Now a much-loved fixture of the Vero Beach music scene, the Mike Block String Camp came to a tuneful close in July, leaving memories of vibrant, toe-tapping performances in its wake.
The MBSC was founded in 2010 by cellist, composer and educator Mike Block, who annually tempts other acclaimed musicians to join him in an innovative approach that emphasizes “learning by ear, creativity, collaboration and performance.”
The camp is also unlike others in that 60 percent of the 103 participants were over the age of 18, grouped as college students, amateur adults and professionals. Under age 18 players were grouped into elementary and middle schoolers, plus intermediate and advanced high school students.
“The professionals are performers and teachers in their 20s and 30s who are maybe coming from a classical background or a bluegrass background or some other specific area of expertise, but they’re coming to our camp to expand their horizons and learn other styles,” Block explained.
“I myself have a western classical background on cello. So, for me, the process of branching out to multiple styles is a big deal, and that’s what a lot of the people who come to our camp are looking for.”
Roughly half in the weeklong camp were returnees, and Emri Stenn and a couple others are now assistant faculty.
“Emri is a Vero Beach native who we met as a middle schooler. He had come to our camp for many years growing up and he fell in love with Irish music. He ended up studying at the University of Limerick in Ireland,” said Block.
“And so now he’s an adult and a professional and so we had him come back to camp to share the Irish music that he learned with our community.”
Two years ago, Stenn was the recipient of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin, awarded to a student for one year, which was gifted to the camp in memory of Daniel Pearl, a journalist and violinist, who was murdered by terrorists in Pakistan. It was passed on last year to Olivia Breen, and this year to Rose Underkofler.
“What’s special about Rose is she grew up in Maine studying with one of our longtime faculty members, Lauren Rioux. She was a kid attending some of our very first camps way back when, and then she went into music education and is now a public school orchestra director in Maine,” said Block.
“She started coming back to camp as an adult, as a professional, and is obviously getting a very different experience. It’s as we were saying before. She’s looking to sort of branch out and develop her own creativity, apart from her day job, as it were. We were just really excited to have her back in the community.”
The decision as to who receives the special violin, each a promising young musician at the advanced high school, college or young professional level, is made by the faculty.
“I can tell you, it’s actually a very difficult decision because there’s all sorts of people just like Rose who we care a lot about and we also want to be able to support. It’s all very complicated and difficult to settle on one person each year,” said Block. “I mean, these are talented people.”
Block was very pleased that enrollment was back to pre-pandemic levels and said the student concert at camp’s conclusion was one of the best attended to date.
Broken into 20 bands comprised of various levels and ages, the students performed music they co-arranged and created during the camp. There were also two faculty concerts during the week, which were equally well attended.
In 2024, the Vero Beach International Music Festival, an offshoot of the camp showcasing faculty and other professional musicians, is planning to have one concert a month January through April, in addition to those held during the summer camp.
For more information, visit VeroBeachInternationalMusicFestival.com.
Photos by Joshua Kodis