Introducing Our New Assistant Professor of Music Matthew Hougland
By William Dowell ’22
A new school year brings on new adventures. While incoming students embark on their journeys at Carthage, our faculty begin their own challenges as they guide students throughout their collegiate years. The Carthage Music Department has brought on a new professor to provide valuable instruction and guidance to young musicians. Our new assistant professor of music and music theatre specialist, Matthew Hougland, brings experience as an educator and as a performer to the Carthage’s music theatre program. I sat down and chatted with Professor Hougland about his teaching style, and what he plans to achieve at Carthage.
What are you excited to do as a professor at Carthage?
I am super excited to just start teaching. It’s my jam. I’m ready to jump in and teach voice lessons while pushing our musical theatre program forward. It’s also really exciting to have a home base here.
You have a wide range of teaching experiences that encompasses not just music theatre, but also other aspects of vocal performance such as choral directing. How do you plan on bringing those different aspects together in your teaching at Carthage?
I think it gives me a unique advantage because I was in a high school classroom for a long time, so when teaching incoming students, I understand the transition and where they are coming from. Also, over my years in both high school and collegiate education, I know it is not just about learning about voice, it is about learning how to be a good human.
Some of your students have gone on to Broadway or made careers in other parts of theatre. What are some aspects of teaching that are essential for preparing students for those kinds of opportunities?
I come from a place where I want to empower my students. If their trajectory is Broadway, then we can take the steps to achieve those goals. If their goal is not Broadway, that is okay too, I can help them find their goal and go in that direction. I think it’s so much more than just learning the skills, but it is a more holistic approach. That is one of the reasons I love Carthage.
How do you plan on building a community that empowers and welcomes diverse voices in the classroom?
I come from a world where every voice is unique. There is no one right way to sing. It is about what the individual student needs. For me, teaching is about empowering them with the tools to make their voice their own. We are not here to make them sound like Jeremy Jordan or Lindsay Mendez; we are here to make them sound like them. As students move forward, they can build their brand on their voice. It goes beyond just artistic expression but also developing their career.
How do you balance focusing on musical technique and focusing on preparing a student for their career in your teaching?
I think it’s knowing that it is a process. Just because you graduate with a degree in music, does not mean you are done learning. I still take lessons from my voice teacher and he still takes lessons from his teacher. You have to keep chipping away at it while riding in two lanes at one time. I have Matthew the performer and Matthew the educator, and while they are running simultaneously, sometimes I have to lean more into one side or the other.
What are you working on in these voice lessons?
I am doing a recital in October so I am preparing for that. I am choosing new and old repertoire that I want to put together for this performance. These lessons are also about finding out how my voice has changed over the Covid-19 pandemic. I went from using it every day on tour, to not singing much during the pandemic. Therefore, I have to rebuild my stamina.
Speaking of stamina, it can be pretty easy to injure yourself from unhealthy technique or from practicing too much. How do you encourage students to maintain healthy musical habits in your lessons?
Step one is to know thy body. Step two is to know your limit. We had a student tell us in one of our orientations that he studies chemistry and that he would study two hours every day. That is great for him, but I would never recommend that for my voice students. If we sit there and do something for two hours a day, it doesn’t mean we are going to get better at it. It just means that we did it for two hours. It is about having a focused intention about whatever you are working on and knowing when to step away and do something completely unrelated to music.
What is a production that you cannot stop watching?
My gut says Chicago. That is the one that I love to watch over and over again. I’m also a big fan of YouTube bootlegs of a song sung 55 different ways, like a video showing the evolution of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked over the past 20 years.
What are some of your hobbies outside of music?
I like to do CrossFit, and to exercise in general. I also do drag. That’s another fun side of my life.
What is something incoming students should know about you or how you teach?
This is a safe space. All are welcome. I don’t have room to judge you. I will judge your singing voice because that is what I’m paid to do, but I won’t judge you as a human. Carthage feels like it has a safe atmosphere which is lovely, but no matter what, this room is definitely a safe space. Finally, I teach by empowerment, so I will help you meet your goals as long as you come in willing to go after them.
See Matthew Hougland perform on Thursday, Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall. Seating is limited, and tickets must be obtained in advance. You can also join us from home through our live stream.