Teacher, Coach, or Mentor?

Teacher, Coach, or Mentor? What do you need? And what is the difference?

I defined the differences between the services offered by voice teachers and vocal coaches in a previous blogpost (which was actually the content of a page I decided to keep as a link instead of separate page). I’d like to go a little further on this, because coaching has become a huge element of the business world, and mentorship is also becoming very popular.

So what are the differences? Are there areas of intersection between the three positions (at least in teaching singing)?

  • A teacher teaches technique, using a combination of vocal exercises and repertoire selected based on the singer’s level of ability (in the moment and with an eye to the future). A good teacher knows that vocal technique evolves and that one size (or song) doesn’t fit all.
  • A coach works on repertoire on which the singer is preparing for a specific purpose (performance or audition) which may or may not have been assigned them by a teacher. A coach focuses on specific aspects, whether it’s musicianship or interpretation, but does not work on vocal technique.
  • The idea of having a singing mentor is relatively new. Based on the definition of mentorship in the business world, the mentor looks at all the work the singer (or teacher) has done up to this point and helps them to create a path forward in their career development. The joint statement by NATS and AATS (American Academy of Teachers of Singing) on “Advancing the Culture of Mentoring in our Profession” describes it this way:

Broadly defined, a mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor.

I believe that the roles of teacher and coach overlap less in the academic world, particularly in classical music. In the private studio, especially when working with the budding pre-professional or avocational singer who wants to perform, a teacher needs to be a coach as well. (At least this teacher needs to be a coach as well.) I want my students to be able to inhabit their texts and find their own interpretations, confident in the fact that their technique is solid (or on its way to being solid) and won’t get in the way of what they have to say.

Mentorship has been an important element of my professional life.

As a singer, my teacher Marianna Busching was my voice teacher from 1987-1996. She was a mentor for me and the reason why I wound up completely throwing my life (and first marriage) into an upheaval to go to graduate school at Peabody. She didn’t TELL me to leave him and go to Peabody – but her encouragement (and the fact that she was there, and if I wanted to get regular time with her, I’d better follow her) told me that I could do it.

Alan Nathan, who died nearly two years ago, was the most significant person I ever worked with in the professional world. He was the Washington Opera chorusmaster, and although I had done a few small bits under his predecessor, the late Stephen Crout, Alan chose me to be the mezzo soloist for the Kennedy Center Open House for two years in a row, cast me in several solo bits in the chorus, gave me the supporting role of The Woman in Red in the world premiere of Dream of Valentino (although, honestly, I got that part because the girl originally cast was two inches too tall), put me in the most interesting and selective shows (not necessarily the largest), and basically changed my life. I’ll write more about Alan another time.

Backstage at Cunning Little Vixen (I was blonde then)

Professionally, as a teacher, my experience with the NATS Intern Program with George Shirley as my master teacher, and the late Shirley Emmons, the late Paul Kiesgen, and Carol Webber as the other master teachers counts as the turning point in my life when I knew that this was my real calling.

My membership in NATS has also opened doors for me to work with other mentors regarding my identity as a businessperson, including Michelle Markwart Deveaux in the Speakeasy Cooperative and Sara Campbell of the Savvy Music Studio (also a SECO member). The latter two are examples of how a mentor doesn’t have to be someone older than you – which is good, because that pool is shrinking rapidly. 😀

Marianna was my teacher and mentor. Alan was a coach and mentor. George, Michelle, Sara, and others have served as mentors in other areas.

All of them are/were people who I trusted with my vocal and career development. And I’m so glad that I did.

While I identify as a voice teacher, I have no problem with people referring to me as a vocal coach, because sometimes I am.

And I would be honored by anyone who might consider me to be or to have been their mentor. It is a responsibility that I do not take lightly.


If you are interested in working with me, whether as a teacher or a coach
(I won’t presume to offer myself as a mentor, at least not right off the bat),
why not set up an Ask Me Anything or a Vocal Discovery Session?


Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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