Music's Richard L. Hodges to perform in Seattle Opera's 'X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X' in February

From conducting his church choir in North Carolina at age 4 to performing onstage at The Met in New York City, his twin passions of teaching and performing have shaped Hodges' life and early career
Western's Richard Hodges works with a student on a vocal performance in the PAC (WWU photo by Luke Hollister).

How do you top the biggest professional thrill of your career? That’s the dilemma facing WWU Assistant Professor of Music Richard L. Hodges. 

Like an astronaut who has landed on the moon or an athlete who just broke a world record, Hodges is seeking that next challenge after spending a big part of fall 2023 on one of the most hallowed stages in all of opera: singing  at “The Met” - the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City's Lincoln Center - as part of the cast of “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.” 

“It’s the highest honor in the business and one of the most revered opera houses in the world. It was life changing - a dream, really. Euphoric. Humbling. Electrifying. Beautiful," he said. “There’s this moment at the start of ‘X’ when the curtain goes up but you are still hidden, and can just draw a deep breath and take it all in. But you can’t get lost in the majesty – you've got a job to do.” 

While in New York City, Hodges was able to connect with his students by having them come into his office for voice lessons while he connected and taught via Teams. 

“Never as good as being face to face, but we made it work and it was fabulous that I could still connect with them and listen to their work,” he said. 

And more on-stage work is coming this winter, and in a familiar story, as Hodges will appear in Seattle Opera’s production of “X” at McCaw Hall -- professional exposure not lost on his dean, Christopher Bianco. 

“We are so proud of what Dr. Hodges has achieved and are thrilled that our students have the opportunity to engage with a teaching artist of this caliber. His work enriches the entire WWU community,” Bianco said. 


The Prodigy 

Hodge's professional success is probably not a surprise to anyone who knows him, not from his mentor, Elvira Green, and certainly not from the church choir in his North Carolina hometown that he first directed at age 4. 

“You can’t ‘hide it’ in opera; traditional opera has no amplification, it is just your raw voice over an orchestra. It’s the major leagues of voice.” 

Richard L. Hodges

“I grew up in a very musical household, and my mother and my aunts noticed my affinity for music very early on,” he said. 

At age 13, he got into a summer opera program put on by the Greensboro (North Carolina) Opera Company led by Green, whose musical chops had led her from the tiny town of Macon, North Carolina (population 119 at last census) all the way to being a permanent member of The Met for more than a decade. 

Green said she saw something in the young Hodges that not only piqued her interest but made her want to invest time and effort in him, in the same way that those around her had done. 

“He was just a bundle of intelligence and creativity,” Green said. “And so good at his craft that by the time that summer ended, he joined the opera company when it put on ‘Carmen’ that fall.” 

High school followed, and then college, when Hodges enrolled at North Carolina Central University, Green’s alma mater, and where she was then an Artist-in-Residence. 

Hodges laughs while working with a student. (WWU photo by Luke Hollister)

“By the time Richard got to NCCU, we had established a relationship where I just knew I wasn’t going to let him go ... it was as simple as that. His creative nature is so unique, and so his own. I just feel blessed and privileged to have been a part of his life,” she said. 

Hodges beams as he listens to his mentor talk about him over the phone, and his eyes fill with tears when he talks about her and her influence on him, both as a singer and as a person. 

“Between my mother and Ms. Green, I have two people I can look at as my heroes and my inspiration. I owe them everything,” he said. 

Graduate school followed, first at UNC Greensboro for his master’s degree and then at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas for his doctorate. He was offered a non-tenure-track job at UNLV, but a series of on-stage opportunities, first in the opera “Sweet Land” and then his first work in “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” with the Detroit Opera Company which led to his stint at The Met. Then his first tenured job at South Carolina State University, which was followed by his start at Western in fall 2022. 


Inspired – and inspiring 

It is easy to see the inspiration he gathered from his mother and Elvira Green is paid forward into his devotion for his craft – and for his teaching. 

“I fell in love with opera because of all the energy, and the performances, but most of all because of the focus on the VOICE. You have to just be so solid. You can’t hide it in opera; traditional opera has no amplification, it is just your raw voice over an orchestra. It’s the ‘major leagues’ of voice,” he said. “It’s so demanding on your body, and so difficult. But your voice determines everything – the mood, the energy, and the experience.” 

“And the love I have for teaching comes from a lot of those same places, but the joy springs from seeing my students succeed, or seeing them have that ‘light bulb moment’ when everything clicks for them and they take their voice or their performance to the next level,” he said. “Being a good teacher is just as hard as being a good performer. But what could be better than helping my students become who they want to be?” 

Those twin passions for singing and for teaching jump out to his students as well. 

Music Education and Vocal Performance major Mia Lapingcao’s assessment of Hodges’ impact on her sounds eerily like that of the relationship between Hodges and his mentor, Elvira Green. 

“His approach to instruction is unique to me in that he takes the deep dive with me into who I am as a person and helps me take these aspects of myself - my vocal color, my beliefs, and my experiences - to shape the music in a way that is most authentic to me,” she said. “As a major in music education as well as vocal performance, it has been wonderful to have these tools of pedagogy from lessons to aid in my journey as a future choir and voice teacher. I am so very thankful to Dr. Hodges for his support and contributions to my growth as a musician, and as a person.”  

Vocal Performance and Music Composition major Nehemiah Jones echoed Lapingcao. 

“My experience as a student in Dr. Hodges’ studio is best summarized as a discovery of my voice as my instrument. But I've come to learn that a discovery of your instrument is really a discovery of yourself. As I'm learning to continuously adapt to these new and wonderful changes with my own voice, I'm also looking forward to what can be done with both my singing and compositional voice in an ever-expansive world of music,” he said. “I'm so grateful for the opportunities that have been made available to me, and for the fervent support and guidance of Dr. Hodges in such an exciting time.” 

Hodges also admits a vested self-interest to seeing students pursuing opera. 

“There has to be the next generation that will carry opera forward ... that same way it took someone to inspire me and those of my generation,” he said. “And when I listen to my students sing, I know we will be fine.” 

Richard Hodges will perform in Seattle Opera’s “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” in six performances at McCaw Hall on Feb. 24 and 25 and March 1,3,6 and 9. Tickets can be bought online at the Seattle Opera’s website, here