Brian DeMaris, associate professor and artistic director of the Music Theatre and Opera program in Arizona State University's School of Music, Dance and Theatre, is a recognized conductor, pianist and composer. This year, with the release of two albums of original compositions, he adds solo recording artist to his title.
“In addition to teaching, I try to make sure I am continuing to work and grow as a complete artist and exploring all the parts of myself that bring me fulfillment,” DeMaris said. “When one area challenges me, I can always find creative inspiration or solace in another area, as I am most fulfilled by 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 his song compositions. As it turned out, those ended up on his second album, “Gratitude - Songs for Voice and Piano.” The improvisations on his first solo album, “Journey - Improvisations for Solo Piano,” were not originally part of the plan.
“‘Journey’ was created entirely by chance,” DeMaris said. “This album is a reflection of my own journey, and artistic evidence that we never know where life will take us. Everything is improvisation.”
DeMaris describes “Journey,” which was 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 lack of creative output brought on by the pandemic, he sat down at the piano aiming to rediscover the moments he spent as a youth sitting at the piano and improvising.
By February 2021, he had recorded over 100 completely spontaneous improvisations, saving each one with a photo randomly chosen from past travels. In summer 2021, he selected 16 pieces, arranged them in the order the photos were taken, named them and ended 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 his second album, "Gratitude," which was released May 1, as “all the songs I have written over 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 on the side of his performing and teaching career. The title is inspired by DeMaris’ feelings for all the artists who helped bring this music to life, he said, and represents the approach he took toward creating opportunities for himself and others over the past two difficult years of COVID-19.
Some pieces were finished and performed two decades ago, some were initially created years ago and finished during his sabbatical, and some were written during his sabbatical.
Recent Grammy winner Zachary James opens the album with bass vocals on “Ithaka.” Next are six pieces based on the works of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay that DeMaris composed in his early 20s. The "Sephora Songs" were collected and conceived over a period of a few years and completed during his sabbatical. Also completed during his sabbatical are the "MacArthur Songs," the second of which was started in his youth. "The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” based on the novel by Oscar Wilde, is an as-of-yet-unfinished musical written with author and lyricist Daniel Jurman for Ephrata Playhouse in the Park, where DeMaris received his theatrical upbringing. The final three pieces are products of the improvisations for solo piano from “Journey” that turned into compositions.
A self-described classical pianist, DeMaris played recitals, competitions and musical theater throughout high school and college. In college, he discovered opera.
“Opera blended together everything I love: classical music, theater, collaboration, languages and also the visual elements,” DeMaris said. “After learning the repertoire and craft at the piano, I eventually started conducting and music directing, and eventually producing. Conducting, coaching and collaboration go hand in hand with teaching, so all have been part of my daily life from the very beginning. Composing, even if infrequent, really informs all of my work and provides an outlet where I can create my own music.”
DeMaris also serves as the principal conductor of the Anchorage Opera in Alaska.
DeMaris’ albums are available on Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and YouTube platforms.