Inclusion – Part 2

December 2, 2014

After a long, lazy break, the second part of the inclusion series fell right into my lap. I was planning on moving on to another topic in inclusion when my Oliver Sacks’ newsletter appeared in my inbox. His book, Seeing Voices, was the topic this morning.

There are two short items to share here:

First, watch this 15 year old boys transformation – when the light bulb goes on and he can communicate through sign language for the first time. His epiphanic moment can’t help but bring a smile to your day.

Next, there’s an item that needs our attention. Movements of the Soul, a play based on the history of American Sign Language has an Indigogo campaign with just 8 days left.

The trailer is though-provoking and I sincerely hope this project gets the funding it needs.

I wish you all well and hope these posts allow us all to reflect on our precious senses that we use every day.

While I was teaching flute to a student with a hearing impairment,  I became more aware of the flute under my fingers as being warm. Warmth from my breath, and putting warmth into a room took on another dimension. Breathing warmth and life into the music became my focus.

I became more intrigued when I learned about Gallaudet University – “the world’s only university with programs and services specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students” This first video talks about the design innovations to the buildings and classrooms. They focus on space, visibility and soft lighting.

I found this video, without sound, to be a clear teacher. I suppose nothing else needs to be said as to the experience of watching this.

Not all of us assume music is only to be heard. Recently, I took my family to see the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus and was so moved by the work of LeWana Clark. LeWana is on staff of the choir and gives musically meaningful sign language interpretations during their concerts.

Do any of you have more you can share about inclusion of the deaf community in music?

It’s a conversation often not held.

In July, I conducted a crowdfunding campaign to cover travel expenses in order to attend and perform at the National Flute Association convention in New Orleans. I crowd funded for a variety of reasons:

  • a very short time frame of only 3 weeks
  • the importance of performing new music at such a large gathering
  • not knowing when this type of opportunity would come around again
  • and more which you can read about here

As a freelance musician, earning a living in this business is very challenging. Sometimes, no matter how much you learn about the business side of things and implement it into your day to day routine, the new students, the paid gigs, or the cushy traditional jobs just never materialize. This is why crowdfunding can be so attractive.

Crowdfunding is a way for creatives to invite their audience to participate in the creation process, and cultivate a patron-artist relationship that was mostly out of reach of all but those with enough disposable income to commission a piece or painting. Crowdfunding now enables us all to become patrons and shareholders in art that we believe in.

Personal reasons aside, let me walk you through the steps I considered to set up my crowdfunding campaign.


There are a lot of platforms available for your campaign – Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Rockethub are just a few. Research each site’s fees and decide where your project would best fit. For my recent campaign, I decided to go with GoFundMe, a donation website that can be utilized for a wide variety of causes and projects. Since my campaign wasn’t funding a specific creative project but funding travel costs for myself and my pianist, I felt that GoFundMe was the most appropriate option with affordable fees.


If you’re setting up a campaign that enables you to keep all the funds you raise, don’t be afraid to set a realistic budget and add 10% to cover the website fees. Although I came very close to raising the entire amount I needed to cover travel expenses, I set a lower budget because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Be bold and ask for you what you need. If what you’re asking has any value, your supporters are going to help you out.

If they see the value in your project, you should too!


Another thing I factored into my overall projections was the amount of time I would need to spend to raise a daily minimum amount. Anyone who has crowd funded will tell you that running a crowdfunding project can become a full time job. I was fortunate in this instance that my budget and daily minimum were low enough that I didn’t have to stay up all hours of the night to raise funds.

With that said, if you’re thinking about crowd funding a project now or in the future, think about your social media presence and your online brand. Do you have a core audience beyond your family and friends? Cultivating a strong network – local and online – will come in handy when you need to raise money. If you have these building blocks in place, promotion will be a lot easier. Don’t try to build a brand and promote all at the same time!


I don’t think crowdfunding is going away anytime soon, but I do think that it isn’t appropriate for every project. If I’d had more time to find travel grants or ways to generate additional income on my own, I would have not undertaken this campaign.

Fiscal sponsorship is another viable option for musicians and Fractured Atlas is one resource for artists. Research all viable options and decide what fits your goal. When you have the details of your project and a projected budget figured out, you’ll be able to decide which option works best for you. You’ll have more success when you use the right platform, whether it be crowdfunding, grants or fiscal sponsorship.

Classical Clubbing

September 30, 2013

A bassoonist friend of mine suggested that you all might be interested in this recent article by Sarah Robinson of Classical Revolution and noted critic Greg Sandow. It discusses a wide range of topics, but primarily focuses on how to adapt your music and performance style to different types of venues and the pros and cons of performing in alternative spaces.

We’re Back!

September 25, 2013

Although things have been quiet around here recently, there are some exciting features that will be coming in the next few weeks, including an interview with a very special guest who will of great interest to most of you.

In the meantime, have some fun with this fantastic web page called “Boil The Frog”. It creates a playlist that will connect (almost) any two artists. For example, I’ve had great luck connecting Guillaume de Machaut to Katy Perry, and John Williams to the Pet Shop Boys. You can find it here:

Having been immersed in studying pedagogy for the past 8 years, I’ve been unravelling the mystery of what worked and what didn’t. I had always been a good, dutiful student, but I needed to transcend this in order to become an autonomous musician. I’m starting a short series of essays on this process here. 

This post focuses on auditions. 

Below is a letter on behalf of musicians, past and present, who experienced this approach to audition preparation. 

Dear master teachers, 

When we come to your master class, we are a room full of passionate people who would die for music. We are no yet finished paintings, but we love music to the core of our beings. We come because we want it so badly. We are hungry for advice and hang onto every word you say. For instance, at a master class that I attended back in the day, a teacher made a recommendation in passing, an innocuous one, that we eat a banana before an audition. Six months later, word had gotten out and there was not a single auditionee in the warmup room that was banana-less. It was as if the banana became a the magic food that would calm our nerves, create refined  musicianship and repair faulty technique. The passing comment became an irrefutable truth. We heard banana and we came with bananas. I’m not for or against the banana but I think this illustrates the craving we have for advice and the respect we have for you. 

We’ve been micro-managed. We’ve been told exactly where and how to play everything. How loud, how soft, how long, how short, how everything. We’ve been told what to think, when to breathe, before and during an audition. We prepare with metronomes and tuners. We prepare with pianists. We study recordings and scores. Your teaching, an unfortunate consequence of its nature, touches a childlike, subservient place in us. You teach us what to eat and how to breathe. 

What we haven’t been given is freedom. We rarely hear about autonomy. We haven’t been taught that the audition is a comfortable a place, a private space. We haven’t been taught that an audition is a place where you can let spontaneous musical expression happen. We haven’t been taught that an audition can inspire musicianship and bring out new ideas, even experimentation. We’ve been taught to have a plan and to strategize. 

In German, they say, “lass es passieren” or, let it happen. This isn’t the American idea of letting go, as in letting go of attachment to the outcome.  It is an active space of letting ideas happen: allowing for a spontaneous new ornament or seeing a phrase in a new way. We’ve all felt energized when we’ve been able to perform this way and as listeners, we cherish this in live performances. We can move from auditions that are well executed to auditions that are alive. 

To all of the teachers,  please allow me to show you how differently the audition looks without you. I can, even through a closed door, hear the musical plan. I can see the desire, the nerves, the effort to clam the nerves, the strategy. I can hear the strategy. What was missing was you. You weren’t there inspiring us. There aren’t genuine smiles. There’s not even nervous laughter that comes when we stand up to play for you. I didn’t see joy. I didn’t see fun. 

Can I ask you a favor? I am too old and too far out of school for this to apply to me, but can you encourage independence? Can you treat them as artists and help them develop their own voice? Can you teach them to support each other? Can you honor their musical ideas, even debate them? 

To the students who have read along, can you change things yourselves? Can you can change the mood of an audition and make it a party. Can you make it like it is in the summer master class? In those classes, you support each other, get new ideas and come through changed. Can you huddle around the door and clap for the person who comes out. Can that person then bow, proud of having taken another step along the path? 

Please, if you dare to try this, let me know! I’d love to see this somber audition mood transformed. I’d love to see you play better for having been there. 

Thanks everybody!  Thanks for reading.  This is a letter and therefore welcomes replies. 

With sincerity,

Jennifer Borkowski

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBase

I have been giving flute lessons via Skype for going on 3 years now.  I have found it an incredible asset and a great tool for teaching.

Biggest lessons:

Teaching via Skype is not best for beginners

Read the rest of this entry »

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