There’s a good chance that as you read this North Rosedale Park resident Josh McClendon, age 14, is practicing cello. He plays every day, “whenever I can,” Josh says with a smile. His mother, Voncile Campbell, never has to tell him to practice: “He’ll play before he eats in the morning.” Josh’s first instrument was not the cello, however. At age three (yes, three), Josh went to visit his sister, Brianna’s Kindergarten class where the children were learning how to play violin. “When I saw my sister playing, I knew.” Two months later Josh performed with his sister’s Kindergarten class. Voncile had suspected her son to have more than a casual interest in music. “When he was in a car seat facing the rear, even as a baby, he kept time.”
At eight, Josh heard the cello for the first time. “I loved the sound of it – the deep tone, the perfect register. It has so much range and variety.” When he took up the cello, Josh immediately started memorizing music, sometimes long pieces of music. “The music is like seeing a person or a story I’ve seen before. I remember.” Since then Josh has performed with several organizations such as the Urban Strings Summer Camp and the Civic Youth Ensemble of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. This summer will be his sixth summer at Interlochen Arts Camp to which he won a scholarship. Last summer Josh was principal cellist. Clearly they see something unusual in Josh as well.
Josh’s favorite cellist is Jacqueline du Pre, a British cellist who died of Multiple Sclerosis when she was just 42. Josh has all of her recordings. When Yo-Yo Ma came to Detroit recently, though, you can bet Josh was there, asking Mr. Ma to sign CDs. Josh has a harder time naming his favorite composer, but his top three are: Elgar, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. “What I like about classical music is that I can go anywhere with it. Every composer has his own style, and I can add it to my own.”
Josh has not reached this level without support, of course. Voncile has driven him to countless lessons and competitions, most recently so that Josh can take lessons from Paul Wingert, a 38 year member of the DSO. Josh’s Uncle Jeron is another cheerleader, making sure Josh has always had an instrument: “Whatever you can do to support a gift, you do it.” Josh has also won the James Tatum Foundation for the Arts Scholarship, the Al McKenzie Scholarship (twice), the Omega Psi Phi Scholarship and, most recently, the Slotkin Music Scholarship at Cranbrook. Josh is a bit nervous, but hopeful about competing in next year’s Sphinx Competition. His mother and uncle, however, are convinced: “Of course you’ll be ready,” Voncile says.
While Josh does spend a great deal of time making beautiful music, he also skateboards and plays lacrosse. He does both because they’re fun, but he’s careful not to hurt his hands. Josh also understands that he’s part of a community. You may have heard him play at the Holiday Breakfast at the Community House the last couple of years. Catch him while you can, though. He has his sights on Julliard or maybe the Curtis Institute of Music. His dream, after all, is to be a world-touring solo cellist. Not a bad ambition for a 14 year old from North Rosedale Park.