Demetrius Spaneas a composer, musician, and musical ambassador, has earned awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, the American Music Center, U.S. State Department, and Russian Senate. Today, with the re-release of FROM A FAR-OFF WORLD, Demetrius is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists.
Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?
I think that honor distinctively goes to The Beatles. When I was about 12, I bought the American release of “Rubber Soul,” and listened to it until it wore out. Funny thing is the band had been broken up for about 10 years already. Jazz and classical came in high school, but my soul is Rock and Roll.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/ composer/creator?
Other than with The Beatles above, my real epiphany came as a first-year student at New England Conservatory. Granted, I was already studying to be a professional musician at a top school, but being in rock bands in high school meant that I was really learning classical for the first time. For a history class assignment, I had to listen to the second movement of Ives’ “Three Places in New England.” I thought someone switched the tape! After assured that it was right, I listened again, and again…I spent hours listening to it over and over again…it was then that I knew I had to do contemporary music as a performer and creator. Mind, blown.
What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?
After thousands of performances in dozens of countries, I still have to point to my favorite story which happened early on in Boston. I was playing a run of Kurt Weill’s “Lady in the Dark”…it was the final night, packed house, and we were going into the last scene, which opens with a beautiful unaccompanied bass clarinet solo playing “My Ship.” The conductor also conducted the Pops.
I picked my bass clarinet off the stand, and a pad fell out of the side, bounced, and rolled under the stage, never to be seen again. The conductor saw this, and looked at me with horror; I saw my career flash in front of my eyes, and didn’t like the ending.
At that moment, I noticed that one of the other wind players had Hubba Bubba bubble gum. I reached across the pit at grabbed the pack saying “gimmie that!”, shoved a piece in my mouth for a second, took it out and shoved it into the open hole, and played the solo using alternate fingerings.
My young career was saved.
What would you say to an artist performing your work that nobody else knows?
Make it yours. Be informed, but own it.
Was there a piece on your album that you found more difficult to compose/perform than the others?
That honor goes to “Blood Memory” by Sean Heim. At the final recording session in LA, after days in the studio, I was exhausted. The final 3 notes of the piece are marked “2nd highest note possible,” “highest note possible,” “highest and most disturbing sound possible.”
Heim kept saying “more disturbing, I want pain, suffering!” I was numb and my chops were bleeding. Kept recording those last notes, over and over, and he still wasn’t happy. “More suffering! This is a soul dying!”
I finally said to him “alright, mother fucker, you want it, you got it!” We rolled the tape, and what came out of me was from somewhere deep and dark. I fell off the chair and threw up blood and everything else. The composer ran out, kept saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I thought I killed you!” And finally, “that sound…was horrible…I don’t know what you did…it scared us.”
You’ll hear that on the album.
What does this album mean to you personally?
The album was recorded back in 2005 and released on Capstone in 2006. It was really a step forward for me creatively, but its impact is more personal. Shawn Naidoo, whose music takes up about half of the album, died a few years after the release—he was 49. He was a good friend and brilliant composer. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work with him, record his music, and call him my friend.