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Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Borowski

SBO Staff • America's MusiciansMay 2022 • May 2, 2022

I always considered myself lucky I never wanted to do anything else but music. Even as I write this, I am thankful my passion to perform and make music with other musicians after twenty-some-odd years has not died out. Getting to this point in my life has been a fascinating journey. No one has any idea where a music career will take them and I could have never predicted I would end up on a tropical island in the Pacific making music with my incredible colleagues at the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band. I’m grateful to say I have had no regrets in my musical endeavors. It has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. 

As a young musician, I began where most high school guitarists start their musical education: in the basement. More specifically, my parent’s basement. Looking back, in addition to developing very basic musical skill sets, you also experience a variety of social dynamics helps later in life. You learn to compromise, interact with other people, and adapt leadership-type roles as you organize your set, teach other band members the parts of the terrible new song you just wrote, and build rapport with everyone in the room. I was lucky to have tons of opportunities to perform in my hometown of Williamsport, PA through an organization called the Uptown Music Collective. My first guitar teacher was a no-nonsense kind of guy and was straightforward with me in lessons. If I sounded bad, he was the kind of person that wouldn’t sugarcoat it. This fueled my drive to achieve progressive small victories with guitar technique and musicality in general. The beautiful thing about music is it’s honest, which is refreshing in a world that can be deceptive. 

My college years were approaching, and I decided to take a chance and go for a music degree at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention my parents at this time, without their love and support, I would never have been able to have the career I did. They really made it possible for me to focus on music and not worry so much about a mountain of debt that plagues many young college students.

I dove into the work diligently, earned my bachelor’s and master’s in music performance, and gained a few important takeaways from my time there. It seems obvious but I feel the need to say the degree itself doesn’t mean anything. I know plenty of people who can’t play and simply wasted their time by skipping classes or didn’t throw themselves into the work who got their degree. On the other hand, I know numerous musicians straight out of high school who play with the maturity and skillset of people twice their age. It all comes down to the work you put in. Natural talent is inborn in many of these people, but that only takes you so far. I never considered myself to have a good ear and spent countless hours doing scale singing, practicing intervals, playing chord/scales until 3 AM on “Confirmation”, “Donna Lee”, and “Giant Steps”, to get where I needed to be. Gaining knowledge is one thing but putting it into practice is something else entirely. 

The other takeaway was the importance of personal connections. Networking and building trust with other musicians cannot be overlooked in this business. There is no getting around the social aspect of a musical career. Being a bit of an introvert, I do regret not spending enough time as I should have at the “hang.” Honestly, it probably resulted in missed calls for gigs and missed collaborations that could have been rewarding artistically or financially. It really is all about the hustle, and it’s a pretty simple concept: the more people know you, the more gigs you’re probably going to get. 

It wasn’t until about two years after I earned my master’s in performance that I joined the United States Marine Corps Music Program. During that time, I was teaching, gigging, and still growing as a musician. The Marines provided the opportunity to work and perform in San Diego, CA as my first duty station. I met so many amazing musicians out there and created some great memories. I feel Pittsburgh, as well as San Diego, is a hidden oasis for jazz musicians.

In conclusion, I hope I was able to offer a little more than just a list of all the cool gigs I’ve done. I wish the best of luck to all the music students out there. Whether it’s a lifelong hobby or profession, music enriches the lives of everyone whether they realize it or not. We could all use a bit more beauty in the world.

Staff Sergeant Michael J. Borowski was the Marine Corps’ 2021 Staff Non-commissioned Officer Musician of the Year and currently leads the popular music group, jazz combo, and acoustic ensemble for the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band in Okinawa, Japan. He performs throughout the Indo-Pacific region and can be heard on the American Forces Network  (AFN) Pacific radio broadcasts each month for the “AFN/III MEF Band Small Studio Concert”. He can be reached at michael.j.borowski@usmc.mil.

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