In Her Own: Words Musician 1st Class Adele Demi U.S. Navy Band

Musician 1st Class Adele Demi • America's MusiciansMarch 2023 • March 13, 2023

Musician 1st Class Adele Demi joined the United States Navy Concert and Ceremonial Band in 2012 as a clarinet instrumentalist. She has served as a ceremonial band drum major, an enlisted conductor of the concert band, auditions supervisor, and was recently named the band’s 2022 Sailor of the Year from a field of 94 of her peers. 

Tell us a little about your musical background/when you started playing the clarinet (or other instruments)?

I like to say the universe gave me the clarinet. Long before I was born, my mom wanted to play flute but confused it with the clarinet when selecting her band instrument. My grandmoth

Members of the United States Navy Band perform during the band’s annual Holiday Concert. The Holiday Concert is the Navy Band’s largest production of the year. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Musician Jonathan Barnes/Released)

er, being as thrifty as they come, found a clarinet at a yard sale. My mom suffered with it through school and even went so far as to join the color guard so she wouldn’t have to play it! It went under the bed after she graduated from high school until I came across it when I was around nine years old. I’ll never forget opening the case—the smell of the cork grease, the gleam of the shiny keys—it was mesmerizing to me and felt magical. That clarinet started me on a path that has been the only through line in my life and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

When/how did you decide to pursue music professionally?

I knew early on that music was my “thing”- I was totally obsessed with playing and around 7th grade began begging for lessons and summer camps so I could keep playing with ensembles as much as possible. I never made a conscious choice about it; it felt like something that would come to pass no matter what, like it was my destiny. Whether it was destiny or sheer hard-headedness, I’ll never know, but it’s been a beautiful journey and I’m hungry for more.

What are some of the unique challenges you’ve faced as a woman in a professional military organization?

Balancing motherhood and professional aspirations have been the greatest challenge. The Navy Band has seen more and more women come into its ranks since I joined in 2012 and I’ve noticed many positive changes making it more and more possible to do both. I have received steadfast support from the band in striking a good work/life balance enabling me to be both the mother and career person I want to be. The Navy itself has taken big steps in supporting mothers and recently expanded its parental leave benefits for both birthing and non-birthing parents.

You’ve taken on many outside roles in addition to your primary duty. What are some of the highlights both as a leader in front of the band, and as a musician within the ensemble from your career thus far?

A few events immediately come to mind. Performing final rites for funerals at Arlington National Cemetery is an honor I cannot overstate. I conducted the ceremonial band in New York City on the Today Show for a segment featuring women in the military, and recently performed at the Norway International Tattoo. I’ve also been lucky enough to go on nine national tours with the concert band, visiting 47 states. 

I think the memories I treasure the most however come from everyday moments at the Navy Band – playing a high note perfectly in tune with a colleague and giving each other a knowing glance afterward, nailing a hard passage in unison with this incredible clarinet section, listening to my colleagues perform featured solos with precision and heart – these are the things I’ll miss when my time here is over.

What advice have you received along the way by a trusted friend or mentor that you would want to share with younger musicians who might be considering a career in a military musical organization?

I am lucky to have incredible parents and many mentors who have, by example, taught that the two most important things in life are to work hard and be kind. My dad would say things like “well it’s time to put your nose to the grindstone and get it done,” and I still believe that there is nothing that can replace sustained effort in pursuit of a goal. Without kindness however, this hard work does nothing to foster respect within an organization. The best leadership stems from respect which stems from kindness.

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