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A boost for gender diversity in music

Women of all ages are invited to give songwriting a try with Hillside Inside’s Girls and Guitars Songwriting Course.

The goal of the course is to help female musicians write a song from start to finish in four two-hour lessons, starting in January.

Hillside executive director Marie Zimmerman says the Guelph-based music festival started their Girls and Guitars program in 2011 by putting female singer songwriters in workshops in local schools to teach children about songwriting.

“We started it because we recognized that the music industry tends to be male-dominated, the music managers, the bands, the critics, the reviewers, the crew all tend to be male. It’s about a 70/30 split,” Zimmerman said.

She says they also heard the trend was for girls in their teen years and even younger to give up music lessons and the idea of pursuing a creative career. The various Girls and Guitars programs are meant to encourage girls and women to continue their musical pursuits.

In 2013 they introduced Girls and Guitars to Hillside Inside, the winter version of the outdoor music festival held each summer at Guelph Lake.

“We took six venues downtown Guelph and we ran it kind of as a progressive party. Each female singer songwriter would perform for half an hour and the idea was that they would do it in the windows of the shops, so sort of playing on the irony of them being traditional female mannequins but these are very powerful women who are doing something wonderfully creative for a crowd,” Zimmerman explained.

Last year was the inaugural year for the songwriting course.

The course is taught by Doris Folkens, who holds a professional singer-songwriter certificate from the Berklee College of Music.

She’s also a physiotherapist and often treats musicians. She just finished the VIA Rail’s Artist-on-Board program, entertaining guests on the train from Ontario to Vancouver.

There are still spots open for Hillside Inside’s Girls and Guitars Songwriting Course which runs for four nights in January and February and assists women to write a song from beginning to end. Registration is due Jan. 9 and women of all ages are welcome. [Submitted]

Participants in the course must come with some kind of musical background – the ability to play the guitar, piano or another instrument – and the desire to learn to write a song.

Zimmerman says feedback from the first group of participants has been largely positive and they said they wish they had mentors to help guide them when they were younger.

“I think that when you’re working within a culture that tends to be male dominated, the lyrics of songs tend to be about male experiences as well. The teacher of the songwriting course works against that with the students saying, ‘no I want you to write about your experience, not the typical choruses that we’re used to. Write about what is real to you,’” Zimmerman explained.

For example, last year one woman wrote a ballad to her two-year-old son about all of her dreams about him, but her fears for him too. She says it moved the audience to tears when she performed it at Hillside Inside.

Zimmerman notes they have room for eight women and it’s also open to teenage girls as well. Some people have already bought the course as Christmas gifts for women in their life.

“Being creative in this particular way makes you feel alive like nothing else. People will say this about any creative pursuit, that when they’re on their own and they’re trying to express something that they have experienced or that they feel, they feel so vibrant, so engaged, so accountable too. The course makes you very accountable to produce a song by the end of it. So a lot of people will appreciate that there’s a timeline on it. Creative engagement is always something that’s life-enriching and life-giving.”

The Girls and Guitars Songwriting Course runs Jan. 20, Jan. 27, Feb. 3 and Feb. 10. There are still spots available and registration forms must be submitted by Jan. 9. The cost of the course is $115 including HST. For more information or to register, visit www.hillsidefestival.ca/pages/girls-guitars-songwriting-course.

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