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Mike Block Remembers the Hidden Meaning Behind a Lesson

Playing at a high level matters more than musical selection.

Cellist Mike Block, an associate professor at Berklee College of Music, remembers a huge moment from when he was in college at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

It didn’t go as planned, but in retrospect Block sees that as a blessing.

“I was just beginning to improvise,” he recalls. “I was jamming with a couple friends, and I really wanted to play one of our improvisational pieces in our studio class.”

For Block, it was a daring move, one that he thought would impress and surprise his peers and his teacher.

“I was studying with a really fantastic, technically minded teacher, Richard Aaron,” Block says. “Richard was like, ‘That sounds really fun, but your vibrato is too tight. Let’s work on your vibrato.’ He sat with me for 10 minutes, and we worked on vibrato — after I improvised for him for the first time and played my heart out.”

Block was taken aback by his teacher’s business-as-usual response. “At the time I found it a little demotivating,” he says. “What I really appreciate about it in retrospect is that he never told me not to do non-classical stuff. It didn’t matter what kind of music I played as long as I did it at a high level and with attention to detail.”


SupportED 2020v5n1 with Mike BlockThis article originally appeared in the 2020N1 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here

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