Erika Block Appointed BFM Executive Director
Clarinetist Brings Extensive Experience in Marketing, Artist Relations Management
Envisions BFM as a “Household Name” in Pacific Northwest
For Immediate release:
Bellingham, WA.—Erika Block, the Bellingham-based clarinetist, and Festival of Music board member since 2017, has been named Executive Director of the Festival, effective January 1, 2023. She will fill a new position coordinating with the orchestra and augmenting the administrative work of the all-volunteer Board of Directors.
Well Known Performer
A familiar musical presence in the Pacific Northwest, Block has served as Principal Clarinet in the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra, Second Clarinet in the BFM Orchestra, founding member of Fifth Inversion wind quintet and Vice President and frequent player in the Bellingham Chamber Music Society. Until recently, Erika served as Senior Clarinet instructor at WWU and she currently hosts the podcast Inside the Notes.
Perhaps less well known locally, she brings extensive experience in the classical music industry from her work as marketing director and artist relations manager for clarinet manufacturer Backun Musical Services in Vancouver, BC.
“Make BFoM Synonymous with Bellingham”
“Erika will bring an infusion of fresh energy and valuable communication skills to help carry the festival forward as we anticipate the engagement of a new Artistic Director in late 2023. We are excited to have her on board!” said Elaine Floyd, Chair of the Board.
Block calls the new position “the height of my professional career,” and says her “dream for the BFM is to grow our audience base and help foster a deeper connection among our musicians. I believe we can become a festival that everyone in our community knows about, similar to Tanglewood or Vail, that draws an audience from all over our region.”
How to Grow a Business
The ebullient and charismatic Block is no stranger to building awareness of a musical enterprise. Having earned Bachelor and Master of Music degrees at Boston University studying with Thomas Martin, Assistant Principal Clarinet of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and later with Ricardo Morales, the Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Clarinet, she moved in 2005 to Vancouver with her husband, the jazz musician BJ Block. With “no immediate plans,” she got a job “in a clarinet store.” This was no mere music store, but the workshop of clarinet maker Morrie Backun, then just beginning to be known as a revolutionary pioneer in the manufacture of world class instruments.
In classic fashion, Block gradually took over organizing the store and “everything else.” Over the next five years, she managed and expanded the existing dealer base in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia/New Zealand. She was responsible for all orders, shipments and funds being exchanged between the company and vendors. Branching out, she planned and executed multiple trade shows a year, traveling to Milan, Rome, London, New York, and Los Angeles.
Tech savvy then and now, she also created a new website and interface to streamline international purchasing, and testing of equipment. And she focused on collaborating with artists as the key element in expanding the business and referral system. “I met every single clarinetist on the planet,” she recalled. This often meant converting clarinetists from the previously dominant brand to what many came to realize was a much more gratifying instrument—more powerful, more nimble, yet easier to play. Among the relationships she cultivated were with artists including Ricardo Morales (who had introduced her to Backun clarinets), David Shifrin and Eddie Daniels.
Discovering the Bellingham Festival of Music
In a fascinating coincidence, one summer she came to the aid of the Festival’s own Principal Clarinet Laura Ardan, when Ardan’s instrument needed a quick repair. “That’s how I heard about the Festival,” Block related. Two years later, when she and her family were moving to Bellingham, she contacted Ardan inquiring whether there were any substitute performing gigs available. There were. And so commenced Block’s relationship with the Festival, where she played with the orchestra and joined the Board of Directors. “In 2021, Laura and I were playing next to each other on the same Backun set-up and it was so fun and so special,” she said.
As she anticipates her new responsibilities, Block declares “there is nothing broken about the Festival. It just needs to be lifted up.” She points to the rare and “wonderful intimacy” between the orchestra players and the audiences. Because the musicians stay with home hosts each summer, they are inspired by the friendly faces watching them in the audience. The listeners, in turn, cheer on the players the way fans cheer on favorite teams. That makes for performances of great warmth and connection. Having experienced that chemistry personally, Block said “I would love for Bellingham and Whatcom County to know what they have. The Festival should be a huge part of the Bellingham fabric. It should be a household name. Think Mount Baker. Think Ski to Sea. Then think us.”