“Usually the female directors are either teaching elementary music or elementary band and middle school band,” said Rhoden, who teaches band at the high school level. “Now you see more females teaching at the high school level, but I didn’t see a female band director until I reached college.”
Band directing has been a male dominated field – Carrollton High School, for instance, hired its first female band director in the 60-year history of its band program just last year. It’s an indication of changing times, but attitudes take time to catch up.
So, Rhoden spent a year organizing Athena Music and Leadership Camp. Named for the Greek goddess of the arts and wisdom, the camp is the only band camp in the state serving just girls, she said.
Rhoden recruited an all female staff for the camp hoping to create a nurturing environment for the campers. Recruiting the teachers was one of the easier parts of the project.
“They all thought it was a great idea and were on board like that,” Rhoden said, snapping her fingers to show how easy it was.
The girls are getting intensive instruction from professional musicians and teachers. Rhoden recruited the teachers from all over the state: Dr. Lara Saville Dahl from Georgia State University, Leslie Ann Minor, middle and elementary school band director in Fayette County, Kay Fairchild, co-director of The Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble, Ellie Jenkins from the University of West Georgia, Hollie Lawing, professional trombone player, Paula Williams, percussion director at Pope High School.
The camp kicked off Tuesday at the University of West Georgia with 44 girls from nine counties and 23 schools attending. The girls are spending the week in music classes, leadership classes with a concert scheduled for Saturday to show off what they have learned. The girls will also be spending a lot of time getting to know each other over the week. The girls are sharing meals in the school’s cafeteria and many of them are staying in the school’s University Suites dorm rooms.
This is Briana Davis’ first time at a camp. At the age of 12, she said she likes that it’s an all-girls camp because boys can be irritating. It’s been easy for her to make new friends at the camp.
“We just talk, we laugh, we eat together,” Briana said. “Some more people come and we talk to them and we laugh.”
Abby Walls, 12, a student at Central Middle School, plays trombone in the school band. She thought the camp would be a good way to meet other girls with similar interests.
“At my school, I’m the only girl trombonist,” Abby said. “I want to be able to associate with other girl trombonists.”
She came to the camp hoping to make friends and learn new music, but the camp is giving her more than she envisioned when she signed up. The camp is helping her be more confident in her music, and she thinks she will be a little more likely to step up when her band director asks for help now.
“I do get scared about it, and usually I’m not able to,” Walls said. “Maybe this will help me with that.”
Other girls just came for the instruction, their main goal to improve on their instrument and are discovering other passions.
Mallory Northrop, 15, of Fayette County especially enjoyed the conducting class.
“I used to want to be a band director and I’m kind of thinking that again,” she said. “I kind of want to be sort of a leader.”
That is exactly what Rhoden wants to hear.
“We just decided to have a camp just for girls to kind of help them become leaders in their own band program and to let them know it’s OK to be a leader and to be a girl,” Rhoden said.