Brian DeMaris, Associate Professor and Artistic Director of the Musical Theater and Opera Program at Arizona State University’s School of Music, Dance, and Theater, is an acclaimed conductor, pianist, and composer. This year, with the release of two albums of original compositions, he adds solo artist to his title.
“In addition to teaching, I try to make sure that I continue to work and grow as a complete artist and explore all the parts of myself that bring me fulfillment,” said DeMaris. “When one area challenges me, I can always find creative inspiration or solace in another area, as I’m most fulfilled balancing and doing them all.”
DeMaris said he composes whenever he has the time, and COVID-19 plus a sabbatical prompted him to record his complete works.
As part of his sabbatical project, DeMaris intended to record all of his song compositions. Ultimately, these ended up on his second album, “Gratitude – Songs for Voice and Piano”. The improvisations on his first solo album, “Journey – Improvisations for Solo Piano,weren’t originally part of the plan.
“‘Journey’ was created entirely by chance,” DeMaris said. “This album is a reflection of my own journey, and artistic proof that you never know where life will take you. Everything is improvised. »
DeMaris describes “Journey,” released in December 2021, as a “musical and visual travelogue of the past 15 years, a journey from East to West.”
DeMaris began the project in November 2020 when, during a creative production slump caused by the pandemic, he sat down at the piano in an effort to rediscover the times he spent in his youth sitting at the piano and improvising.
By February 2021, he had recorded more than 100 completely spontaneous improvisations, backing up each with a photo chosen at random from past travels. In the summer of 2021, he selected 16 pieces, arranged them in the order the photos were taken, named them, and came up with “Journey.”
“Journey” takes you from the ancient city of Jerusalem to the Gulf of Alaska and the wonders of the Grand Canyon.
DeMaris describes her second album, “Gratitude,” which was released May 1, as “all the songs I’ve written in the past 20 years, performed by friends, colleagues, and former students.”
The inspiration for “Gratitude,” he said, was simply to catalog his work after 20 years of composing alongside his career as a performer and teacher. The title is inspired by DeMaris’ feelings for all the artists who have helped bring this music to life, he said, and represents the approach he has taken to creating opportunities for himself and for the others over the past two difficult years of COVID-19.
Some plays were completed and performed two decades ago, some were originally created years ago and completed during his sabbatical, and some were written during his sabbatical.
Recently Grammy-winning Zachary James opens the album with bass vocals on “Ithaka.” This is followed by six pieces based on the works of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay which DeMaris composed in his early twenties. The “Sephora Songs” were collected and crafted over a period of a few years and completed during her sabbatical. The “MacArthur Songs”, the second of which was begun in his youth, were also completed during his sabbatical. “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” based on Oscar Wilde’s novel, is an as yet unfinished musical written with author and lyricist Daniel Jurman for Ephrata Playhouse in the Park, where DeMaris received his theatrical education. The last three pieces are products of the solo piano improvisations of “Journey” that turned into compositions.
A self-proclaimed classical pianist, DeMaris performed recitals, competitions, and musical theater throughout high school and college. In college, he discovered opera.
“The opera mixed everything that I love: classical music, drama, collaboration, languages and also the visual elements,” DeMaris said. “After learning the repertoire and the craft on the piano, I eventually started directing and directing music and then producing. Leading, coaching and collaborating go hand in hand with teaching, so it’s all been part of my day-to-day since the very beginning. Composing, while infrequent, really informs all of my work and provides me with an outlet where I can create my own music.
DeMaris is also the Principal Conductor of the Anchorage Opera House in Alaska.
DeMaris’ albums are available on Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and YouTube.