Pianist/composer Michael Borowski recently released his second solo piano album, Gardens of Zion in the Rain
, and it is a beauty! His debut album, Peace Valley
, was released in 2020 and both albums were recorded with Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton at Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont. Michael and I have had a very pleasant correspondence over the past couple of years, so an interview seemed to be in order. Enjoy getting to know Michael Borowski and his music!
KP: Hey Michael! How are things in Pennsylvania today?
MB: Hi Kathy! It's still a bit chilly out this way, but signs of Spring are popping up everyday!
KP: Those splashes of color where the flowers are coming back to life are such an encouragement!
You recently released your second solo piano album, Gardens of Zion in the Rain, which I love. I'm listening to it again as I'm writing, and am again blown away with how good it is. Tell us about the album's title.
MB: Aw thank you so much, Kathy! The title is basically a dedication to my late Mother and Stepdad, as it is named after the cemetery where they are buried… Zion Memorial Gardens, in Pennsylvania.
KP: What was the inspiration for the album?
MB: The compositions that make up this album are all inspired by something in my life, whether it’s a person, place, thing, or memory. It’s a collection of very personal moments for me.
KP: Your first album, Peace Valley, was released in 2020, and was also exceptional. You recorded both albums at Imaginary Road Studio with Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton producing. What made you decide to record there?
Thank you so much! Honestly, I can’t think of any other place I rather record a solo piano record, or anyone else I’d want to produce, mix, and master it. Tom and Will are second to none, and offer so much in terms of support and knowledge. I’ve admired Will for as long as I can remember. It still blows my mind that I work with him, let alone, call him a true friend.
Click on album covers to
go to Kathy's reviews.
KP: Not many solo piano albums come out of Imaginary Road - most include other musicians. Why did you decide to keep your albums solo? (I absolutely think it was the right choice!)
MB: Probably the simplest answer to this is that ever since I first heard George Winston’s DECEMBER album as a child, I’ve wanted to record a solo piano record with Will Ackerman. Only took almost 40 years, but I finally did it. He’s never getting rid of me now.
KP: Haha! How much of the music on Gardens of Zion is improvised? A lot of it seems very conversational and spontaneous.
MB: I approach my solo music similar to that of a “Jam Band.” Generally speaking, there is a set structure of consistent melody and harmony, with a section of improvised music in the middle, generally floating over a left hand ostinato. So a lot of the music on the album is a mixture of structure and spontaneity. I rarely EVER play a song the same way twice. There are exceptions of course. Sometimes a piece is recorded straight through from beginning to end, with no improvisation. Three of the pieces on this album are that way… “Bella,” “Adrian’s Hat,” and “Time After Time.” The final piece on the album, “April Mourning,” was completely improvised in the studio in one take.
KP: The album was released on March 4, 2022. How is it doing so far?
MB: Pretty well! It’s been making its way through global radio waves, as well as online radio and streaming services thanks to Max Horowitz of Crossover Media. Physical sales are on the rise as well.
KP: It was a fun surprise to hear "Time After Time" on the album! That song was sung by Cyndi Lauper and was released almost 40 years ago. What made you choose to arrange that song and include it on the album?
Well as I mentioned before, the pieces on this album reflect things that are very important to me, including memories and home. When I think back to my childhood, in particular warm and comforting memories, “Time After Time” is the soundtrack in my mind. I’ve just always loved that song, and when I hear it I am instantly transported to my childhood house on Colonial Ave, embraced in the loving arms of my parents.
Another reason I included it in the album is that it was co-written by Philadelphia native, Rob Hyman of The Hooters. I am very proud to be from Philly, and support music from the city whenever I can.
KP: Nice! The opening track on the album is "Gloriana," and is a tribute to your piano teacher. What a wonderful gift to her! How long did you study with her and what made her special?
MB: I was lucky to have 3 lovely women influencing my early life; My Mom, my Aunt Karen, and Gloriana Sewell…my piano teacher from age 4-18. She was such a special lady and a major part of my life. I would not be who I am today without her guidance.
KP: "This Is My Song - Frick's Field" begins with the hymn "Be Still My Soul." Is that what "This Is My Song" refers to?
MB: Yes, the hymn is the intro to “Frick’s Field” and has the same melody as “Be Still My Soul.” However, I was referring to the hymn, “This Is My Song”… lyrics by Lloyd Stone, set to the melody of “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius. So you aren’t wrong, “Be Still my Soul” was ALSO set to the "Finlandia" melody!
KP: Interesting! I had no idea there were two hymns with that melody!
MB: I love this particular hymn being that it expresses ones patriotism to their homeland, but also embraces and respects the fact that there are other people in other lands with the same kind of love and pride for their own home. Something that doesn’t hurt to be reminded of… especially lately.
KP: No kidding!
MB: The words to the hymn are as follows:
THIS IS MY SONG
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh, hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.
KP: Beautiful! The "Frick's Field" part of the piece is very different from the hymn, but the two pieces are wonderful together. What is "Frick's Field"?
MB: Frick’s Field is very close to where I live. After a long trip, or a particularly hard day/night, when I see Frick’s Field, I know I’m home.
Also, there is an old cemetery adjacent to the Frick’s meeting house that has graves of soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War as well as The Civil War. Based off of all these things, combining “This Is My Song” with “Frick’s Field” made complete sense to me.
That's really interesting!
I had to laugh when I read that the relaxed and easy-going "Bella" was named for your older Australian Shepherd. I have an Aussie, too, and he has never been that quiet and peaceful! Tell us what inspired that piece.
MB: Haha! I do understand what you are saying. Bella certainly has her moments! However, all and all, I think of her as my 14 year old princess that gazes out in the field, keeping us all protected. I love my Bella.
KP: "Adrian's Hat" has an interesting story. Tell us about that piece.
MB: This piece was inspired by the love of the two main characters of my favorite movie, made right here in Philly… Rocky.
In the movie, Rocky does the impossible by going the distance with World Champion, Apollo Creed. After the final fight, as the whole arena is going crazy, all Rocky wants to do is see the love of his life, Adrian. As Adrian is running to meet him at the ring, she loses her hat, a hat that Rocky complimented before the fight. The two finally meet up after screaming each other’s names through the intense crowd…. And the very first thing out of Rocky’s mouth was, “Where’s your hat?”
A testament to the power of true love.
KP: Changing subjects here, I understand that you're an amateur bee keeper, which is what inspired "Bees." What got you started with bee keeping?
MB: Yes! I love bees. I just think they are so fascinating. Not to mention probably the hardest workers on the planet! They are such an extremely important part of our ecosystem. No bees, no pollination, no vegetation, no food.
I got into beekeeping as a hobby after my mom died, and I quit drinking. Something completely new for me to obsess over. I’m now completely hooked. I can sit next to my hives for hours watching them fly in in out. Its very relaxing. And the extra honey they make for me is delicious!
KP: Hopefully your next album won't have a piece called "The Sting"!!!
The album closes with "April Mourning." Tell us about that very emotional piece.
MB: Growing up I was extremely close to my Uncle Dwight, my mom’s brother. He was so inspirational to me and my music. He passed away at the young age of 46, on a sunny April morning in 1999. Almost two decades later, my mom passed away on an April morning as well. This piece, improvised in the studio, was inspired by how I feel when I think back to those two days.
KP: It's a beautiful piece!
Okay, let's back up a bit and find out more about you. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
MB: I was born and raised in Souderton, Pa… a suburb 30 miles North of Philadelphia.
KP: When did you start playing the piano?
MB: I was 4 years old when I first started piano lessons. Interestingly enough, I can remember that day clear as a bell.
KP: Was your mother ever your piano teacher?
MB: My mom was never my actual teacher, however she helped me every step along the way. She was a very well respected piano teacher in her own right, but she thought it would be better to not be my main teacher. She was probably right ;)
I agree! Are or were any of your other family members musicians?
MB: Oh yes, I come from a very musical family! In addition to my mom, her 3 younger brothers are all very talented musicians. My cousins are as well. In fact I still perform with 2 of my cousins any chance I can. My dad’s father was also an extremely talented multi-instrumentalist who played in several bands.
KP: Do you play other musical instruments, too?
MB: I do not. I’m what’s known as a piano purist… (Aka too lazy to try to learn anything else). ;)
KP: When did you start composing music? What inspired you?
MB: It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly, but it was shortly after my mom took me to see George Winston when I was 7 or 8. That experience to me is how some people describe watching The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I wrote and improvised piano solos ever since.
KP: Who and what are the biggest influences on your music?
MB: My family is what influences me the most. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for family and close friends… musically and beyond. When I think of how lucky I am to have the friends and family that I have, the music just pours out.
KP: What has been your most exciting musical moment or experience so far?
MB: Recording that first solo piano record with Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton is at the top of the list.
Touring with guitar legend, Steve Kimock, is up there too.
KP: Has the Covid pandemic had an effect on your music career?
MB: If anything, the Pandemic helped boost my solo career. I was painting houses for a living right up until March of 2020. The pandemic forced me to think differently and to work harder to achieve my own personal goals. I’m happy to report I have not had to pick up a paint brush to feed my family in over 2 years. :)
KP: It's always great to hear some of the positives that have resulted from the past couple of years!
Who are some of your favorite composers and musicians?
MB: A few of my favorites are, Beethoven, Debussy, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copeland, Will Ackerman, Bruce Hornsby, and George Winston.
KP: Is there anything else you'd like to "talk" about?
Besides music, I am a huge advocate for finding a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. I do a lot of volunteer work for the Alzheimer's Association and am highly involved the the Philadelphia Walk To End Alzheimer’s. For more information or to make a donation,
Thank you so much! Very Grateful.
KP: Thank YOU, Michael, for taking the time to chat!
For more information about Michael Borowski and his music, be sure to visit his website
and his Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com.