Personal Perspectives: I’m not a camper, here’s how Rock Camp brought me back to music

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Personal Perspectives is where Girls+ Rock Ottawa readers can share what music means to them. Contact us if you have a story to share!

By Erica Howes

You know that feeling of hearing a familiar song and having a flashback? It transcends time and you remember something that you forgot was even living in your brain. It comes back to you instantly and feels as real as your mom bringing out an old photo album of your childhood birthday parties.

That’s what it felt like volunteering at Rock Camp with Girls+ Rock Ottawa. It wasn’t a specific song or tune, but it was a wave of nostalgia seeing teenage girls passionate about music and wanting to perform. It took me back to my teenage self where some of my most confident moments were centre stage in front of an audience of mostly strangers with a piano.

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From when I was seven to 18, the one thing I always had as a constant in my calendar was piano lessons. It was always there in my school “about me” projects of hastily cut out magazine pictures or drawings fit together on brightly coloured paper. There was always some slanted music notes or a crooked keyboard.

As a sometimes quiet kid, getting to be loud and aggressive and then slow and emotional all in a few minutes of a song felt exhilarating.

Fast-forward to today, I’m in my twenties and my keyboard sits in the corner of my apartment like a fireplace, loved for its feeling of warmth and comfort but only used once in a while. Like a falling friendship where you keep saying you’ve been meaning to get together, we lost touch.

It wasn’t a sudden or even conscious decision, but without weekly lessons or parents reminding me to practice, it didn’t become top of mind.

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I always loved performing. I later got into spoken word poetry and found a knack for public speaking. It’s fun standing in front of a group of strangers, owning a stage and telling them a story, making them feel something or changing their perspective.

I can relate a lot of who I am today to music. To calm my nerves I still tap my fingers against my legs, miming scales as if preparing for a conservatory exam. Before a big presentation or interview, I rehearse lines in my head as if with crescendos and fermatas for pauses. My piano teacher always said no matter what happens, even if you forget parts of the song, end in a major chord and take a bow. A lifelong lesson that being confident and closing on a positive note goes a long way, and despite mistakes, life goes on.

Volunteering at Girls+ Rock Ottawa brought back the memories of teenage years. The dramas of high school or stressing about courses for the next year. But also the memories of singing in coffeehouses with friends, learning violin in orchestra and of course, playing and performing piano.

The feeling of playing in a band and making eye contact with your bandmates at the moment you know you’re rocking it. That side smile that I catch in concerts and feel like an insider. Walking away from a show feeling like you had an intimate conversation with the musicians rather than a performance separated by a stage.

In the past few years, I’ve heard a lot of stories like mine. Took piano lessons for years as a kid, loved music and then at some point, stopped playing. There’s always a million reasons behind why, and you don’t need an explanation filled with guilt or the “I should’ve stuck with it” lines. You don’t have to feel bad about not playing anymore, but there’s always the option to start again.

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Just like growing up when I got up to play a piano recital as a kid, no one knows if you’re going through an awkward teenager phase. No one knows if you’ve had a rough go with music or you stopped playing for ten years and are getting back into it. You don’t need a disclaimer.

People hear music, this powerful force that can take you back to a memory as real as an old photo album. People hear and see that you’re a musician. And often being on stage, being heard for that moment, that’s all that matters.