Many of us have dreams that remain tantalizingly out-of-reach, no matter how hard we chase them.
Mardochee Dade’s dreams of playing cello began when he discovered the instrument in third grade. Just 10 years later, thanks to innate skill, determination, and enthusiastic community support, he’s become one of our region’s most accomplished young string players.
It started with a simple music presentation at Lehigh Parkway elementary school in Allentown. You know the type – the music teacher does a show’n’tell with a range of instruments, hoping to kindle students’ interest.
Although Mardochee was first drawn to violin, elementary instrumental music teacher Will Wagner suggested the cello instead. “I’m thankful that happened,” Mardochee recalled. “The size of the instrument, the sound… it was just beautiful compared to the other string instruments.”
But money problems intervened. Mardochee’s parents had emigrated from Haiti in 1999 with their own dreams – father Marius to be a civil engineer, mother Anonise to be a doctor. Instead, they are respectively a handyman and a nurse’s aide. Renting a cello – much less buying one – was out of the question.
Months later, Wagner found an old cello that had been languishing in storage at Mosser elementary school. “It was like Christmas morning when I gave it to him,” Wagner said. “I showed him how to hold it, and how to pluck and bow the strings, and he really took to it. Even though he started lessons well behind the other students, he soon caught up to them – and kept on going.”
Always Pushing Ahead
Wagner added that persistence is one of Mardochee’s defining features. “He won’t take ‘no’ for an answer – and I mean that in a good way,”
For example, after just a year of lessons, Mardochee wanted to tackle J. S. Bach’s “Cello Suite #1.” “I didn’t think he had the skills yet,” Wagner said. “And some parts are written on the alto clef, which he didn’t know how to read.” Nevertheless, Wagner gave him the sheet music.
A week later, Mardochee had nailed it – even the alto clef parts, which he had learned by ear.
“You sometimes see people who succeed in music because they have a laser-focus on it – but Mardochee also sang and danced in the school musical, played basketball, mentored younger students, and maintained a great academic standing. He’s really a well-rounded kid.”
– David Moulton, musician and professor
That level of determination followed him through South Mountain Middle School. “That was a big transition for me,” Mardochee said. “The focus seemed to be on band instruments, not orchestral.” In fact, there was no string program at all. Fortunately, he was able to rent an inexpensive laminate cello, and find an affordable private teacher.
And as he entered seventh grade, Lawrence Flynn, another ASD instrumental music teacher, invited him to play in Flynn’s newly formed All City Orchestra (ACO). “It’s an after-school program,” Flynn said, “for students across the city in sixth through ninth grades.”
The ACO evolved into a year-‘round program, Flynn said, performing for various school events, at nursing homes, shopping malls, Mayfair and other venues.
And in 8th grade, Mardochee received a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which provides tailored academic advice and financial support for high-achieving students in grades 8 through 12.
That same year, he began studying under David Moulton, a cellist whose credits include the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Allentown Symphony, and many other groups. He also teaches at Muhlenberg College and Lafayette College.
“He stood out,” Moulton said, “because of his special ability and his enthusiasm. I knew he could go far if he was channeled in the right direction.” And after Mardochee entered William Allen High School, his involvement in music really blossomed as he played with Flynn’s double string quartet (four violinists, two violists and two cellists); the Young People’s Philharmonic of the Lehigh Valley; the Pennsylvania Music Education Association’s District 10 orchestra; the Northeastern Region Orchestra, and the All-State Orchestra.
Generous & Well-rounded
“He was also interested in supporting his community,” Flynn said. “When he was a junior, he brought the Young People’s Philharmonic to Allen. We also collaborated on a program that introduced 9th-graders to the various string instruments. And he visited every 9th grade classroom to promote the program.”
“What stands out for me,” Moulton added, “is that he excelled at so many things at once. You sometimes see people who succeed in music because they have a laser-focus on it – but Mardochee also sang and danced in the school musical, played basketball, mentored younger students, and maintained a great academic standing. He’s really a well-rounded kid.”
As he began considering colleges, another hurdle loomed: he’d need a high-quality cello for auditions. And his dream instrument was tagged at $7,500.
“I didn’t want to burden my parents,” he said, “so I set up a GoFundMe page. I was amazed by the results – it raised $2,000 in just two days!” The crowdfunding effort eventually brought in more than $8,000, and he earmarked the overage for care and maintenance of the instrument.
Madochee’s generous nature was exemplified by his gift to his community of supporters. Before departing for Vanderbilt University, where he will major in music with a pre-med track – a nod to his parents’ dream of him becoming a doctor – he organized a “gratitude concert” at Allen High School. He rounded up fellow musicians from other area high schools, organized the program, secured catering services, even designed the posters.
The concert included the Maplewood Trio (violin/viola/cello), Flynn’s double string quartet, three piano/cello duets and a concerto for piano and cello.
And for his encore performance, Mardochee chose – what else? – Bach’s Cello Suite #1.
Although some have labeled him a prodigy, Mardochee demurs. “I see myself more as a hard worker who overcame obstacles,” he said. “I saw possibilities and opportunities, and pushed myself toward them. And it’s really heartwarming to have so many people supporting what I do. Everything that someone has done for me has helped make me who I am today.”