For students and emerging professional classical singers, the summer season is often occupied by young artist programs. While summer training programs vary in length, number, and type, chances are that singers involved in these programs will be learning repertoire for more than one production. Sometimes you’ll be learning the chorus part of one opera while covering a lead role in another. Other times you will be singing several smaller roles in multiple operas. You could even be jumping from one program to another with little to no time in between. Whatever the circumstance, learning repertoire for summer programs can leave you feeling overwhelmed and disorganized. Try utilizing the following tips while preparing for your singing commitments to make this summer’s performances your most successful yet!
Map It Out
Before singing, make an outline for all of your roles. Using your scores, map out each role’s place within the scope of the opera. Does this particular role have arias? If so, how many and when do they occur? Repeat the same process with any additional singing such as duets, ensembles, recitatives, etc. How long will you be on stage for each scene you sing in? Though applying this level of detail to every role may seem tedious, you will be able to go back and reference this information later if/when you perform these roles again in the future! We can guarantee your future self will thank you. This aspect of the learning process is also a great time to identify similarities and differences between all of the repertoire. For example, if two roles share a specific tessitura, plan to practice those together as you will be able to facilitate jumping from singing one to the other more efficiently.
Plan the Attack
Once your repertoire is mapped out, use this information to decide what to practice and when. Start with your most difficult repertoire first, but don’t feel obligated to stick with just one role at a time. If you plan out five practice sessions a week, do your best to practice one section of each piece at least once within that week. Make sure to give priority to the work(s) that need to be performed first. Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses when learning music will be an immense help at this point in the process. For example, if you find it easier to learn arias than recitative, allot extra time for working through your recits. If you feel more comfortable singing in Italian than French, plan for extra time to work through your French diction.
Embrace Silent Practice
While planning practice sessions for the week, don't forget to consider silent practice as well as actual singing. These non-singing sessions are particularly essential for avoiding vocal fatigue when learning large amounts of repertoire within a short period of time. Conveniently, silent practice tools, such as listening to recordings of the operas you're learning, translating and memorizing libretti, doing your background research, and creating a thorough character study are just as essential to learning a role as the singing practice. You might even find that the more time you allow for silent practice, the less time you end up needing for vocal practice. Silent practice comes in handy especially when you are only available to practice within noise restriction hours (late night or early morning), recovering from illness or on vocal rest, commuting to and from work, or traveling.
Call Up Your Team
Start bringing your repertoire to your teacher and coaches early on in the learning process. Your team not only helps you stay on track technically and musically, but they also help motivate you to stay on top of your practice plan. Scheduling regularly occurring coaching sessions and lessons requires having new material to work on. Try rotating the repertoire you bring to each team member in order to efficiently cover it all all. For instance, if you’re singing three different roles, bring a section of one role to your teacher, a section of a different role to one coach, and a section of the third role to another coach. Rotate this order every week or two, depending on how often you’re able to see each trusted professional. You will feel infinitely more comfortable walking into your first day of rehearsal at your summer program if you worked on this repertoire with your team beforehand.
The more preparation and organization that goes into role study, the more efficient and enjoyable learning multiple roles will be. And above all else, whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed by the task, remember why you auditioned for your summer program in the first place. Chances are that learning new music and getting more opportunities to perform was on your mind at some point, so bring your practice back to a place of gratitude. You’ve got this! Good luck this summer!