New York -- He strummed the notes to Benny Golson’s classic “Whisper Not” flawlessly before moving on to “Vera Cruz,” both jazz classics. The songs are a perfect fit for the Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in the Jazz at Lincoln Center overlooking New York’s Central Park.
It’s a top-notch venue – a definite change for the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, born Mike Borowski, a Marine corporal and guitarist with the Marine Band San Diego located in their namesake city. Just one year ago, Borowski was living gig-to-gig hoping to find the much-needed income to support his family.
The story of Borowski’s rise from private tutor and freelance musician to touring performer is as colorful as his music, and all began when his ear pricked at the sounds of his fathers’ music.
“My parents always had old classic rock albums playing,” Borowski explained. “It was the mystery of what the guitar was and the music and how to do it that really drew me to it.”
Borowski picked up the guitar for the first time in middle school, strumming notes here and there and listening to the sounds. However, it wasn’t until high school when he joined the band. From that moment on, he was committed to mastering his craft.
Borowski’s passion for music helped him through high school and compelled him to pursue a degree in music from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
It was during this time that he met his wife, a fellow musician and trombone player. The two became close friends before marrying and starting their own group StringBone!. Borowski also completed his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in music.
And while life was going well, it was a struggle.
“Life was very tough,” said Borowski. “It was fulfilling because I was doing what I loved, but financially, it was very tough.”
Borowski was unable to find a steady stream of income, even with his master’s degree in music. However, he never let that stop him from providing for him and his wife. Instead, he used his passion for music and drive to find various jobs.
Borowski and his wife marketed themselves and their group, StringBone! to various clubs, looking for additional work through gigs on Craigslist and offering private music lessons. While this provided enough income for his family, it was inconsistent and often left them wondering if there would be enough between shows and students.
“With music and freelancing, you are always worried about what gig is coming up and if you have enough students to teach this month,” explained Borowski. “The money is just totally random.”
However, that worry came to an end last year with an unexpected phone call. A Marine recruiter saw his ad on Craigslist and offered him a job – the opportunity to become a U.S. Marine musician.
Across the Nation, only a select few have the opportunity to become Marine musicians through the Marine Corps’ Musician Enlistment Option Program.
“The Musician Enlistment Option Program is an opportunity for serious musicians to pursue a career in music as well as serve their country,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Kyne, one of three Marines on the east coast challenged with finding quality musicians for the program.
It’s a highly competitive program, and less than one percent of the nation is qualified to be a part of it. Yet, it was an opportunity that Borowski couldn’t pass up.
With guitar in hand, Borowski auditioned for a chance to attend the Naval School of Music in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The same six strings that had once helped him through high school, college and even find income were once again put to the test.
A few notes later, Borowski’s life was changed.
It was a rare opportunity for the young guitarist and one that has taken him across the nation and even to Europe where he has toured and traveled with the Marines showcasing their professionalism and musical talent. From the Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Borowski has elevated his performing and technical skill through the Marines, and all within one year’s time with many more ahead.
It has also provided Borowski with that steady income, something that had escaped him until now.
“I was always worried about what gig was coming up, how many I would have to do each month to make it,” he explained. “I don’t have to worry about that anymore. I can really just enjoy what I’m doing and focus on my craft.”