Gesine Lohr, Hammond B3 keyboardist, on her experiences teaching at the Girls’ Rock Camp

On March 27th we received this heartwarming, enthusiastic feedback about our tumblr photo blog. Gesine Lohr teaches keyboard at the Bay Area Girls’ Rock Camp and her advices seem timeless and universal to us:

Hi femalepressure —
I just encountered your images — thank you so much, this is awesome!

I’m a 63 year old radical dyke rock/blues keyboardist, I volunteer teach at a Girls’ Rock Camp. I play a Hammond B3 (we just got her out of storage for a gig last week) with Leslie Speaker; this is a pretty daunting keyboard instrument.  She terrified me when I met her in 1981.  I also play a Yamaha DX7.  I was one of the first women to tape at Grateful Dead shows (they encouraged taping), I had a Nakamichi field deck with Nakamichi mics, later a Marantz field deck.  I helped run a college jam room in the early 1980s.  A lesbian cover band I was in, Nancy Drew And The Clues, was one of the first rock bands at the West Coast Womens’ Music Festival (we played day stage in 1988, night stage in 1989).

A very good harpsichord teacher (I play harpsichord seriously, don’t have a working instrument yet) told me years ago, for ANY instrument, find out what THAT instrument can do, and then do that. So, when I’m teaching girls rock keyboard at Girls’ Rock Camp we explore, what can an electric keyboard do?

— play many notes at once — not just “neat and proper” combinations of notes like chords, but also
a “push”, pushing up with palm,
laying arm down on keyboard,
glisses up and down,
a “cluster” where you just hold down a group of notes
and combinations of those all together

— hold one note (or many) until the power shuts off (to paraphrase Jon Lord, legendary Hammond B3 player of Deep Purple)

— play many different voices/sounds, change between different sounds.

The girls we teach, mostly have not touched an instrument before; a few have had some piano lessons.  One HUGE consciousness-raising thing that I need to continuously do, both with the girls and with the other volunteers (who are mostly early 20s, they have not heard a lot of powerful keyboard sounds in popular music), is —

Electric keyboard is NOT just piano!
piano is not “normal”
piano is not “default”.

(A funny aspect is that one also encounters this piano-centric prejudice, when playing harpsichord — oh, that thing is like a deficient piano — no, it’s a harpsichord!).

I teach the girls, with them sitting down at the keyboards — often, volunteers think they should stand up because it’s “cooler” — but you are less powerful at the keyboard, in that stance!
When I lived in the Los Angeles area, I went to 10 years of pro keyboard shows, without meeting another serious female keyboardist.  I moved to the Oakland area in 1993.

One thing I practice with the girls is, to HOLD a note or bunch of notes —
this is hard!
this is very scary!
and our culture pushes so much against this kind of power —
So, we’re all HOLDING something, and I’m yelling
Hold! hold! hold! hold! hold!
and we have a handful of students, and we’re pretty deafening.

And we’re not playing something “nice”,
we’re not playing something demure, polite,
we’re playing a big mash of noise.

I teach the girls that THEY will choose the sounds they will play —
I make a little chart, I demo a bunch of possible sounds —
At first, some of the girls want me to pick for them.  Nope!  And I tell them, if you want to play a piano sound, fine, BUT, let’s use/play with a bunch of other sounds first.
And for naive-to-instruments girls, sounds that can hold long duration, are much more conducive to making powerful simple synth lines, even with one finger.

What I love is when a girl becomes demanding,
I want sound 544! did you write that on the chart? let me see!!

And one funny thing, some of the young volunteers are in bands with males in them (I am too, some of my best friends are male) — and they’re used to the men moving all the equipment!  In girls rock camp, we teach the girls how to plug in/set up their keyboard rig, how to tear it down.  The younger girls (starting at age 8) can’t yet pick up the keyboards themselves, but they can help pack them up.  And everyone helps move the gear.

ANYhow!
Attached is a photo from last Saturday’s gig, Jean Richter playing guitar, I’m playing B3
(our drummer’s Nord keyboard is in foreground, I’m still getting used to her touch).
Thanks so much for the site, I’ve sent the link to girls’ rock volunteers.
Gesine

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