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The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

Lily McKnight’s first piano class as a freshman at Southeast Missouri State University’s Department of Music began in an unusual and most unexpected way, when she heard an unfamiliar person say, “I hear you have quite the voice.” Surprised, Lily looked up and caught the gaze of one of the department’s noted professors of music. She wondered how the professor already knew who she was, and how they had heard about her singing. Had one of the members of the entrance audition jury been talking about her? After all, they had offered her entrance as a music degree candidate on the spot, and sweetened the offer with two substantial scholarships. Lily, a very humble and modest young lady, wasn’t used to this kind of attention.

As a child, Lily had always loved singing. Singing as a profession and career choice hadn’t ever crossed her mind, though. Her journey began through her mother, Cari McKnight, a lead singer for the premier St. Louis area band, All Mixed Up. Cari noticed that the band’s demanding schedule and repertoire were fatiguing her voice. She realized she needed expert help if she wanted to sing with greater stamina, and to avoid serious vocal problems and long-term damage. In addition to learning proper singing technique, she also decided singing lessons would be a good opportunity to improve her musicianship skills.

Photo: Cari McKnight singing with her band, All Mixed Up, at Fast Eddie's in Alton, IL

Knowing that anyone can call themselves a voice teacher, Cari took her search very seriously. Where could she find a true professional: a qualified, reputable teacher with the requisite skills, experience, and track record? Cari turned to the internet where, through a process of elimination, she discovered Michael Rocchio, Teacher of Singing & Professional Singer.

Cari liked what she saw: impeccable credentials, decades of experience, and dozens of glowing testimonials. She knew she’d found an exceptional opportunity, and contacted Michael to request an interview. It wasn’t long after that Michael accepted her into his voice studio. Cari worked very hard, and experienced great improvement under his tutelage.

Cari was so happy with her own progress that she decided to ask Michael about giving lessons to her daughter, Lily, as well. She knew Lily loved singing and had a gift for it, but that she needed knowledge and direction. Michael agreed to meet with Lily.

An Exceptional Voice

Michael immediately recognized that Lily had an exceptional voice. Both as a favor to Cari, and to ensure Lily would get the best possible start, Michael took her into his studio even though she was a bit younger than his usual age minimum. Lily was quick and bright, but like so many teenagers, she didn’t believe in herself. She thought that Michael was “just being nice” when he told her she had a gift. Michael knew that her lack of belief in herself and her talent would hold her back. He refused to let her off the hook. Her lessons went beyond singing technique as he relentlessly coaxed her to reach beyond herself in the pursuit of excellence.

Prior to beginning study, Lily’s only solo had been a one-liner in a school musical. Otherwise, her talent had been relegated to the chorus. One day, something clicked. She began to make the link between her talent, her voice, and herself. With Michael’s encouragement and coaching, she auditioned for a local theater group production of “Beauty and the Beast”. The audition panel was so impressed by her voice and stage presence, that in spite of never having worked with her before, they offered her the female lead, “Belle”.

Gold Medal Winner

It was time to get serious. That which had been impossible suddenly became not just possible, but do-able. Lily was shocked, yet proud and excited…and hungry. She threw herself passionately into her lessons as she came to grips with what Michael had been telling her all along.

Lily’s lessons with Michael took on a professional air. In addition to continuing to develop her vocal technique, Michael worked with her to refine her musicianship (sight-singing, music theory, singing in multiple languages, etc.) and to polish her innate musicality (song interpretation, phrasing, captivating the audience, etc.). She moved beyond emulating others, and began to sing with her unique “real” voice.

As a junior in high school, Lily was awarded a gold medal in her first-ever state competition. She would very likely have repeated the win in her senior year if the pandemic hadn’t caused the competition to be cancelled.

The Southeast Missouri State Department of Music entrance audition jury told Lily she had among the most advanced skills and repertoire lists they had ever seen from an incoming freshman.

Photo by Mo Rackers, from Footloose, January 2020

Roles, Performances & Awards


Beauty and the Beast: “Belle"

Annie: "Grace Ferrell"

Newsies: “Hannah"

Les Miserables: "Madame Thénardier"

The Wizard of Oz: “Glinda"

Godspell: "Day by Day Disciple"

Footloose: "Vi Moore"

Guys and Dolls: "Sarah Brown" performance cancelled due to pandemic


Highest rating 2019 MSHSAA District Music Festival/Vocal Solo - Repertoire: "The Crucifixion” - Barber, "Ridente La Calma” - Mozart

Gold Medal 2019 MSHSAA State Music Festival - Repertoire: "The Crucifixion” - Barber, "Ridente La Calma” - Mozart

Highest rating 2020 MSHSAA District Music Festival/Vocal Solo - "When I Have Sung My Songs to You” - Charles, "Mandoline” - Fauré

2020 Missouri State competition was cancelled due to the pandemic

Lily is currently pursuing a degree in vocal performance at Southeast Missouri State. She was awarded scholarships for academics and for music.

“YOU are the instrument.”

You cannot extricate one from the other, Michael tells his students. He teaches the whole person. “I am so grateful,” says Cari. “Michael took Lily from a shy girl who liked to sing but didn’t know what to do, and built in her motivation, confidence, and technique. He helped her to develop skills as a young woman, as a performer, and as a person. What he did for her mentally was way above and beyond what I could have expected. He was above all invested in Lily developing as a person, and that made all the difference in her lessons with him.”

“What I received from Michael is much more than what I signed up for,” Lily agrees. “I’ve grown as a person. I’ve learned to love myself because I have a gift inside of myself. Michael is a big part of my life; he was there for my whole adolescence. I have friends who also took voice lessons from him, and I have seen them grow not only with their instruments, but in their personal lives. Michael is focused on what each of us has to offer to the world as a person, a contributor, through the gifts we have to offer.”

Photo by Mo Rackers

Teacher, Mentor, and Friend

When asked why she decided to pursue singing as a profession, Lily’s answer is that of a true artist. “Michael was always painting the picture for what’s next before I could see it for myself. At a certain point I started believing it. Singing inspires me. Hearing just one tone makes an emotion that I can feel in my bones. Musicals and operas have an effect on me and bring tears to my eyes. I want to give inspiration to others, to make them feel and have an impact.

“There aren’t enough words to express what Michael has done in my life in the last couple years,” Lily added at the end of our interview. “He is a mentor, a friend, a member of my family. Studying with Michael is a cool journey that I would recommend to anyone who wants to do something musical.”

To inquire about voice study with Michael Rocchio, click here.

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