It’s that time of year again – time for Maker Faire Detroit. Once again the event will showcase more than 400 makers. One particular group, Ben’s Encore, promises to have a special appeal to young, aspiring musicians.
Ben’s Encore strives to provide opportunities for aspiring musicians and music education in Detroit and its surrounding areas. The organization started a few years ago, as a tribute to Ben Borowiak of Detroit, who passed away due to complications from epilepsy that developed after being hit by a drunk driver. Ben wore many hats; though professionally an accountant, he was known by his family and friends as a multi-talented musician and philanthropist.
Ben’s family and friends held a concert in honor of Ben in 2011 called “the Bennyfit,” to raise money for the high school music program where Ben fell in love with music. After raising more than $5,000 for De La Salle Collegiate High School, they decided to create and establish Ben’s Encore to fund local music programs and provide scholarships to students who want to learn how to play an instrument. Ben’s Encore has since expanded to beyond just their annual fundraising concert, and is now sponsoring bigger events, including a chili cook-off, a back-to-school celebration and the Hamtramck Music Festival, with a dozen venues and over 200 bands playing different genres of music.
Chris Hemler, Manager of Education and Learning Programs at The Henry Ford, shared with me more about his own involvement with Ben’s Encore as the Executive Director. A close friend of Ben, Chris had a lot to share about him and his passion to inspire.
“Ben was all about service- he felt that if you can even help one person, you’re making a difference and that’s enough,” Chris said. In asking how he balances being on both the Board of Directors for Ben’s Encore and working at The Henry Ford he said, “It’s not work for me- It’s something I truly enjoy. If Ben were still here, those are the events I’d be at with him anyway.”
The organization has broadened its scope over the last couple of years to conduct Science of Sound workshops to teach science principles by using music and sound, engaging Tinker.Hack.Invent workshops at The Henry Ford, and has even created their own “Build Your Own Instrument” guide with over 25 instruments that can be built by household or recycled items, which is being featured this year at Maker Faire Detroit. The detailed instructions in the guide show you how to make anything from a Garden Hose Trumpet to a Tin Can Fiddle, and everything in between. Additionally, they will feature their Wall of Sound at Maker Faire Detroit: a three-panel wall consisting of “junk” that you can bang on to make music, which is extremely popular with kids of all ages.
Ben’s Encore also builds instruments on the Friday before Maker Faire with Summer in the City, a a free summer camp for kids in Detroit and Hamtramck. Last year, Ben’s Encore was able to reach more than 1,350 children, and will surely positively impact even more this year.
Ben’s Encore also has recently launched their new Back to School Scholarship program for kids aged 7-18 who can win free music lessons provided by the Metro Detroit Performing Arts Center. Chris stated, “Ben wanted to inspire anyone… including me. He always talked about teaching me how to play an instrument, but never got around to it. After he passed away, I bought a keyboard to teach myself to play – that was one of the first things I did to preserve my connection with him.”
Ben’s Encore has grown to an all-volunteer-run organization, with over 60 people donating time so far this year. Chris shares that “the mission goes beyond people that knew Ben. There is an interesting balance between people that knew him, and those who didn’t know him but are inspired by his stories.”
Richa Gangopadhyay is a Marketing and Media & Film Relations Intern at The Henry Ford.