Nickitas Demos

New World Sketches



  • 1
    Ellis Island, 1917 (excerpt)
  • 2
    Lullaby For Louis (excerpt)
  • 3
    Promised Land (excerpt)
  • 4
    Songs For My Fathers (excerpt)

New World Sketches (2000)

Nickitas Demos

I. Ellis Island, 1917 - score preview

II. Lullaby For Louis - score preview

III. Promised Land - score preview

IV. Songs For My Fathers - score preview

Duration: 28'

Concerto Grosso for clarinet, violin, bouzouki. doumbek and string orchestra.

Commissioned by the Nashville Chamber Orchestra

Audio streaming of entire first movement available on SoundCloud.

This piece tells the story of my family's journey to America in the 20th Century. Each movement describes a particular event or feeling as described to me by my parents and grandparents. While describing the story of one particular Greek family, I believe the work’s themes are common to all immigrants. 

After undertaking a bit of research, I discovered the date my paternal grandfather (who I am named after), Nickitas J. Demos, immigrated through Ellis Island. The first movement, Ellis Island, 1917, is an attempt to portray what it must have been like to have been processed through the facility. The music has a nervous and unsettled energy throughout. There are flashes of recognizable musical material but always through the lens of disorientation. The musical language at times is quite dissonant just as many foreign languages being spoken at once might seem dissonant to an immigrant ear. Finally, near the end of the movement, Greek folk elements emerge over the confusion. These musical elements represent the immigrant's strength of character in maintaining his culture even while moving into a foreign land. 

My paternal grandmother once told me a poignant story that took place as her family was immigrating to this country. Just before the boat left Europe for America, my great grandmother's luggage was stolen. She had to endure the long trip over the ocean with no clothing. Moreover, she had several small children with her and no husband to assist her (my great grandfather already being in the United States had sent for her and the children). One of the children was an infant, my grandmother's brother, Louis. My great grandmother had to rely on makeshift provisions and the kindness of her fellow passengers during the journey. The second movement, Lullaby for Louis, imagines a scene that I am almost sure took place. The infant Louis, tired and hungry, wrapped in bed sheets instead of diapers clings to his mother. She softly sings to him a lullaby. All the while she is thinking about the uncertainties of her life and the lives of her children as she slowly travels to the shores of a foreign land. The music contains a sweet melody, however it also bears the concerns of my great grandmother as well. In a larger sense, this movement pays homage not only to my great grandmother but also all those like her who had the courage to uproot themselves and travel to a strange, new land.

The brief third movement, Promised Land, pays homage to the entrepreneurial spirit of both my paternal grandfather (who owned a laundry business) and my maternal grandfather who was a restaurateur. It is in a rondo form and light in character. The music is as optimistic as these men who believed so deeply in the opportunities afforded them in America. Their hard work laid the foundation for my parents’ success in this country and provided all the opportunities I now enjoy two generations later.

The fourth movement, Songs For My Fathers, is a love letter back to Greece from a second generation member of the family who first arrived in the U.S. near the turn of the century. This movement contains the most overt use of Greek folk music in the piece. It begins with a traditional “taxim” in the solo violin. A taxim is an improvised solo over a sustained drone preceding a dance tune. In this case, the taxim not only serves as an introduction, but also provides most of the melodic and harmonic material that is used throughout the movement. Following the taxim, two very upbeat dance-like sections occur before the music returns to a middle section reminiscent of the introduction. In this middle section, flashes of traditional Greek folk melodies are presented. Of the three melodies featured, two hail from the city of Kalamata in Greece. This is the area of Greece where my paternal grandfather was born. This somewhat introspective section soon gives way to one final exuberant statement before the work reaches its exciting conclusion.