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Saved By The Saxophone

January 07, 2015
When freshman Michael DeMaio’s health took a turn for the worse, he turned to music. Now he’s an accomplished performer with a bright future ahead of him.

He has a winning smile and a passion for music. He has huge collections of sheet music and CDs. And he has an inoperable brain tumor.

Michael DeMaio, a freshman from Millersville, Maryland, was born with a tectal plate glioma. The tumor resting at the top of the brain stem showed accelerated growth when he was in sixth grade. While the tumor cannot be excised because of its location, DeMaio has undergone several surgeries to relieve the pressure in his brain, as well as chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor.

Throughout his medical ordeal, music gave him focus. His bandmates became his support system. And because he was practicing so much, he became an accomplished saxophone player, recognized among the very best musicians in Anne Arundel County schools.

“Music helped me feel like a normal person,” says DeMaio, who began taking piano lessons in elementary school, and saxophone lessons when he was in middle school. “I made a lot of my friends through my school’s music department. I played in the marching band, the concert band, and the jazz band. When I had to go to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to receive proton beam radiation, I took my saxophone along. Throughout everything, the only constant in my life was my music.”

Severna Park Middle School created the DeMaio Award in recognition of his dedication to music, he says, “because no matter where I was, I always participated in the band functions. Music is a high priority in my life.” By his senior year of high school, he was section leader in three bands—marching, concert, and jazz—and he performed with his jazz ensemble at the annual National Blue Ribbon Schools ceremony, recognizing America’s top schools, two years in a row. 

A recipient of the Constance Stuart Larrabee Arts Scholarship, DeMaio is already well ensconced in Washington College’s Department of Music. In addition to courses in music theory and private lessons, he performs with the jazz ensemble, the jazz combo, and the steel band ensemble.  

And there are, no doubt, bigger stages in his future. Just last year, DeMaio performed “Laying Me Low” with American Idol’s Season 7 winner, David Cook, at the Hamilton Live in Washington, D.C. “That’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” he says. “David, who lost a brother to brain cancer, told me he wrote the horn chart with me in mind.”


Last modified on Feb. 21st, 2015 at 11:20am by .