How to make the most of your summer program

How to make the most of your summer program

Jenna Simeonov
It’s summer program season, everyone. I’m so excited for you all! These are good months, spent in intensive training programs with teachers and coaches that are hard to pin down throughout the year. Lightbulb moments will be had, and new arias will be learned. Summer programs are great at bringing together the people and places that will help you to succeed; it’s up to you to ensure that you get what you need. Here are some tips for doing just that.

Come with a plan

The faculty at summer programs tend to be an unique combination of coaches, directors, and teachers, and part of what you’re paying for is the chance to cross paths with these people and work intensively. You have limited time to make the most of these rare opportunities, so make sure there’s some direction to what you want to learn. If you’ve got a leading role in the show, and it’s brand new, that’s an obvious focal point for your time spent at the program. It’s almost more important for participants who aren’t called to tons of staging rehearsals. Plan to learn a new role, and explain this to the teaching faculty; teachers love a large-scale project with their students, and they love a student who takes charge of his or her education.

Research who you’ll work with, especially any faculty that you don’t already know. If there’s a Mozart dude around, bring some Mozart. Same for language specialists, or people who worked on the premiere of an opera. Not only will you show that you’ve done your research on the industry, but you’ll get the most out of each hour.

Ask for what you want

I’m assuming that you’re going to your summer program(s) of choice because you like the idea of studying with the faculty there and being involved in the shows. When it comes to the shows, those details are usually worked out ahead of time, and not really up for debate. But the rest of your time there is best spent the way you’d like (especially if you’ve paid to be at the program). If you’re not getting enough lessons or coachings with the people you want, ask! Ask multiple times and ask confidently. It’s not worth the waste to depend on a very busy admin staff to remember you wanted a coaching, and reminding them can be useful for them as well as you. I find it’s handy to come prepared with a copy of what the program promises; you’re not using it as a weapon, but it’ll help you make your requests in an informed way.

If the answer is no and the explanation is somewhere in the “schedule conflicts” world, consider going right to the person in question. I’ve worked at summer programs where I didn’t know students wanted coachings with me until they ask me directly. In most cases, coaches and teachers are willing to help (that’s what they’re there for). They may have an extra hour to give, if you ask nicely. If the answer is no all around, at least you tried, and you can take that into account when you plan for next summer.

You’re still learning when you’re being ignored

If you’re less-than-excited about being in the chorus, I can understand that. The director and conductor, however, cannot. Maybe it’s not as exciting or challenging, but you’re learning another skill that is: waiting around in rehearsal. I don’t mean you should be content to waste time. Being called to rehearsal without the director speaking directly to you is a HUGE part of your potential career. Practice paying attention to what’s happening far, far away from you on stage; the audience will see the whole picture, and you never know what you’re missing upstage-left unless you look.

It can’t be overstated how much the director appreciates a quiet rehearsal room, and singers who are paying attention and ready to go for their bits when needed. You don’t have to be Violetta to impress the director; it’s enough to wait with grace and attention, and try not to leave the rehearsal room to pee or make a phone call unless you’re on break, even if you think they’ll never get to your part. This is what your job will look like a lot of the time. Get used to it, and get good at it.

Be a good social butterfly

Summer programs can foster long-term friendships and collaborations. It’s great if you have a few familiar faces with you already, but get out of your comfort zone and chat with strangers. Everyone at an opera program already has a niche common interest, and singers tend to be beautifully extroverted. Plus, many (if not most) of the participants are away from home, and probably eager to make new friends. I promise you, you can make life-changing connections with people in surreal environments, if you’re brave and let it happen. At the very least, you’ll get a reputation for being a good colleague.

Be a tourist

In Canada alone, young artists can hone their opera skills in St. John’s, Halifax, Toronto, Edmonton, and Banff. Summer programs tend to pop up in lovely places, and it’s silly to spend weeks in a place without seeing some stuff there. Eat some lobster, drink some screech, visit The Forks, the West Ed Mall, the CN tower, Mount Rundle. I’ll never forget some of those Tourist Days with new friends; zip-lining in Colorado, laying on Italian beaches, checking out Pride in San Francisco. Do these things! Take the few free days you have and get out of opera-land; it’ll do more good for your brain and voice than a few extra hours of practice.

If you’re traveling for your opera fix this summer, I wish you all a beautiful time. Summer program veterans, how do you like to make the most of a few weeks?

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