By Brooke Schultz
Elm Staff Writer
Washington College is home to many versatile and interesting students. Among those, freshman Michael DeMaio certainly stands out. Not only is he an accomplished musician, but he is also surviving with a brain tumor.
DeMaio is a double major in business and music and is an active student involved in four different music ensembles: the Steel Pan Ensemble, Saxophone Quartet, Jazz Combo, and Jazz Ensemble.
“I started playing saxophone when I was in fourth grade. How I got into it, I don’t really remember, but when I was in first grade, I started playing piano so I had a little bit of music under my belt before I started playing saxophone,” DeMaio said. He plays multiple saxophones, including soprano, alto, and tenor. He still plays and writes music for the piano and dabbles a little bit with the ukulele.
DeMaio has been involved with different musical opportunities through high school. He was in his All County Group, a production at his high school called Rock n’ Roll Revival, which had eight sellout shows, and played a lot of shows in his hometown with his friends.
In sixth grade, DeMaio’s tumor began to grow aggressively, which led him to start chemotherapy. “I had chemo on Thursdays, so I missed school every Thursday, and then I was sick all day Friday and sometimes Saturday, sometimes to Sunday and sometimes it led into Monday. That was not a fun year for me. I couldn’t do much because I didn’t have the energy. I couldn’t go outside and just shoot hoops without getting winded, so I really turned to music,” he said.
At the end of seventh grade, DeMaio learned that the chemotherapy wasn’t helping, and the tumor was actually growing. DeMaio and his family made the decision to go to Massachusetts General Hospital so he could receive proton beam radiation. The beam can be directed to just hit the tumor and, ever since then, the tumor has shrunk and been stable.
“When I was up there, I didn’t have my friends. I just had my mom and music,” he said. In Boston, he gained a strong support group and still had a tightknit community at home keeping tabs on him. “You don’t ever want to go through something like that alone. You find other people to go through it with. You might lose some along the way, but it’s better to go through something like that with a group.”
DeMaio spoke at the Night of Hope, which proceeds the Race of Hope, an event in Washington DC to benefit brain tumors. Through this, DeMaio also had the opportunity to meet with David Cook, winner of the seventh season of American Idol. Cook lost his brother to a brain tumor and participated in the Night of Hope in 2012. Cook gave DeMaio his contact information, and when he was in DeMaio’s area in 2013, the two played a song together that had a horn chart specifically for DeMaio.
At home everyone in the community knew who DeMaio was and what he was going through. “When I came to college, I didn’t really tell people unless I was close with them. Then this article [on WC’s homepage] came out. People ask me questions, and that’s awesome because people really want to know. I wouldn’t say people treat me differently. They come across how crazy and outgoing I am through a different angle, is what I’d say,” he said.
As for his future in music and business, DeMaio had an obvious sense of humor when he talked about his future endeavors. “I want to run my own business called Hold DeMaio; it’ll be a sub shop and just a joke on my last name,” he said. As for music, he said, “I’ve taught private lessons before. It’s a lot of fun watching a kid grow from not knowing an instrument at all to getting him or her somewhere.”
Music is part of the reason why DeMaio ended up at WC. “When looking for schools, I wanted something that I could express my music in,” he said. What pushed him into picking WC was the Constance Stuart Larrabee Arts Scholarship he earned for music.
DeMaio has a lot on his plate, but is actively involved with WC’s music community and just getting started.