Chock-a-‘Block’ International Music Festival with String Talent – 32963

Cheering crowds gathered at each of the three Vero Beach International Music Festival concerts at First Presbyterian Church’s McAfee Hall. The concerts, which featured a mix of American, Celtic, Indian, bluegrass, jazz and folk music, showcased the talents of the world-class teachers and attendees of the 13th annual Mike Block String Camp.

Led by Grammy Award-winning cellist Mike Block, the faculty included Block’s wife, Hanneke Cassel, a former Scottish National Violin Champion of the United States, as well as Western/Indian violinist Trina Basu, violinist jazz musician Zach Brock, multi-instrumentalist Colin Cotter, violinist Casey Driessen, cellist Natalie Haas, violinist Kimber Ludiker, violinist/violinist Taylor Morris, Indian classical and crossover violinist Arun Ramamurthy, viola/violinist Lauren Rioux , classical and jazz violinist Curtis Stewart, multi-instrumentalist Joe Troop and mandolin player Joe Walsh.

On the second gig, the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin transfer saw Emri Stenn relinquish the special instrument to Olivia Breen. The violin was donated to the MBSC several years ago in memory of Pearl, a journalist and violinist murdered by terrorists in Pakistan. The violin is assigned to a camp student for one year before being given to the next person.

Stenn started attending the camp in 2014 as a student at Vero Beach High School and has since earned a degree in Irish Music and Dance from the University of Limerick in Ireland. He is currently pursuing a degree in cybersecurity at Indian River State College.

Of the violin, Stenn said, “It was so much fun to play it and it made me play so much better.”

Breen, who is pursuing a dual degree in violin performance and aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and her twin sister Audrey, a cellist, attended the camp for four years.

“It’s an honor to know that they believe in me to give me this. The first thing I thought of when I played was that it looks like butter. It’s magic,” Breen said.

“The friends I made the first year at camp are still great friends. They fill my heart every year I’m here. The faculty too. I know I can contact them throughout the year if I have questions or if they come to town and play a concert.

Laughing with joy, she remembers going with friends to listen to the American string group Mr. Sun, in which Joe Walsh plays. do you know Joe Walsh? This camp has honestly changed our lives.

Other participants have since become full-fledged music teachers, including Evan Robinet, a cellist, who teaches students at the Gifford Youth Orchestra.

“Some of my favorite musical moments have happened at this camp, especially at night when we all play together. Everything is very fluid and everyone fits really well,” said Robinet.

“One of my favorite parts of camp is definitely the collaboration. I feel like I’m surrounded by world-class talent all the time. It has this really cool environment. You feel really safe to trying new things,” said bassist Jacob Heglud, now a bandleader at Gaither High School in Tampa.

“It’s great that our students are becoming the next generation of teachers,” Block said.
Explaining that they teach playing music by ear, rather than sheet music, he said it’s a new concept for many students.

“And so we developed new skills, learned by improvising, by grooving, by planing together, and all of that was done in a collaborative setting,” Block said.

In the collaborative track, students learn several tunes from several faculty members and, after forming groups of their peers, put their own personal stamp on the music. In the apprentice stream, professional and college-aged participants worked with “all-powerful, all-knowing” conductors who “get them in shape from zero to performance” in days.

“We try to answer a few questions with our participants,” Block said. “That is: how can we connect to the world through music? How can we learn more about ourselves through creativity? And how can we collaborate with other people to create something bigger than anyone else?”

Pictures of Joshua Kodis

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