Summer is just around the corner, and many young artists are beginning to plan their journeys to summer programs across the United States and overseas. Summer programs provide opportunities for undergrads to continue training in between terms, for recent graduates considering whether graduate school is the right next move, and for singers seeking support and guidance as they transition from college into their professional careers.
Summer programs offer personalized training and coaching, usually from teachers and coaches new to the young singer who have a different perspective than his or her usual teachers. Many programs offer the students résumé-building performance opportunities in the form of recitals, concerts, staged scenes, and sometimes complete opera productions. And all programs provide an opportunity for young artists to expand their musical networks by introducing them to new teachers, coaches, directors, and conductors.
If those who have participated in summer programs before are correct, you can expect one of the most memorable experiences of your young life. It’s a big investment of your time, the faculty’s time, and your money. So, as you prepare for the summer ahead, we offer these tips and advice from young singers like you who attended summer programs in 2017 in Graz, Austria; Verona, Italy; and Taos, New Mexico. Sharpen your pencils and get ready to make your to-do list.
Brianna Clancy, American Institute of Musical Studies
Mezzo-soprano Brianna Clancy completed her graduate studies at the University of Oklahoma and attended the American Institute of Musical Studies (AIMS) in Graz, Austria, last year. She is pursuing a professional singing career and, upon leaving graduate school, Clancy wanted to explore whether she should move to Europe immediately or remain in the U.S. for a while longer and develop her voice and repertoire further. Selecting a European summer program to help her consider her options fit the bill, and she chose AIMS because of its excellent reputation. Attending AIMS meant, among other things, planning for six weeks in Europe. Clancy’s advice follows.
Leaving on a Jet Plane
Because you’re travelling to Europe at the height of tourist season, airfare can get expensive. Try to book your departure and return flights for Tuesdays or Thursdays, which are “off” days for airline travel. Many programs like AIMS will allow you to arrive a couple of days before the start date and stay a couple of days after the program officially ends, so check first with the organizers and then choose non-weekend dates for your travel, which can save you hundreds of dollars.
All My Bags Are Packed
Going to AIMS means you must pack for a six-week international trip. Clancy took to Pinterest to research the best packing methods and discovered what she calls the “best invention ever”: packing cubes. To make room for her concert wardrobe, she planned her day-to-day wardrobe very carefully, bringing a one-week wardrobe: a couple of pairs of shorts, a few tops, a couple of sun dresses, and a couple of maxi dresses. These items went into the packing cubes and into her carry-on bag so that if her checked luggage was delayed, she would have clothes when she arrived in Graz.
Clancy brought three gowns and two audition-style dresses to Austria and reports that she would do things differently next time. “If the men can get by with one tuxedo or suit,” she observes, “then why can’t the women wear one gown in all the concerts?” A streamlined approach to your performance attire will save packing space and weight (and minimize the airline’s checked baggage fees!) and will save you money on your dry cleaning bill when you get home.
Clancy advises that women minimize their shoes as well. She brought one pair of nude or neutral heels that worked with all her dresses. Her final wardrobe tip: bring extra socks! When you do your laundry at the end of the week, you need a clean pair of socks to wear while all the others are in the wash!
The Heat Is On
In July and August, the weather in Graz can be very hot and humid—as in 2017, when a large part of Europe sweltered under an extended heat wave. If you like to cool off with icy beverages, Clancy offers this tip: bring an ice cube tray and an insulated water bottle. You can make ice in your dorm’s refrigerator and enjoy cold water all day.
A Rule of Thumb
The main thrust of AIMS is to build repertoire and work on arias from a very technical perspective. Most singers come to AIMS with a preselected aria package, and Clancy carefully prepared her binder before leaving home. But she did one more thing: she brought soft copies of every aria and song she had ever studied on a thumb drive. As she worked with the voice teachers and coaches, when they suggested other pieces beyond what was in her binder, she had the music readily available to print and use.
Owen Wong, Opera Viva!
Tenor Owen Wong is an undergraduate at Louisiana State University and attended Opera Viva! in Verona, Italy, in 2017. Wong selected Opera Viva! for several reasons: the world-class faculty, the well rounded syllabus, and the chance to perform in opera scenes, oratorios, and recitals as well as give solo performances. And, he adds, who wouldn’t want a chance to explore Italy and experience the Italian lifestyle! Wong’s tips for a successful summer program follow.
Because Opera Viva! singers perform in public concerts three times in three weeks, advanced preparation is a must. The faculty assigns your Italian arias, scenes, and sacred music pieces once you have been accepted by the program.
In describing his preparation, Wong says, “I spent about two months preparing my pieces. First, I translated the Italian text to understand what I was singing about and wrote out all the IPA to make sure my pronunciation was accurate. I then spoke the text in rhythm, which helped with memorization and reducing twists of the tongue. The next step was to add the notes to the text and, finally, memorizing all the pieces.”
The Opera Viva! singers in Wong’s class got in touch with each other long before they arrived in Verona. They established an e-mail group and wrote often to each other as they prepared their scenes. Wong helped his castmates in a Falstaff scene by preparing the IPA and translation for all the text. Connecting with one another is so easy these days and will not only make your preparation easier, but will ensure that you arrive in a new place with a group of friends that you’ve already made.
. . . Makes the World Go ’Round
Before you leave home, Wong advises, make sure your credit card and ATM card work in the foreign country! It is recommended that you call your bank before you leave and let them know what dates you will be travelling. Check that you will be able to withdraw cash from a foreign bank’s ATM and make sure you know what fees will apply so that you aren’t surprised when you get your next statement. Bring as much cash as you can safely carry to avoid any issues and keep it safe! Lock up what you don’t need in your room’s safe.
The main reason you’re at a summer program is to build your skills and repertoire, but you’ll have some incredible adventures as well. Wong recounts that one of his most memorable Verona experiences was attending a performance of Verdi’s Nabucco in the 2,000-year-old Roman arena there. The performance under the stars of opera at such a grand scale was “truly amazing,” he says.
Annie Elliott, Taos Opera Institute
Soprano Annie Elliott was in the middle of her senior year at Houston Baptist University when she went to the Taos Opera Institute (TOI) in Taos, New Mexico, during the summer of 2017. There were two main reasons for her choice: its great reputation and its location in the mountains. Elliott was not alone in describing the lasting friendships that were made during her summer program—not just with the teachers and coaches, but also with her peers. She just completed an intensive two-month process to audition for graduate schools across the U.S. and reports that she had a friend from a summer program in every city she visited.
Try to Remember
The TOI approach has a student spend each of the program’s four weeks learning an aria in one of the four main languages of opera: German, Italian, French, and English. Students come to TOI with fresh, unstudied pieces so that they can approach them with a clean slate. Elliott reports that before the Taos program, she didn’t believe she could master an aria in just one week.
To her delight, she did just that, and all four of her pieces are in her audition repertoire today. She didn’t study the pieces before arriving at Taos except to memorize the text of each. That freed her to concentrate on the other elements during her studies without having to worry about the words she was singing.
From Hot to Cold
TOI facilities are at the top of a mountain at an elevation of 9,000 feet, so it gets cold at night, even in June and July. The days can get surprisingly hot. Elliott regrets that she didn’t bring more summer clothes, and her advice to others is to pack so that you can dress in layers. And because the program focuses on all aspects of the well rounded, healthy professional, the students do a lot of physical activity each day. Bring extra socks, Elliott recommends.
Elliott was struck by how supportive and safe the TOI experience made her feel, and this experience was shared by the students from all the programs who were interviewed for this article. It is only natural when you enroll in an opera program to expect to meet a room full of divas. The faculty may seem to be hard on you at times, but they believe that you can do well and are working with you toward that goal. The students shared a learning mindset and were rooting for each other every step along the way.
Toi Toi Toi to You
Your summer program will be here before you know it, so take this advice to heart. Pack smartly, prepare thoroughly, heed the advice of your teachers, and never forget to cheer for your fellow singers, and you’ll not only have better skills but also will have made friends for life.