Editor’s note: This is the first in a new series about Detroiters living elsewhere, but still rooted in the D.
Diaspora Detroit –Living globally, rooted locally
Rachel Lipson, 35, moved to New York City nearly half a lifetime ago. But when she needs advice on how to run her music company, Blue Balloon Songwriting, she looks to lessons from home.
Her father, Paul Lipson, served as the principal at Roosevelt Elementary School in West Bloomfield. Now retired, he gave her a foundation in the education arena and guides her in sorting out how to manage music teachers, parents’ expectations and more.
Blue Balloon Songwriting provides in-home music lessons in Brooklyn and Manhattan for kids age 3 and older, as well as for teens and adults.
Lipson, who left Michigan in 1999 to attend SUNY Purchase, has been in New York ever since. After studying English and philosophy and graduating in 2003, she went on tour in Europe as the front person of her own band. She kept playing guitar as she worked as a temp, did office jobs, served as a nanny and then, in 2007, started teaching at a preschool in Brooklyn.
Parents there heard she was a musician and asked for after-school music lessons for their kids. As the business grew, she found herself with not one but two full-time jobs on her hands.
“I had to choose between my day job as a preschool teacher and my afternoon job as a guitar teacher; I made the choice in the spring of 2010,” she says. “I left my job at the school and started Blue Balloon, created the LLC, made it a legitimate business and never looked back.”
The focus is on songwriting, which is how she learned to play, she says. Instead of learning to read music before composing or learning only through classical music, students learn to play by writing their own songs, right from the start.
Today, Lipson, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Kamali Robinson, sons Maxwell, 3, and Henry, 1, and their dog, Finn, has 35 teachers working for her.
The company reaches 175 students a week, with a focus on piano, guitar, voice, ukulele and drums. The students all learn instruments through songwriting. Lipson now focuses on running the company.
When Lipson thinks of inspiring educators, Mr. Corcoran, who taught World Literature at West Bloomfield High School, comes to mind. His class gave her a background in Russian literature that served her well in the small liberal arts college she attended, where she took a class in Dostoyevsky. That and other classes she picked were based on what she read in Mr. Corcoran’s class; and they led to her meeting people who became her community.
These days, bits of her childhood education come through in the company she’s created, she says. Lipson attended Doherty Elementary School, Abbott Middle School and West Bloomfield High School.
“I had very transformative experiences in some of my classes growing up” she says. “I learned a lot about how to think and how to think about education.”
If you know an expat Detroiter with strong ties or influences from the D who could be featured, send an email to Karen Schwartz at email@example.com.
Karen Schwartz Contributing Writer