Following one's dreams during a pandemic

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

“Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can’t be done.’” - Eleanor Roosevelt

photo by Mo Rackers: Saint Dominic High School's production of Les Miserables, 2019

It’s no secret that the 2020 pandemic hit the music industry particularly hard. Broadway, the New York Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and nearly all other live entertainment agencies in the USA and around the world are closed until Fall of 2021 at least. In a time when the life of a musician has been turned upside-down, the foresight and perseverance of one high school senior in Saint Louis is setting a standard of hope.

Charlie Wehde discovered a passion for the stage during his freshman year of high school. When nominated for Best Actor for his performance as Marius in Les Miserables during his sophomore year, the idea of making a living on stage solidified. His natural talent, engaging personality, self determination, and supportive family have leveraged him well in this regard.

Charlie threw himself wholeheartedly into every opportunity to better himself as a musician and an actor, juggling a loaded schedule of school, private lessons, and music productions. Just in 2019, he played roles in seven different musicals, including such notable leads as Jesus in Godspell, the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, Marius in Les Miserables, and Jack Kelly in Newsies.

“The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play.” - Richard Strauss

One critical thing was missing from these activities, however: formal singing lessons. Last year the heavy singing schedule was starting to take its toll on the voice of the self-taught singer. Charlie knew of Michael’s work as a teacher of singing, having witnessed the transformation of his classmate, Soprano Lily McKnight, from a shy chorister to a captivating star performer in their school musicals. (Lily has gone on to pursue a degree in vocal performance at Southeast Missouri State. She was awarded scholarships for academics and for music.) Once learning of Michael’s own history as a professional singer and actor, he knew he had found the missing link.

photo by Mo Rackers: Charlie Wehde and Lily McKnight starring in Godspell, 2019

Charlie began voice lessons in a respected and distinguished singing and pedagogical lineage at the beginning of his junior year of high school. “Michael opened my eyes to a lot of things. He has given me knowledge of the anatomy of my instrument, and applications for that knowledge. A lot of my progress in navigating my instrument has come from recognizing that my voice is, in fact, a complicated instrument. It’s not just a simple lever which you push harder to get more sound, if that makes sense.

"I’m happy to see that Broadway is shifting away from the era of belters and screaming tenors and mezzo-sopranos. Versatility is important. I’m excited to see what Broadway looks like in another 10 years.”

Charlie quickly excelled in Michael’s studio. In March of 2020, at the end of his junior year of high school, he was looking forward to performing the star role of Sky Masterson in Saint Dominic High School’s production of Guys and Dolls.

But the virus had other plans. Just days from opening night, it was announced to a heartbroken cast that the musical had to be cancelled entirely.

Uncertainty about the future is pretty normal for a high school senior. Career choices, college applications, and leaving one’s circle of friends and family can all be sources of apprehension. Add a worldwide pandemic and the shutdown of Broadway into the mix, and Charlie naturally found himself questioning the future. “Should I be pursuing a career on the stage, when Broadway itself is closed indefinitely?”

photo by Mo Rackers

Tom and Sarah, Charlie’s parents, have been encouraging him to hold tight to his dreams, reminding him that the pandemic won’t last forever. It hasn’t always been easy helping him to follow those dreams, however, when the path is so unclear.

Sometimes the only thing that a person can do is take the next step. When one is determined to eat an elephant, one must do so simply one bite at a time.

In Michael Rocchio’s studio, that next step was transitioning in-person lessons to virtual lessons. As private lessons, schools and productions all over the country shut down during that historic week in March, Michael brought to the fore the skills he had honed as the very first online teacher of classical singing a number of years ago. Having worked with students as far away as New Zealand, he had already developed methods to deal with sound latency and less-than-perfect audio technology. Michael was able to maintain a solid connection with his students in a time of confusion.

Charlie’s mother, Sarah, could not have been more grateful for Michael’s presence in Charlie’s life during such an historic time. “Michael gives gr