Why Did the Manager of Site Reliability Engineering at LinkedIn Travel from San Francisco to Vero Beach, FL to Attend the “Mike Block String Camp?”

Jacob Davida

Jacob Davida, Manager, Site Reliability Engineering at LinkedIn.


According to Psychology Today (July 31, 2015) “Music is a universal language. Or so musicians like to claim. ‘With music,’ they’ll say, ‘you can communicate across cultural and linguistic boundaries in ways that you can’t with ordinary languages like English or French.'”

That’s why Jacob, attended the Mike Block Sting Camp from July 4 – 15, 2016 to use music to “have conversations with people who don’t share the same language.”

While Jacob travelled from San Francisco to attend the Camp, other musicians travelled from New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and Mexico.  Of course, local students also participated.  Overall there were 90 students and 13 instructors.


Yo-Yo Ma and Mike Block Playing Cello

The Mike Block String Camp in Vero Beach went “live” in 2010, with over 60 students coming from all over the US, as well as Canada.

It was conceived the year before when Mike was invited to Vero Beach, FL to do a solo performance and a few clinics at the local high school by the mother of a girl that had studied with him at a cello camp in the summer of 2008.

After his visit to Vero, the same mother organized a dozen local string students to attend a camp that he was teaching at in Chicago that summer. Afterwards, she told him, “Mike, if you could just do a camp down here in Vero, more of these kids could go to it, because it’s too expensive for many to travel across the country.” He simply said, “OK!,” and within days, she had created a brochure and was already promoting the camp locally.

2010 was the first year of Mike Block String Camp, and it was a big success, with over 60 students coming from all over the US, as well as Canada and England. Ever since, the Mike Block String Camp has grown to include a second week of instruction for advanced players called the Extension, and public performances, which comprise the Vero Beach International Music Festival.

Instruments featured a the Camp include, guitars, violins, cellos, mandolins, bases, violas and piano.

So what do you do if you are classical violinist, who performs on her/his own, is from Germany and wants to learn how to play Scottish tunes?  What you do is come to the Mike Block String Camp and learn how to play a Scottish strathspey (the strathspey is one of the dance types in Scottish country dancing) from instructor Hanneke Cassel.

Hanneke Cassel

Hanneke Cassel / 1997 National Scottish Fiddle Champion

Ms. Cassel has performed and taught across the United States, Scotland, Sweden, China, New Zealand, France, England, and Austria.

Here is Ms. Cassel’s Scottish tune class at the Mike Block String Camp

Scotish dance session

Ms. Cassels’s Scottish tune class is one of six classes.  Thanks to the courtesy of Mike Block we were able to tour all six classes.

This is an Acapella singing class taught by Kai Welsh, a Nashville-based, Oregon-born songwriter, instrumentalist, producer and composer.  (Acapella = group or solo singing without instrumental accompaniment, or a piece intended to be performed in this way.)

Voice Class

Here Mr. Welsh is teaching the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a South African male choral group that sings in the vocal styles of isicathamiya and mbube. They rose to worldwide prominence as a result of singing with Paul Simon on his 1986 album Graceland, and have won multiple awards, including four Grammy Awards. (Source: Wikipedia)

Two kids in voice class

Two young students in the Acapella singing class.

Then we have a guitar class where a cellist is learning to play guitar.

Guitar session

Clapping session

Clay Ross teaching students to harmonize, clap and shout to the music of the Sea Islands, one of America’s most unique musical cultures.

“It was inspirational to see Clay connect with young students and draw them into the music… It was evident throughout his program that he truly cares about his workshops, students, and audiences and inspires and nurtures everyone’s interest in music.” – Laurie Weitzenkorn, Public Affairs Counselor, U.S. Embassy Athens, Greece.

Below, learn how to play an awesome bluegrass tune from Brittany Hass.

Brittany Hass

Brittany Haas is an American fiddle player. She is best known as a member of the Boston-based alternative bluegrass band, Crooked Still.

Ms. Haas graduated from Princeton University in 2009 and was a member of the Princeton University Band.

Lauren Weisman

Lauren Weisman

There is also a Music Business Class taught by Loren Weisman the author, of “Music Business for Dummies.”

This is a class for musicians who are looking for business skills to be more successful as an artist.  It is about finding out something about yourself, other than your music, that would trigger more people to find you.

Loren asked one young man where he played his music, who answered “in my attic.”  Loren replied,”then use that as a hook to your music.  The man who plays his cello alone in his attic.”

Couple hugging.jpg

A young couple in Loren’s Music Business Class.

According to Mike Block, the Camp allowed students to learn all the parts and roles of music, such as base, cords, melodies and rhythms; and to learn how music is built.

Many of the musicians perform alone where ever they come from. But the Camp teaches them how to collaborate with others, build music and create an ensemble where a group of musicians perform together. Creating an arrangement  requires creativity.

Four girls on stage

One ensemble

Young Girl

Lovely young girl…

Four girls sitting

…who is second to left in the next ensemble.

The camp gives students ownership of their music and allows them to be self directed.  Once again, according to Mike Block, “it is rare for a student to be asked what they think rather than just be handed a music sheet. When they can make their own decisions and have self-control about what they want to play they can blossom and go in their own direction.  What follows is the know-how of being self-directed and greater self-esteem.”

Mike Block logo

The Mike Block String Camp was 100% funded by tuition. Funds pay for teachers to travel to Vero Beach, including air fares and rental cars.  All of the students who did not live locally stayed at the Prestige Hotel in Vero Beach where they had jam sessions at 8:00 pm to further social interaction.


Mike Block

Michael Block started playing the cello when he was nine. He had played Suzuki Violin since he was four (along with his siblings), but when the string program started at forth grade in his elementary school, he decided he wanted to switch to the cello.

One of his main motivations for switching to cello was so he could sit down when he practiced; which is a bit ironic in retrospect, since he always stands now. His first teacher was Peter Sukonik, a Russian immigrant who was Associate Principal in the Kansas City Symphony.

He learned to read music quickly, but only well enough so that he knew which fingers were associated with which dots, so he could make the right sounds. It took him much longer to figure out the actual names of the notes (A, B, C, etc.), and to really start hearing what he was playing – rather than having cello be just a finger exercise.

His two favorite and most influential cello players are Yo-Yo Ma and Rushad Eggleston.

Throughout High School and college, it was Yo-Yo’s warm and passionate sound quality that drew him to all the great Romantic Period melodies. However, even earlier, one of the first cello CDs his parents bought for his 10th birthday was Yo-Yo Ma’s HUSH, with Bobby McFerrin – an incredibly creative album with a mix of rearranged classics and groovy originals. His favorite track back then was track 5, “Hush Little Baby,” and he would listen to it on repeat incessantly!

This album planted a lot of creative seeds for him that influenced his ultimate direction into non-classical styles on cello. In his adult years, now that he gets to work with Yo-Yo professionally, he has become a mentor and a friend who continually inspires him musically, and personally.

He has been hailed as “the ideal musician of the twenty-first century” by cultural icon Yo-Yo Ma.

Although Mike Block was appointed Associate Professor of Music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA in 2012, he tours most of the year across the country and the world performing with different groups.

He is a frequent guest lecturer. He has presented at Stanford University, Princeton University, Harvard University, New York University, Berklee College of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music, New England Conservatory, Belmont University, Southern Methodist University, Sam Houston State University, Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, and University of Arkansas. He received Suzuki method certification in music education in 2006.

With this background Mike Block was able attract multiple award-winning performers for the Vero Beach International Musical Festival on July 12 and 13, including two Grammy-Nominees: Darol Anger (2003 Best Traditional Folk Album), Kimber Ludiker (2014 Best Bluegrass Album), Juno (Canadian Grammy) winner Jayme Stone, as well as championship fiddlers Jeremy Kittel and Hanneke Cassel.

In January, 2014, Mike Block married fiddler and composer Hanneke Cassel.

MIke and his wife

Mike Block and Hanneke Cassel

The Mike Block Sting Camp and Vero Beach International Music Festival were held at the First Presbyterian Church of Vero Beach (520 Royal Palm Blvd).


2 thoughts on “Why Did the Manager of Site Reliability Engineering at LinkedIn Travel from San Francisco to Vero Beach, FL to Attend the “Mike Block String Camp?”

  1. Pingback: Mike Block String Camp: “End of Summer Updates.” | Vero Communiqué

  2. Pingback: 2018 Vero Beach International Music Festival: July 11 – 14! | Vero Communiqué

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