Creative, innovative, imaginative … Many of today’s students are all that and more in a vast variety of interest areas. This series features students with exceptional and unusual gifts.
Name: Cameron Renshaw
School: Marshall Elementary School
Jam: Playing cello
Byron Center — What’s the story here? When Cameron Renshaw was in kindergarten he kept asking his mom, Tina Renshaw, about the cello in her closet. Renshaw had left performing in her past, and wasn’t really interested in pulling the instrument out of storage where it had been for years.
Finally, one day on a whim, Renshaw agreed to play for the curious 5-year-old. She dusted the instrument off and began to play. “He was completely mesmerized from the first second,” she recalled.
“I just thought it was really cool and I would really like to play that instrument,” said Cameron, now 9. He explained that the powerful tones of the cello sound like a human voice. “A couple months after, she started giving me lessons.”
Four years have passed since that pivotal moment with his mother, and Cameron has played cello at Carnegie Hall five times. He first took the stage there at age 6. (See a list of his accomplishments here.) He’s played on The Ellen Degeneres Show and has won prestigious competitions, traveling to perform in Russia, Austria and Amsterdam. He plans to perform in the near future in Romania. He attends cello studio classes with music students at Grand Valley State University, where he takes lessons from Professor Pablo Mahave-Veglia.
He is in fourth grade at Marshall Elementary School.
“I just love playing music. I love playing my heart out when I play, especially when I play for other people,” he said.
Is there a teacher or teachers who have had a big impact? Mom, of course, who Cameron describes as a serious teacher who pinpoints what he needs to work on. She rediscovered her own joy for cello and piano because of Cameron. Renshaw has a bachelor’s degree in cello performance from Indiana University, but changed her career path due to carpal tunnel syndrome and earned a master’s degree in design. Then, “I went full circle back to music.” She now teaches at the Academy of Music in Grand Rapids, and in her growing home studio. Cameron’s brother, Parker, 6, plays violin.
“I left music years ago, so I didn’t think it was possible for me to get back into it. This little guy inspired me to get back into teaching and performance after a long hiatus,” Renshaw said.
It was apparent from the start that Cameron had a natural aptitude, she said. “I just noticed he has a really good ear for sound and tone and he has a natural musicality that I don’t feel like I have to teach him that much. I kind of help him bring it out, but he has an intrinsic sense of phrasing and musicality.”
As for his Marshall teachers, “I really love all my teachers!” His first grade teacher, Sierra Zylstra, played his cello videos for the class. “I really had a special connection with her. Even to this day sometimes I go back and say hi to her.”
Cameron also loves music teacher Megan Hoop. “I really like how she teaches music. First she starts out with basic things like how to sing, and then she moves on to more advanced things until eventually she starts teaching notes.”
Professor Pablo (Pablo Mahave-Veglia) also stands out to Cameron as influential.
“I am guessing he is going to be really important in my life. Not only do I like the way he plays and how he teaches me, I also like that he has this stuffed animal, Goti (a goat), and he has a really strong connection with his goat. He makes Goti not like when I make a mistake… he makes Goti growl a lot,” Cameron said with a laugh. “He once made Goti make ice cream for my little brother.”
Do you plan to pursue this professionally? “I would like to play the cello when I grow up, in chamber music groups.”
Who is your favorite composer? “Mozart… I really love his operas,” Cameron said. “It’s so nice to see so many things happening at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking.”
For Marshall’s historical wax museum as a third-grader, Cameron dressed up as 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and stayed as still as a statue until a visitor pressed a “button” in front of him. “I would give a speech and a couple important lines,” he explained.
Outside of music, what are your other hobbies/interests/little-known talent: Cameron has a condition called synesthetes, meaning he can “see” music as colors: the more intense the music, the brighter the color. “No matter what song I play or hear, I imagine a color for that.”
He also loves to read and build Legos with brother, Parker. “Sometimes we do Lego contests. Parker usually wins.”
The biggest lesson you have learned from your involvement in music is… “Things change a lot. The conditions change. You’ve got to get used to it. You’ve got to be flexible.”
If you walked into your school building to theme music, what would the song be? “I would be thinking of a happy song. I really love school. I really love learning.”