Using Your Voice: Songwriting and Community Action with Girls Rock! DC

SAAM’s Luce Foundation Center partners with Girls Rock! DC to present programming to mark the 10th anniversary of Luce Unplugged.

Anne Wilsey
Program Specialist for the Luce Foundation Center
January 20, 2022
Noel and Shady of Girls Rock DC teach a virtual workshop over zoom.


Luce Unplugged, our beloved concert series, is turning ten! We’re throwing a yearlong birthday bash in honor of the series and the DC musical community that has made it great. We’re revisiting past performances, cooking up new content, and hosting special programs, including the virtual songwriting workshop that we presented with Girls Rock! DC on Saturday, November 6, 2021.

Girls Rock! DC is collective of DC area musicians, teachers, artists, and community organizers who create equitable spaces for girls and nonbinary youth to express themselves and bolster a passion for social change. Noel Schroeder and Shady Rose, co-executive directors of the organization, led SAAM visitors in a collaborative songwriting session.

The workshop began with a lesson. Noel and Shady walked us through the parts of a song: “A verse tells the story of the song, a bridge delivers a secondary message, and the chorus drives the message home.” We learned how the lyrics, instruments, and genre come together to form the structure and the feel of a song.

Participants voted on which genre our song should be and what emotional tone we wanted to create. Noel used sound-mixing software to match pre-recorded beats and instrumental loops to our answers. Then, Noel and Shady posed a series of questions. How do you see yourself? What do you want right now? Participants chimed in in the chat box. We saw ourselves as creative, as thoughtful, as nerdy, as educators. We wanted candy, we wanted more time, we wanted peace.

Our answers became the verses, chorus, and bridge of the song. At the end of the hour, Shady sang the lyrics against the beats and melodies we chose. The result was a song that captured the anxieties and the hopes we were holding that November afternoon.



Recently, we caught up with Shady to learn more about Girls Rock! and their approach to collaborative creative experiences.

Luce Foundation Center: How did you get involved with Girls Rock!?

Shady: Noel first became involved as a participant in Hat Band, our fundraising program for adults of all genders to come together, form a band with like-minded strangers (of all levels of musical ability), and perform their original songs at a fundraising showcase! After that, Noel was hooked on volunteering and eventually joined the organization as Co-Executive Director.

I volunteered for a few programs here and there before also participating in Hat Band (which makes its return in late 2022!), eventually moving into a communications position, and then joining Noel as co-executive director. Both directors were drawn to Girls Rock! DC by the incredible community of women, non-binary, and trans individuals—in all fields of the music scene in DC—working together to serve the incredibly deserving youth of the Metro area.

Why is it important to foster self-expression and creative collaboration?

Girls Rock! DC is built on the idea that artistic expression is one of the primary vehicles of social progress, the drawing force of communities, and an essential platform for communities create positive change. When our youth participate in our programs, they aren't just learning how to play their instruments. They are learning how important it is to listen and to be heard, to absorb the histories and identities around them, and to connect to their communities. Collaborating, for our young folks, means learning to raise your voice about important things, while also learning to understand many different perspectives, to create something wonderful. Participants in our programs come out feeling like they are an important part of their communities, like they can have a positive effect on the world and act on issues that are important to them. Collaborating as artists creates tools for young people to collaborate as caring, thoughtful, and creative citizens of the world.


Collaborating as artists creates tools for young people to collaborate as caring, thoughtful, and creative citizens of the world.

Shady Rose


How did you develop your collaborative songwriting process?

The songwriting process that we teach at Girls Rock! DC emerged from the strong need to create new spaces in DC's music scene, centered around under-represented individuals. When the founders of Girls Rock! DC first came together, it was because they noticed a dearth of music spaces that were uplifting girls, queer and trans youth, and youth of color. In creating this space, we have also created a new way to collaborate.

Writing a song has so many elements; the beat, the instruments, the lyrics, the message. In creating a horizontal collaborative space, young people are both sharing ideas and listening to each other, creating something that uses a little bit of everyone's ideas, so that everyone is heard.

Do you have a favorite memory from a workshop like this one?

Each of our workshops and programs creates so many wonderful memories. One that comes to mind is, after our Youth Summer Camp, a camper who had been super quiet for the first half of camp slowly opened up more and more. By the end of the songwriting process, she had contributed thoughtful and heartfelt lyrics and music to the song. Watching students who are accustomed to being silenced learn to use their voices and express themselves is immensely and continuously gratifying as an arts educator.

What’s coming up at Girls Rock! DC?

Girls Rock! DC is proudly launching into our new year of programming. We have after school programs, summer camp, workshops, and adult programs rolling out continuously through the year. We welcome adult volunteers who are women, non-binary, or otherwise gender expansive. The best way to keep up with our ongoing programs is to follow us on social media and subscribe to our newsletter.



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