TELLURIDE — I make an unconvincing Pat Benatar.
Growing up I spent much of my time in a ballet studio where the sound of voices came mostly from teachers counting out measures of Tchaikovsky and Chopin.
Even when being given instructions or asked a direct question, we young ballerinas mostly just eagerly nodded at our teachers to affirm that we understood some concept or direction – a whole room full of bobbling bun-heads.
Today I spend much of my time sitting at my computer where I listen to the click-click-click of the keyboard as ideas become words.
Suffice it to say that when it comes to singing, I don’t have much of a voice.
It’s not that I couldn’t have a voice with some practice. As far as I know I’m not actually tone deaf – it’s just that my vocal chords never got exercised the same way my quads did. And my self-consciousness increases with age.
So as I’m sitting at music instructor Mark Galbo’s Rock and Roll Academy studio in the dim glow of fairy lights bouncing off the room’s red painted walls where I feel vaguely as though I’m suspended in a bottle of black-red “Vamp” nail polish, I’m suddenly urged to join four mature moms in their rendition of Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot. ”
I protest, but Untracked, a rock band formed by locals Libby Ball, Melanie McDonald, Melissa Plantz, and Susanna Remec (joined today by Galbo who is filling in for Wendy Fulton, the band’s absent fifth member) will hear nothing of it.
Excuses that I’m at their rehearsal to do research go unheard. Arguing that my role as a journalist is as observer, not participant, is unpersuasive. My pleas for a reprieve are unmoving.
“I can’t sing,” I whimper.
They continue to insist, reversing my own logic to tell me that I can’t possibly understand what they are doing if I don’t experience it myself.
I see that the battle is futile and finally acquiesce when Galbo promises to sing with me.
And then there I am. I stand behind a microphone feeling like a fool and open my mouth to let the words come out.
It’s not so bad.
No one is judging me. No one expects me to sound like Benatar.
It doesn’t matter if I think I can’t sing, because the five people around me believe I can.
With their encouragement my self-consciousness fades. I briefly become part of a tight-knit community of women confronting their fears, taking chances, rooting each other on, and having fun.
And then I understand the whole point of Ladies Rock.
Galbo’s Ladies Rock program is a recent outgrowth the Rock and Roll Academy he founded in 2004. At the academy kids learn to play music – but through a different method than most of us have become accustomed.
Rather than selecting a single instrument and practicing scales, Galbo’s students jump straight into rock bands and start playing as many instruments as interests them. Yes, the goal is about making music, but it’s also about learning about each other, being part of a greater whole, and creative expression.
Galbo says it’s about being authentic – to the music, to each other, and to the world.
Impressed with what they saw their kids accomplishing in a matter of weeks at the Rock and Roll Academy, some of the moms began thinking they might like to try it themselves. So they approached Galbo with the idea, but it wasn’t an easy sell. He likes teaching kids, he tells me.
But as I did at Untracked’s rehearsal, Galbo soon learned the relentless nature of determined women.
So this past October he finally gave in and agreed to take on 12 as students. They are mostly married and mothers, but not exclusively. They became two bands – Untracked and MachSchau. MachSchau’s members include: Cindy Carver, Suzanne Cheavens, Kathleen Erie, Bärbel Hacke, Theresa Imparato, and Molly Papier.
Soon Galbo was smitten. He discovered that the women’s ability to create a unified community aligned perfectly with his own goal of using music as a way to create the same thing.
“It immediately became a very, very cool thing,” he explains. “It is really right in line with the mission I have.”
But for as much satisfaction as Galbo has derived from his pilot women’s program, the ladies themselves have taken even more.
I am surprised to learn that most of Untracked has little to no formal music training – between the two bands Galbo estimates about one-third.
Untracked’s Benatar cover sounds surprisingly clean and together, as does the Joan Jett and the other songs I’ve been listening to them practice.
Sure, they’re not perfect; but for a bunch of moms who have spent just two hours a week playing together and admit that they don’t practice at home, the sum of their guitars, keyboard, bass, and drums sounds pretty good.
They haven’t simply learned to make music together, though; they’ve become a sisterhood through which they’ve healed wounds, undertaken journeys of self-discovery, and had a lot of fun.
After her parents forced her to take piano lessons until the age of eight (when she says they could no longer stand the torture of the Chopsticks she played everyday during her mandatory 30 minute practice session) Plantz finds herself back behind a keyboard – and actually likes it.
She is also more patient as a ski coach now, she says. The band experience has helped her to remember that progress isn’t always made in a straight line, so she’s able to give her students more room to learn.
McDonald says she was originally anxious about being in the band and describes herself as extremely shy – yet she stands before me tapping her foot and swaying to the beat of the music looking completely comfortable in her skin as she plucks away on a guitar.
“It has given me a lot of courage,” she explains. “There’s no way I could do it without my girls.”
Remec, who used to fake playing the flute in her high school marching band, enjoys playing music so much now that she has invested in her own electric guitar. She has also discovered that not only does she like singing, she’s good at it.
Ball, an accountant who said that out of nowhere one day decided she wanted to be a drummer in a rock band, discovers her sense for numbers translates to rhythm.
And, no joke, she actually had a piano teacher slap her hands with a ruler as a child.
“This is the best experience I’ve had since I was a kid,” she says.
The weekly rehearsals also provide the women with time away from jobs and family during which they can focus on themselves. Once the three doors that soundproof the studio click shut behind them, they are in a different world.
“Nothing else is in our minds except jamming with the band,” says Ball.
They joke that Galbo should get more than the $750 he charges per student for the four-month program – he should charge a therapist’s rate, they say.
Or maybe a manager’s cut from their upcoming performance at the Sheridan Opera House this Saturday evening – a show Galbo knew his ladies bands would be ready for, even if they didn’t believe it themselves.
“They’re spectacular. What they’ve accessed musically has really amazed me,” he says.
In the end, however, the music is almost secondary.
“Making music with people is so cool,” McDonald says. “We really bonded so much.”
Telluride’s first Ladies Night Concert and Dance Party gets started at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Sheridan Opera House. Ladies bands Untracked and MachSchau will each play a 25-minute set and DJ Daryll will spin funk, disco and house to keep the audience dancing until 11 p.m. Tickets are $20 and include automatic entry to win door prizes including free haircuts with Jesse Martin at his salon, Megan at Aromatherapy, a guitar amp, and $75 off Ladies Rock tuition. If your name is Jen, bring your license to prove it and you’ll get in free. The next session of Ladies Rock begins the week of Feb. 2. For more information visit www.ladiesrock.net, email Galbo at email@example.com or call 708-1140.