was a local dad: When he told Kille how his daughter kept getting waitlisted for a Chicago-based rock camp for girls, she decided to start one in Madison. Helping girls feel empowered has been the focus from day one.
Kille, who played the clarinet growing up, remembers how fellow members of the school band helped her battle the self- doubt that so many teens experience. The experience was both formative and transformative, and she aims to replicate its best elements in Girls Rock Camp.
“To this day, a lot of the voices in my head are other middle school kids judging me. I realize they were just kids doing the best they could to get by, but we have an opportunity to show today’s girls that safe spaces do exist and that they can build them,” she says.
Plus, life lessons abound when you form a band with a group of strangers. Campers develop resilience when they receive feedback and solve problems together, and they discover how to handle viewpoints, personalities and creative processes that differ from their own.
“There’s a really important diversity piece to what we do, and part of that is helping campers realize how people who are different from them can push them,” Kille says. “Working with people you just met forces you to create something you never would have created otherwise, and that is a gift.”