As a piano teacher who studied Classical music for most of my life, it has always been my dream to go on a musical journey in Europe – to learn music from the top musicians in the world and attend top-notch concerts in Europe. My dream came true in July 2017 as I booked myself into a summer music camp at the Nice International music school (Académie Internationale d’Eté de Nice).
I had been to Nice once before, but stayed at a very touristy spot near the beach. This time I arrived at the Nice Regional Conservatorium which was a little further from the beach, and my accommodation was the student village in the nearby Montebello (it was a bit of a mountain where I had to climb a very steep hill and walk for about 20 minutes to get to every day – no gym needed for the rest of the day). I met my teacher the very next day of arriving – Professor Olivia Gardon who was also the artistic director of the music camp. I would then have 3 very intensive masterclasses with Olivia in the next week (an hour each), and practice like crazy in the assigned student room in between classes to make sure I learnt everything taught in class.
My daily routine would be usually as follows: wake up at around 7am and walk to the Conservatorium from Montebello, have breakfast in the canteen, practice for about 2-3 hours in the morning, then have a masterclass with Olivia, have lunch, then either practice some more or go and watch other masterclasses (usually piano, singing or flute) in the afternoon. No matter how early I got up, I would always hear beautiful music when I opened my eyes (singers and flutists practising in the gardens along with singing of the birds), then music would follow me throughout the day. What a dream come true – the ideal lifestyle I wanted to have.
What I found most interesting in this camp was definitely meeting people from all over the world – USA, Japan, France, UK, Austria, China… More than half of students and teachers there spoke some level of French, but there were still around 40% of students who only spoke English. However, it was fascinating to see these people all communicate in a universal musical language and they would all understand each other (regardless of where they come from or what official language they speak). People tap, clap, sing, play, dance… and there was no need for anything else and we would all understand. I think that is precisely why people study and fall in love with music.
After official lessons finished for the day, concerts would start in the Monastère de Cimiez near the Conservatorium. It was a beautiful monastery and garden with a magnificent view of the Nice city. The concerts start at either 7pm or 9pm at night, and usually finish by mid-night. Only Europe has such active cultural life regardless of time of the day and what day of the week it is. The concerts were usually performed by the professors of the summer school (some of the finest musicians in the world), and accompanied by the Nice orchestra, and repertoires included flute concertos, piano concertos and string ensembles.
It was a short week of musical training but it provided a deeply liberating and spiritually enlightening musical experience for me as I’ve learnt so much about music – on piano techniques and musical expressions and also working with other musicians. I’ve met so many wonderful musicians from all over the world and heard some great music in some beautiful places. I’ve never really felt so free before, as I roamed around the world of music and happy as a bird. I know this experience would stay with me for a very, very long time.
Would I do it again in a heartbeat? Hell yes!
Quick tips for students:
- There are many summer music academies in Europe – usually 1 to 4 weeks in length and held between July and August.
- Most academies have an audition process – you need submit your music recordings a few months in advance. Some of them also have age limits (26 and under) for students.
- The Académie Internationale d’Eté de Nice is the oldest summer music academy in France, running since 1957. The flute department is particularly well-known with a high-calibre of flute professors. Lots of flute students flying in from all over the world to study here during summer.
- There is no age limits or audition process at the Nice Academie. However, most students coming here are already studying at a music college and seriously considering a music career.
- The cost of tuition is around 700 € per week at the Nice Academie, and accommodation at Montebello student dormitory is 320 € per week (including 3 meals at the canteen). Accommodation is very basic and you need to bring everything including towels and bed linens.
- What I found most helpful in my whole academy experience was to attend and observe other masterclasses and concerts – not just on piano but all other instruments and even singing lessons. I found I was able to learn a lot on music in general (music theory, opera history, music techniques and teaching techniques) from attending these classes.