My Experience of the Mike Block String Camp

When I applied to the MBSC Apprentice Track (AT) of the Mike Block String Camp, I really did not know what to expect. All I knew was that the music experience was learning-by-ear based.

That turned out to be so true. There were no charts or sheet music anywhere. Everyone relied on recording the session with the instructor and doing their homework from sound files.

This was challenging for me because I typically learn a new tune from sheet music. I have absorbed a new tune entirely by ear a few times. It’s not a habit, though.

Another impediment from learning tunes quickly came from the place I stayed, the Rosewood Inn. The Inn keeper discouraged fiddle playing in the room. Twice I went outside to the porch to play. The second time well armed with mosquito repellant.

Playing in the Bands

Each of the attendees in the AT got to play in three bands led by the wizards who made up the faculty. My first performance was Wednesday

Elan, AKA the Beast, Mighty Max Bluegrass, Beautiful Natalie Sound, Exotic Margrite, 1&only Darol Anger
Elan, Mighty Max Bluegrass, Beautiful Natalie Sound, Exotic Margrite, 1&only Darol Anger

evening with Darol Anger. We played Dragon Ship No. 13 and stretched out a good bit with it. Darol gave us the opportunity to get down with some improv. I took advantage.

The other two performances were tightly arranged. This put a fair amount of pressure on this old fiddler, who has been a committed improviser since starting to play fiddle tunes. And, yes, I was the oldest attendee. Mike Block let people know he had students from 6 to 75 years of age. One of those numbers was mine.

Individual Fiddle Coaching

It was an intense experience from day one, and had many excellent features unique to MBSC. One of these was an unannounced presentation by Rachel Barton Pine on the history of fiddling and the way baroque violin uses improvisation. Her talk and demo was magnetic and made me want to play baroque music with a baroque bow.

From the two private lessons I had with Taylor Morris and Lauren Rioux, I got exactly what I had been hoping for. In an earlier post about good intonation I wrote about my need to improve, if possible. Taylor shared with me a system he uses to keep good intonation in any key. It was brilliant.

I also wrote about the question I would ask Lauren, given the chance. How does she keep such an active teaching program going? One of the interesting items that came out was her use of only a five string violin. She said she doesn’t even play a four string any more. She also shifts a lot of responsibility to the student. Very professional! We also discussed the back up technique she and Brittany Haas use on their performances.

Tunes I will be sharing with the Crystal Beach String band include, Houston Toad by Brittany Haas, a former wizard at MBSC, Giardian Angel by Joe K Walsh, Henryville by Michael Cleveland, Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me by Mississippi John Hurt, and Dragon Ship Number 13. For starters.

The Dragon Ship tune is also destined to be revealed to my students without a chart. I have neglected this aspect of music instruction too long. Now it’s time. My students will also get some benefit from the MBSC. When we start this not-too-difficult tune, they will be performing and learning without a net!

4 thoughts on “My MBSC”

  1. So glad you had a great time and felt so inspired. Way to go Elan…Rachel Barton-Pine was there amen to that. Iove the jam with Lauren site
    Aren:t you glad I told you about this camp. Hoping to go next summer! Stay amazing!

    1. Yes, I am totally grateful that you clued me in on what’s happening in our own backyard in Florida. Hope you can take it all in next year!

  2. What a fascinating recounting of a “play by ear” experience. When we have our next lesson, I would love to hear your thoughts on better intonation. I am working on “Round the Horn (Jay Unger) and “Flowers of Edinborough” ( a good contra dance tune.) Call you soon. srr

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