Grown-Up Summer Camp

Summer "intensives" offer us focused opportunity to learn and grow

Posted Jun 16, 2015

Summertime, and the living is…intensive. Perhaps you’re planning to involve yourself in a challenging learning experience. Maybe a language immersion program, a training camp, a yoga retreat, a specialized festival. An intensive is a time out of your regular routine, whether at home or away, with an organized program designed to have you learn and do a lot in a short span of time.

The idea for this blog occurred to me last summer as I was in the midst of one such experience. I participated in an annual intensive, the Classical Music Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria. The CMF brings together professional and advanced amateur musicians—choral singers and instrumentalists as well as a separate track for pianists—to rehearse and then perform major classical works. While I sat absorbed in listening to a piano recital, I began thinking about the mental preparation, action, and reflection that augments the actual experience of such an intensive.

Typically, one approaches an intensive or camp with some level of skill as well as, at times, performance preparation. For the singers at CMF, it involved being fairly knowledgeable about how to sing our parts for two major classical works. Yes, we would have time to come together under the Festival’s conductor to really learn our parts and bring the disparate vocal and instrumental musicians together. It struck me what’s important about these intensives is to prepare well, to be present during them, and then to take away and apply the important lessons that you have learned.

In order to get the most out of an intensive experience, here are some things to consider:


  • Pay attention to the information that you receive ahead of time. The organizers of an intensive (one hopes!) have figured out what you need to know and do in order to be ready for the experience.
  • Prepare as thoroughly as possible. What that preparation is depends on what you’ll be doing. For me, it involved not only working on the music we’d be singing but attempting to resurrect some fairly rusty German in order to get around.
  • Set goals for yourself. Give yourself some time beforehand to think about why you’re participating in this experience and what you want to get out of it.

While you’re there

  • Be as fully present as possible: let go of electronics and other distractions.
  • Be open to new experiences—the serendipitous things that happen, the ones that you can’t plan or prepare for.
  • Let yourself be a Learner. In “real life” you may be a Knower. In an intensive, it’s ok—even critically important—to not know and to absorb new learning.
  • Fill each day as completely as possible.
  • Take advantage of opportunities for recovery.
  • Make sure to include your basic physical needs: sleep, food, hydration, exercise.
  • Make new friends. They might be other participants, or faculty and ancillary staff. Sometimes, new friends are “locals,” whether at shops or restaurants.
  • Recognize your own growth and learning.


  • Time away is a wonderful opportunity to see the “forest” and not just the “trees” of everyday life. Time away helps clarify aspects of your life or make new decisions.
  • As with single performance events, here are the key questions to ask yourself:
    • What went well?
    • What did I learn or relearn?
    • What do I want to do differently in the future?
  • Consider reflecting on the question, “If I were advising someone just like me, what would I say to him or her?”
  • Following the CMF, for example, three different people described their own AHA’s:
    • A participant, recognizing the truism that practice actually leads to improvement, vowed to put more time, in his regular chorus, to practicing between rehearsals. He recognized that doing so would help him be able to be fully present during performances, rather than scrabbling anxiously to make sure that he was hitting the right notes at the right moment;
    • A soloist recognized the critical importance of finding and rehearsing with a pianist on a regular basis rather than relying on her own piano skills to get by. That way, she could focus more effectively on her primary task, singing the music;
    • An instructor decided to make sure to program more unscheduled time for the participants, so that they could take better advantage of unanticipated opportunities.

These types of reflection often work best if you write them down. One technique is to write a letter to your future self. You know that you will be the only person who will see it. Decide on a specific length of time, such as three or six months. When you’ve written your letter—complete with full salutation to yourself and signature—place  it in an envelope, seal it, address it to yourself, put a stamp on it, and then hand it off to a (reliable!) friend. Ask that person to stick it in the mail at the appropriate time. You’ll be surprised how meaningful that letter from you…to you…will be.

Have fun on your adventure!

If you would like to contact me, whether regarding your own summer intensive or some other aspect of performance psychology, feel free to send me a note through my website,