Voice teachers. I have been blessed with some remarkable voice teachers in my past, and am so fortunate to have found my current teacher, Patricia McCaffrey, who has worked tirelessly in helping me find my true voice and my confidence as a performer along with it. She, and her gift for teaching the human voice, have completely changed my life. Every singer should be so lucky. The gift of a well-balanced, beneficial relationship with a great voice teacher is something I wish for all singing artists. I want every singer who decides to embark on a journey of vocal discovery to have a competent partner, who they can trust, walking alongside them.
The teacher/student relationship is one of great vulnerability. In each lesson, the student gives their voice to the teacher with all its greatness, all its potential, and all of its imperfection. This gift is an act of trust and it is the teacher’s great responsibility to receive it with grace, and honor. Even further, it is the teacher’s responsibility to return the gift to the giver wrapped in confidence, and emboldened by tools of technique which make way for a life of unencumbered, glorious artistry.
So, what is it that makes a truly great voice teacher? Many believe that a voice teacher of great influence is one accompanied by years, pages of prestigious accolades, and a title at a top-ranked conservatory. In many cases, like my own teacher, this is quite true and is wonderful in its’ own right. But the classical singing world already knows these great teachers. These teachers don’t need any help. In this article, I would like to shed light on the gifted teachers who exist in a less famous reality.
The fueling of the widespread belief that fame always yields quality teaching is a disservice to the voice students of the world. Of course, experience from a successful career is valuable, and the technique that most often yields such success is why so many are drawn to study with big names. However, it is imperative we remember that the ownership of a good technique does not translate into the ability to impart it upon others. The gift of a good ear and the ability to help a singer craft a strong, healthy instrument, is a talent that is entirely independent of fame. Gifted teachers are hard to come by and it is important we remember that the ability to teach voice well is a gift that can stand strong- autonomously.
I first met Mitchell Hutchings while singing with him at Des Moines Metro Opera. He is a spectacular baritone, a great performer, and a kind person. But it wasn’t until recently, that I discovered Mitchell Hutchings is also a truly gifted voice teacher. He is passionate about teaching and cares deeply about the challenges and triumphs of each of his students. The achievements of his students are numerous and impressive. Among these achievements are: encouragement awards at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, countless placements at regional NATS competitions, acceptance to prestigious vocal programs (some with scholarship) at Mannes, Boston University, The University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State- all in addition to students performing at regional opera houses throughout the United States. When you see the level of accomplishment and hear the students who are a product of his work, it is apparent he has been emphatically bestowed with the gift for guiding, building, and teaching the human voice. Yet, despite all of this, he battles the aforementioned problem of being compared with older, big-name teachers. Well, let’s fix that. Mitchell Hutchings is a talented, dedicated, and qualified pedagogue who the singers of today and tomorrow deserve to know about. Additionally, he holds an extensive background in Vocal Pathology and, as a result, is uniquely qualified to help students who need to overcome the vocal effects of personal medical issues (and he has done this with great care and success.) His passion for the field of teaching is quite refreshing. After talking with Mr. Hutchings, I found myself inspired, and hopeful for the future of opera, classical singing, and good, old-fashioned technique. Classical singing world, I give you Mr. Mitchell Hutchings.
Lindsey Anderson: Was there a specific moment or anecdote you’d like to share of when you first realized teaching was your true calling?
Mitchell Hutchings: I remain active as both a teacher and performer. I think that at this point in my life, one practice enhances the other. However, my personal passion is watching other people succeed, and I sustain this passion through teaching voice and voice-related topics. I realized I had this passion early on in my work at the young artist level. I was working as an adjunct voice teacher at a local university while engaged as a young artist at a company, and I had the opportunity to work with one student, in particular, who had an astonishing instrument. He was 18 years old and had an instrument that, I could tell, was built for the larger stages. Although I remained attentive to my professional work, I began focusing on the achievement of this student rather than my own. I began to realize that I had an ear that recognized, not only talent, but what a voice could potentially sound like with the right training. I decided, at that point, to begin teaching voice.
L: What are some specific triumphs you have celebrated with your students resulting from your work together?
M: I am a relatively young teacher, but I recently counted 29 separate times in the last 3 years that my students have been hired or accepted into opera programs or summer training programs. Alumni from my studio have sung with Seagle Music Colony, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Triple Arts Broadway Intensive, Emerald City Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Oberlin in Italy, Pensacola Opera, Opera Breve, Charlottesville Opera, Chicago Summer Opera, among others. However, the greatest joy I have had as a teacher was going to New York City and watching an alumna of my studio sing in the Joyce DiDonato Master Classes at Carnegie Hall. I think she told me that over 100,000 people tuned in for the online broadcast. As a side note, she also won an encouragement award last year at the Met Competition in Buffalo at 23 years old.
Next year, former students from my studio will be attending several schools for further study including Boston University, Mannes School of Music, and Pennsylvania State University. One student just graduated from the Eastman School of Music.
*Click the link below to listen to Suzannah in the Joyce DiDonato master class
L: What is it about teaching voice that draws you in and fulfills your artistic inclinations?
M: For me, I see the human voice, first and foremost, as part of the complete artist. I never approach teaching with the idea that technique is secluded to just the physical components of the mechanism. One must become an artist. However, building the instrument is so fun for me. I mentioned earlier that I can hear potential in singers. I love to do my best to unravel the potential that I hear. Actually, I like to tinker with simple DIY projects, specifically car maintenance. Sometimes replacing an old rusted rotor with a brand new shiny one can feel the same way as helping a student finally feel the evenness between registers, or a new smoothness in his or her vibrato. Teaching singing mixes artistic development and musicianship with physical development and training within an aural environment. In other words, it is sort of an aural puzzle that one must put together thoughtfully and with a lot of dedication (since we cannot see the majority of the voice working during phonation.) I like that. It is tough, but it gives me a lot of satisfaction to witness a breakthrough.
L: What is a summary of your vocal technique and philosophy?
M: I have approached this question from a few different angles in the past. However, in attempting to wrap everything up into one nutshell, I would say that my goal is to search for the student’s true voice. I have had the pleasure of teaching rock singers, musical theatre singers, and classical singers. Each person’s personality is as unique as their vocal fingerprint. I want to help build their instrument based on who they are and what they bring to the table. We craft the voice together, as healthily as possible.
L: How have your own teachers influenced your pedagogical methods?
M: I have had many wonderful mentors and teachers. I cannot thank each of them enough for their advice, teaching, leadership, and especially their connection to the past—as I have learned from those who are in the lineage of Manuel Garcia and from pupils of Luciano Pavarotti. I have tried my best to blend what I have experienced to create a unique method. I like to think of myself as a voice builder; a technician who understands that the vocal mechanism is an organic instrument that is part of a living, breathing, artist.
L: How would you describe the “perfect” student/teacher relationship?
M: I want talented students, but I also want students who challenge me. That is how I grow. I love being asked questions to which I may not know the answer. I understand that I will never stop being a student myself. I will always search for more or better information. I also expect this intrigue and curiosity from students. Without this keen interest, vocal progress can become quite slow. I want to work with those that are hungry to grow.
L: Just for fun…Who are your top five favorite singers of all time?
M: Titta Ruffo, Enrico Caruso, Leonard Warren, Robert Merrill, Luciano Pavarotti
L: And your favorite operas?
M: I love A Midsummer Night’s Dream, La bohème, and I have a special place in my heart for Rodman in North Korea [www.sarahhutchingscomposer.com].
L: What do you wish you would have known back when you were first seeking a voice teacher?
M: I wish there was a published list of the best voice teachers as well as the best up-and-coming teachers in the country. This would prove to be a valuable resource for young singers. Right now, it seems to be restricted to word of mouth only.
L: Do you believe that some voice teachers are thrust into the business of teaching because of their fame as opposed to passion for the art and science of teaching?
M: I think each person has their own journey. Many famous singers have wonderful insight in a number of areas. I have enjoyed master classes from Joyce DiDonato and Renée Fleming to Samuel Ramey and Sherrill Milnes. I have learned a multitude from all of them. Until we have a widely accepted list of teachers and possible specialties listed (perhaps like in the fields of law and medicine,) students, especially those who are underserved, will have a harder time finding the right fit.
Many people look at the singing career of a teacher to determine if they want to study with them. I say listen to the students. Yes, I have been lucky enough to enjoy some success in my young singing career, but my true passion is for my students. There might not be very many early 30-somethings out there who have such a drive to teach, but I absolutely love it.
L: What is your advice to those pursuing a classical singing career in today’s business?
M: Be as flexible as possible. Love what you do and do what you must to pursue what you love. Find ways to be happy, and find hobbies. Also, do not let a career or job define you, even if the career is singing.
L: What are your goals for the future?
M: I want to continue to grow my studio. I am scheduled to finish my DMA at the Eastman School of Music very soon. I would then like to spend more time scouting for talent and helping those whom I find grow their gift.
It is my hope that this article helps those seeking vocal guidance to find a potential match in the impactful and inspiring teachings of Mitchell Hutchings. He truly respects and understands the dynamic of vulnerability and power between student and teacher in a way that is beyond his 31 years. As it can be said for the greatest teachers of voice, he is not just a teacher of voices, but a builder of voices, a supporter of artists- a kind, compassionate, and knowledgeable person whose greatest joy is aiding his students in rising to their greatest heights…an excellent candidate to be a singer’s trusted partner and guide along their own vocal career and journey.
***For more information, and to inquire about studying with Mr. Hutchings please visit: www.mitchellhutchingsbaritone.com