Music Camp as Radical Catalyst

Music Camp as Radical Catalyst

So you’re back from music camp! At their best, music camps are radical catalysts for learning. Your mind brims with memories, teachings, discoveries, and good intentions for continuing your development. You’re determined to return the following year a much-improved musician.

Sadly, our best intentions for self-improvement often go unrealized unless we apply discipline, strategy, planning, and accountability. Let’s take some practical steps to ensure that we maximize our newly gained potential.

Note: if you’re still grappling with the transition to normal life, read Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome – A Survivor’s Guide. Once your body, mind, and feelings have regrouped a bit, get to work!

Gather New Materials (and Start Using Them!)

The Berklee strings team performing and teaching at Interlochen Arts Academy! (L to R): Eugene Friesen, Maurizio Andre Fiore Salas, Bengisu Gokce, Samuel Draper, David Wallace

At music camp we often learn about supplemental materials for deepening our understanding, expanding our repertoire, and helping us to practice and improve. Although we may have obtained many of these items at camp, we seldom return home with everything we intend to investigate, read, or buy.

Make a shopping list, prioritize, and purchase. Get that recording app, those scale or etude books, that recording you want to study or transcribe. Borrow items from a library. If you missed details and need to contact someone for correct titles or more information, do so.

If you’ve already gathered your new materials, devise a plan for using them. Then, implement it before the week is over. Remove and discard any shrink-wrap, and put sheet music on your stand. Now, let’s get ready to practice. . .

Revisiting Music Camp Lessons

Next, revisit your daily schedules. Read any notes that you took, and listen to recordings you made of classes. -You did record classes and lessons didn’t you? If not, there’s a good chance that a friend or colleague did. Hunt the recordings down if you can.

Write out a summary each session, or recap them by recording a voice memo or video reflection. What did you learn? What were the “big truths?” List the exercises and studies you received, and write down everything you want to implement.

Berklee Music Camp Faculty

Berklee Global String Intensive Faculty. Back Row (L to R): Simon Shaheen, Jason Anick, David Wallace, Joe Walsh, Greg Liszt, Sandra Kott, Oisín McAuley, Stash Wyslouch, Darol Anger, Felice Pomeranz. Front Row (L to R): Patrice Jackson-Tilghman, Eugene Friesen, Natalie Haas, Mike Block, Mimi Rabson, Bruce Molsky. Not pictured: Beth Bahia-Cohen, Dan Bui, Bruce Gertz, Maeve Gilchrist, Jozef Nadj, Rob Thomas, Matt Glaser

I often leave music camp with very specific ideas for how I can improve, but unless I make a follow-up plan, nothing changes. To prevent that from happening to you, I suggest that you try the 100 Points of Awesomeness exercise. . .

A Hundred Points of Awesomeness

Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Music Camp

Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp & Music Festival’s entire crew!

In my late teens, I often wished that I could be better in certain aspects of my playing and musicianship. One day, I asked myself, “If I had a hundred ‘improvement points’ to invest in my musicianship, how would I spend them?”

I made a mental list allotting the hundred points to different aspects of my playing (I devoted ten points to tenths-  at the time I was wrestling with a couple of tricky Paganini caprices in my violin lessons). After specifying exactly what I wanted to improve, I adjusted my practice time strategically. Once I reorganized my practice schedule to include my new goals, I started developing my unrealized potential.

Music camp just gave you 100 Points of Musical Awesomeness to invest in your own development. Fantasize. What do you want to improve? What do you know you need to improve? Practice time is finite, so focus your energy by dividing your 100 points of awesomeness across just a few select topics.

Once you follow through, a year from now, you will be at least 100 points more awesome than you presently are.  If you achieve your goals sooner, give yourself 100 additional points to distribute.

Your distribution of the 100 points is totally up to you, but it could look something like this:

  1. 30 points: Play better in tune.
  2. 30 points: Improve my timing and rhythm.
  3. 25 points: Get better at improvising solos.
  4. 15 points: Develop better confidence and stage presence when performing.

So, let’s break that down.

Pursuit of Awesomeness

A Violinist's Guide to Exquisite Intonation#1:  Better intonation means committing to daily scale and arpeggio practice. Record and critique yourself; practice with drones. Research the topic using published resources like Barry Ross’s A Violinist’s Guide to Exquisite Intonation. While your technical regimen will naturally include intonation work, also focus on it in your repertoire practice.

#2: For improved timing, work daily with a metronome, drum machine, or accompaniment track. Moreover, play along with recordings by bands with great groove. (Try practicing your scales to Earth, Wind, & Fire songs in the same key).

Reading scores, conduct along with recordings, or practice rhythmic exercises away from your instrument. Check out Robert Starrer’s Basic Rhythmic Training or Rhythmic Training. Drumming methods such as Kim Plainfield’s Advanced Concepts: A Comprehensive Method for Developing Technique, Contemporary Styles and Rhythmical Concepts are also helpful. Because good timing means tapping into group rhythm, plan readings, jams, rehearsals, and concerts with others.

#3: To get better at improvisation, you must be specific. What do you want to improve? Free improvisation, 12-bar blues, the 8-bar country music solo, navigating chord changes from a lead sheet? Using your camp notes to guide you, set some specific objectives. Write out a plan so that every day, you’re making strides.

#4: To improve stage presence, you need an audience. Make a plan for performing publicly on a weekly basis. Find a venue. Cafés, retirement communities, houses of worship, and public spaces are a few places where you can build your stage presence.

Start with a comfortable setting, and play repertoire that you know very well. If you don’t feel ready for the public, perform for family, friends, or even pets. Video your performances so that you can review, critique, and improve. If you wrestle with performance anxiety, check out my Conquer Stage Fright YouTube video series.

Establish a Music Camp Accountability Partner or Group

Once you have a plan, hold yourself accountable for it. Better yet, get an accountability partner or a support group to keep each other accountable and motivated. Share your goals for the month and the week, and check in with each other every few days. Make recordings and videos and give each other feedback. Always celebrate progress and encourage one another.

Online Learning Communities and Lessons

Online communities can further boost accountability. Consider starting a small online group to share and report back on a daily basis (twelve or fewer members; smaller is better).

Today, many music camp faculty members also teach with online subscription sites that offer lessons and a built-in learning community. I teach lessons focused on violin and viola technique, peak performance, memorization, and much more at MyTalentForge.com. Until Labor Day, you can use the discount code DocWallace for 20% off on your subscription.

Get Radical!

As you can see, it’s possible to carry the music camp experience across the entire year. Get your materials together, review your learning, strategize for improvement, make plans, and belong to an accountable learning community. May your music camp experience be a catalyst for radical improvement, growth, and change!

-Doc Wallace, August 5, 2017

Dr. David Wallace serves as String Chair of Berklee College of Music, and teaches online string lessons at MyTalentForge.com. During the summer, catch him at Berklee College of Music’s  Global String Intensive, Five Week Summer Performance Program, and Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp.

Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome: A Survivor’s Guide

Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome: A Survivor’s Guide

Music camp withdrawal symptoms hit hard once you return to “the real world.” Just listen to this distraught message I received from Chuck Bontrager, heavy metal violinist and concertmaster of Chicago’s Hamilton orchestra, two days after the MWROC festival concluded:

 

Doc Wallace and Chuck Bontrager at The Bell Fine and Performing Arts Center following their headlining MWROC 2017 concert.

Me and Chuck Bontrager at The Bell Fine and Performing Arts Center following our headlining concert at MWROC 2017.

Doc! Doc! You gotta help me, Doc! I think I might be going through some kind of withdrawals. I’m having the constant urge to put on my Doc Martens and jump around onstage with some kind of crazy instrument for a bunch of people screaming at me, playing ear-blisteringly loud music and fantastic original compositions. What do I do, Doc, what do I do?!!!”

We’ve all been there. Disorientation, hyperactivity, fatigue, lethargy, insomnia, loss of focus, longing, flashbacks, loss of appetite, ravenous appetite. . . Say, “Hello!” to Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome! [MCWS]

If you’ve come down with a bad case of  Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome, try one or more of these tried and true prescriptions:

Understanding Stress and Recovery

I’m a staunch follower of athletic trainer Jim Loehr’s book, Toughness Training for Life. Loehr emphasizes stress management as a primary means of attaining peak performance and maintaining homeostasis (physiological and psychological balance). According to Loehr, top-tier athletes and artists manage stress through targeted recovery. In other words, we can offset our physical stress by pursuing physical recovery. Similarly, we can counter our emotional stress by investing in emotional recovery, and so on.

Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome Demands Physical Recovery

You’re probably short on sleep, so go to bed early. (Really early!) Sleep late. Take naps. In 1999, sleep scientist, Dr. William C. Dement published a game-changing book, The Promise of Sleep. In it, he repeatedly underscores a clinically proven fact: sleep debt is cumulative. You can’t sleep off a week of short nights with just one full night’s sleep. To offset the cumulative sleep debt of a week-long music camp, you probably need at least full week of extra sleep. Plan for it, and rest without guilt. You’re rebuilding your body and mind, not being lazy.

Of course, your sleep schedule may be a bit of a mess right now, and you may not feel like going to bed. Do so anyway. If insomnia is a problem, accept it, but stay alert to moments during the day when sleepiness overpowers you. In those moments, stop everything and take a recovery nap.

Eat more cruciferous vegetables to combat Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome!

Speaking of physical recovery, how’s your nutrition? At camp, you probably were snacking, eating not-so-healthful foods, consuming too much sugar, and drinking larger than usual quantities of caffeine and dehydrating beverages. Reduce or curtail your intake of junk food, stimulants, and depressants. Eat more vegetables, especially green, leafy, and cruciferous ones! Drink plenty of water.

Did you exercise while at camp? If not, this might be a good time to get back in shape. Jog, swim, dance, take long walks, lift weights – anything that boosts your circulation can also elevate your energy levels and mood.

Conversely, if you were exhaustively active at camp, you probably need a few days of complete physical relaxation and rest to reset your body chemistry to a less adrenalized state.

Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome Requires Emotional Recovery

Combat Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome by turning a friend into a humorous meme!

Combat Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome by turning a friend into a humorous meme!

Although most people only think of stress as coming from negative or anxiety-producing sources, positive stress also knocks our body chemistry out of kilter. If you experienced intense, emotional highs at camp, a certain amount of depression or lethargy will likely follow. (“What goes up. . .”)

Similarly, an abrupt separation from a community of likeminded friends can trigger an emotional crash.

How do we cope with these inevitable lows? Social withdrawal symptoms demand social cures, so stay in touch with your camp friends and colleagues. Use your phone, email, social media, or group hangouts. Put a reunion date on the calendar, or arrange an in-person visit.

Fight depression with good humor, laughter, and fond memories. Turn a colleague into a meme, or a gif:

 

Without a doubt, smiling and laughing together can help us to regain our equilibrium. I got a good laugh from a short, hilarious, nonsensical movie that my MWROC student Quinton Stickley made of me. The film consists of nothing but bizarre moments from my lessons edited together with absolutely zero context. I’d post it, but you’d probably conclude that I’m a lunatic and would disregard the rest of my advice. -And that would be a shame because the next suggestions can lead you to some profound discoveries. . .

Reflection as a Means of Coping, Deepening Experience, and Finding Closure

In his book, Art as Experience, educational philosopher John Dewey shares an essential truth: when we neglect to reflect, we fail to learn from our experiences. You went to music camp to learn, not to fail, so let’s reflect.

Take a long solo hike, jog, or bike ride. Keep a slow, steady pace, and let its rhythm set a calm, objective tone. See where your mind goes and where the memories take you. What do you notice? What do you learn?

Set up a camera, start filming, and let a stream of thoughts about your camp experiences and relationships spill forth. What were your highlights, epiphanies, discoveries, embarrassments, ‘druthers, joys, successes? What are you still working through? -You don’t even need to watch or share your video. However, you might learn more if you do.

Keep a journal. Whether you write by hand or type, journaling crystallizes your thoughts, captures key ideas, processes confusing experiences, and provides a safe means of addressing lingering problems.

–Let’s face it: not all music camp experiences are positive. Writing can slow down your thought process, still your emotions, allow you to view things objectively, and help you to resolve or release any less-than-positive experiences. Sometimes, full recovery from Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome requires forgiveness. (Both asking and receiving).

Thorough Reflection Involves Others

One of my favorite ways to reflect is to write a thank you note and send it to the directors, staff, teachers, or students of a camp. Trust me, you never know how much work it takes to run a music festival or camp until you actually do it yourself. A simple thank-you message means more than you can imagine.

Of course, you can reflect through visual means, too. Arrange your photos or videos into an album, or make a scrapbook, and share. Enjoy other people’s videos and photos; comment and share them.

Listen again to the concerts, and jam sessions. A simple recording can put a smile on your face and take you right back to a great moment. Every time I play Victor Furtado and Andrew Vogt’s street jam from the 2017 Berklee Global String Intensive, I’m transported to the joyful intensity of our Berklee summer jams.

Remember to balance solitary reflection with social reflection. You gain deeper perspective when you share with friends and listen to them. When I returned Chuck Bontrager’s call, we enjoyed almost two hours of fellowship. It was good therapy.

Plan Your Next Fix

If you’re a hardcore musician, Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome may chronically reappear throughout the year. In truth, your MCWS may never fully dissipate. The bad news: you may be hooked on music camps for life! The good news: you always have something to look forward to. . .

Do a quick search to see if there are any more camps you can attend this summer. [I’m on a plane to Interlochen Arts Camp, as I type this.  My MCWS is nil at the moment because I’m about to get another good, strong dose of music camp]. If not, it’s not too early to start saving your money for next year.

Start a countdown clock. Register for next year’s camps as soon as you can. Start practicing and planning your performances.

Naturally, you want to be a better musician at your next camp. Once you’ve had a chance to regroup and rest, move on to part two of this blog, Music Camp as Radical Catalyst. Turn your MCWS into motivation, so that you can maximize what you learned this year.

Dr. David Wallace serves as String Chair of Berklee College of Music, and teaches online string lessons at MyTalentForge.com. (SUMMER SALE! Until Labor Day, you can use the discount code DocWallace for 20% off on your subscription!) During the summer, catch him at Berklee College of Music’s  Global String Intensive, Five Week Summer Performance Program, and Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp.